Google: Retailers must embrace IT for a more digitally progressive environment

Unless traditional retailers evolve their models to ensure they are relevant for a more digitally progressive environment then they face being among the growing number of businesses that fail to survive.

This was the stark warning from Nick Martin, head of retail and CPG for Google Cloud UK & Ireland, who spoke to Essential Retail ahead of his presentation at RBTE: “They need to evolve or they will die. There will be a number of known brand retailers that go to the wall if they do not make the [digital] transformation quickly.”

Part of the problem is that IT is seen as an inhibitor to change within many retailers whereas it should actually be seen as the total opposite, according to Martin, who says it is the real enabler of change. “Technology is not the restriction. It is people and their behaviours that inhibit change,” he says.

One of the key requirements for retailers today is a single view of the customer across an organisation, and all too often marketing executives will be stymied in their efforts to have such a capability because of the “classic IT department having the data in silos and in different formats”.

To address this issue he says retailers need to adopt a more agile structure. A key component of this is the use of the cloud: “it can underpin the digital transformation and provide the single view of data.”

He acknowledges that not all components of a business need to be hosted in the cloud – as some applications will be better served by being on-premise or in a private cloud – but Martin says there are elements of retailers infrastructures that certainly should be in the cloud.

“At the very least they should move to an enterprise data model [in the cloud]. It gives retailers interoperability in a scale way and enables them to just pay for what they use,” he says.

Taking such an approach of having much more easily accessible data also helps retailers deliver improved workforce productivity across their entire organisation. Google is working with retailers like Morrison’s to empower individuals throughout the company.

“Morrison’s 130,000 people now work more collaboratively with better tools. They do not have to run to the back office to look up things like stock levels. From an individuals’ perspective it is a better working environment. And it is Chrome-based technology with all the data cloud-based so there are no local copies of the information,” explains Martin.

One of the major obstacles to adopting such technology is the long-held reluctance by retailers to work with partners and to prefer to keep everything in-house. This is very much in contrast to the approach typically taken by newer, digitally native, retailers.

“Organisations need to be more agile and be involved in partnerships. They should not try and do everything themselves. The digital natives are already there, with some organisations having only a small central hub and all the rest is through a partnership model. It’s low cost and low risk,” he says.

Martin says things are changing at some traditional retailers as younger chief digital officers and chief data officers work their way up inside these businesses. They can then bring about the necessary cultural changes to enable the essential infrastructure transformations. The question is whether this will happen quickly enough for many organisations to ultimately survive.

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