Customer centric focus at Manhattan Momentum

Last week, Paula Rosenblum [RSR managing partner] and I attended Manhattan Associates' Momentum conference. This was the seventh time I've attended Manhattan's conference. In that time, I have seen them launch SCOPE and SCALE, their approaches to end-to-end supply chain. I have seen them move to a single platform to support that approach. And now I can say that I have seen the company successfully transition from mostly warehouse management to an evenly balanced vendor, thanks in large part to the roaring success of their distributed order management – a solution in the right place at the right time if ever I've seen one.

All of this is fantastic, and I'm happy to see Manhattan make this last transition in particular. I’d like to think that I've played some small part in that, just as I can credit Manhattan and its customers with often giving me the inspiration for pushing the boundaries of my own thinking on omnichannel. Certainly, it was at the company’s event last year that Paula and I first started talking about omnichannel fulfilment's coming impact on merchandise planning – a theme you will hear from us with more frequency in the near future.

We're still at least a year away from that becoming real – omnichannel fulfilment's impact on merchandise planning. That's a future where retailers start to clamp down on all that inventory moving around their system in response to making in-store inventory visible online and shipping inventory from stores to meet demand. Already, some of the companies with the most mature capabilities in ship from store are asking the question: why the heck did I put that inventory there in the first place, if it was going to be better used someplace else?

In order to answer that question, I believe we will see an era of change in merchandise planning that, when accompanied by the desire to bring more consumer insights into the merchandise planning process, promise to upend the whole thing. But that's a discussion for another day.

Every year, attending user conferences can be something of a potluck affair. One year, it's a succession of solution offerings that have very little to do with each other – supply chain here, marketing there, eCommerce next. This year, I was struck by a common theme among the random dance of user conferences: customer centricity. Some vendors are much better at it than others, and some are revisiting their strategies after being told point blank by their customers that they need to do so.

But it was at Momentum that it really sunk in for me. Sure, retailers have been talking "customer centricity" since as early as 2003. And they are still struggling to make it a reality within their enterprises today. But the vendors serving retailers also appear to increasingly be asked to be more "customer centric" themselves. As in, the retail customers they serve.

It's not that vendors have been ignoring their customers. You won't stay in business in any industry long if you ignore your customers. But when you couple retailers' own strategies to be more responsive to their customers with the technology advances that have occurred over the last decade, it moves vendors – and by extension, the retailers they serve – to an interesting place.

Manhattan doesn't organise itself terribly uniquely or even that differently from most other vendors that I've seen. Their product leads have maybe more discretion and responsibility around go-to-market than most of their peers, and that's about it. But I'm impressed at how well they have shepherded their products over the last seven years, evolving with customers and to some degree co-innovating with them. I saw it with DOM – saw the product make the transition from an old-school extended supply chain order management system to one that is now essential to any company that wants to stand a chance at managing customer orders across channels.

It would be one thing if that only happened with DOM. But they've done it again with Store Inventory & Fulfilment. What started out as a mobile window into orders and inventory has turned into a full-fledged application in its own right. And it's clear from the in-store picking and packing processes it supports that the company has made this transformation with a lot of input from people who have to pick lots of orders in stores. These were not the processes of someone trying to imagine what it's like to pile the inventory from a bunch of orders into a shopping cart, wheel it into the back, and then sort it all out in some cramped back room corner. These were the processes of someone who had lived the pain. Customer centricity and co-innovation.

While there has been a lot of focus on the vendor side of things around cloud and big data and mobile, I think it's these examples of innovating at the pace of your customers – and yet also keeping one eye ahead to the next couple of steps – that are more important. I understand the necessities of architecture alignment and integration strategies and platforms vs. best of breed. I understand the motives that drive SaaS companies, who, in some case having been unsuccessful in persuading their clients to be more disciplined in how they implement and integrate, are now forcing the issue.

But in the end, it's these examples of process innovation, of standing next to your customers as they try to do their jobs, that I think make the best partner. I hope that's something retailers consider quite heavily as they evaluate their solution options.

This article originally appeared as 'What it means to be customer focused: Momentum report out' on the RSR Research website at http://www.rsrresearch.com. It is reproduced with the organisation's permission.