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Digital transformation: saving British retail

In the last six months, falling sales have seen stalwart brands such as New Look, Debenhams and Laura Ashley cut their high street presence. Financial pressure, the continued dominance of online shopping, and changing consumer demands make the high street a challenging place. To survive, retailers are turning to technology to help them innovate and keep pace with nimble disruptors, such as ASOS and Missguided.

The majority of business leaders understand that change and transformation are necessary. A recent KPMG “CEO Outlook 2018” report, reveals that as much as 71% of global CEOs are now prepared to lead their operations through a radical transformation. The challenge, however, lies one layer below leadership. Workday’s “Digital leaders: Transforming your business” study with IDC shows that most digital leaders simply cannot deliver on the digital transformation strategies that are required to make their businesses thrive. The Workday research also shows that four out of five digital leaders find it difficult or impossible to adapt key processes to deal with the emergence of new data sources, evolving business models, and new interactions with customers.

As retailers come under pressure and undergo another fundamental digital shift, it is essential that they understand how to build a strong foundation to support the digital transformation process. The question is, how to do it?

Baseline for digital transformation

As technology redefines the way retailers do business, the back-office must flex to meet the demands of the wider organisation. If not, ’digital deadlock’ — a term coined by IDC, describing the blockers which are restricting employers from managing change within their business — can have a catastrophic effect on retail business performance. It can cause digital transformation projects to stall and not reach their full potential.

This is why Finance & HR departments must be involved at the earliest stage possible to drive successful cross-company digital transformation. It must be viewed as an opportunity to update and renew process, and there’s no better place to start than from the process hub of the entire business.

In fact, Workday’s “Digital leaders” study revealed that 73% of best-in-class digital leaders are actively engaged in discussions with the head of finance and HR regarding digital transformation. It also showed that those leading digital transformation have found liaising with the back office an “extremely important” part of the process. Furthermore, there is an understanding that the ability to reconfigure finance and HR systems in a dynamic fashion is critical to wider business’ growth— an important factor as retailers redefine themselves and look to remain competitive in their markets.

The key to successful digital transformation, therefore, lies in digital transformation leaders, not only being experts in the technical aspects of their role, but also getting buy-in from all departments and combining resources to create a “digital dream team”.

Create digital harmony

Getting buy-in from across the business for digital transformation is incredibly important, but it has to be backed up with the right technology for the job. The research found that digital leaders from organisations with perceived “state-of-the-art” systems have stronger relationships with the finance or HR department heads (63%) than those with older or “adequate” systems. The challenge, according to IDC, is that 80% of digital leaders currently believe they cannot integrate new digital solutions with existing finance and HR processes, or that it would require effort to do so.

Legacy finance and HR systems are holding digital transformation back. In order to solve this challenge, retailers must recognise the importance of leaving behind traditional laggard technology in favour of more sophisticated solutions to complete their new responsibilities.

The way forward is through collaboration

As retailers continue to embrace technology as a way to survive and remain competitive, it is not just about how they innovate around new products and services or change the customer experience. The whole organisation needs to adapt and modernise. This must include finance and HR, otherwise, the agility, flexibility and insights needed to be successful in the modern business world and save British retail simply cannot be achieved.

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