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+44 (0)115 904 2777
Alan Morris
  • 30 Nov

Centre stage: Retail Service Desk Operations

By Alan Morris, Managing Director of Retail Assist In a retail world built on technical environments that are multi-faceted, multi-channel and increasingly complex, retail Service Desk operations can constitute a valuable hub. As such, it should be moved up the company hierarchy to a position that reflects its critical role. Often sitting in the shadows, it’s now time to move the retail Service Desk centre stage. As retail operations expand, executives frequently fail to face up to the scale of what’s needed to support an increasing use of, and dependence on, technology. Poor customer service, complaints, missed service levels and lost revenues all point to the need to review technical support provision. As a rule of thumb, if your Service Desk is doing what it has always done, then it needs looking at. You need to analyse what could make this operation of greater value to the business as a whole and plan to invest accordingly. The very nature of retail and the temperament of those that drive its most successful businesses tend towards dynamic, opportunistic, above the line activity. And that’s how it should be. Less appealing to those businesses and individuals are the below the line planning and investment needed to sustain expansion. It’s wise to review whether infrastructure services are growing at the same pace as the business. If not, they’re unlikely to be stable and robust enough to support that growth. Even if new stores aren’t being opened, new channels to market may well be in development. Heavily dependent upon technology, they will certainly take their toll on Service Desk operations. Merger and takeover activity also make demands on the Service Desk. At these times, what the business needs most is stability and consistency: precisely what a well-resourced Desk can contribute. Time was when it was a matter of pride to have a lean (ie. under-resourced) Service Desk. We all know businesses where this function is manned by a couple of people, clearly overstretched, who spend their weekends with a phone strapped to their waist, and race around the business fire-fighting. Whilst this may seem cost-effective, the downsides are little control, no means of measuring effectiveness and therefore no way of judging that the business is getting value for money from its Service Desk. Regular performance management is critical. That means not solely judging the Desk by its SLA achievements but viewing its impact on the business in the round. User satisfaction, indicated by a level of comfort, reduced call volumes and the elimination of recurring problems, all prove that a Service Desk is contributing towards operational efficiency. A well run Service Desk will make money through greater up-time on tills preventing loss of revenue, and save money through analysis of where costs are being incurred. Not surprisingly, some retailers struggle to balance support staff availability with trading flow and budget constraints. The commercial pressures fuelling the drive towards longer trading hours and the need to be fully-functional at all times create a resource challenge that…
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Alan Morris
  • 30 Sep

Align business goals with IT deliverables

By Alan Morris, Managing Director of Retail Assist Some companies are better than others at realising that all business change has an IT dimension. By the same token, IT is all about change. It’s not uncommon for IT projects that deliver change to be deemed to fail, just because the business doesn’t embrace change at the outset. Users may adopt new functionality but are slow to appreciate how system change will affect familiar processes. To avoid this disconnect, it’s critical to align business goals with IT deliverables from the outset. At the heart of this sits the issue of change. Retailers need to ask themselves who owns change in their business. Is the IT Director involved in the change process, early enough or at all? Or does the internal culture see business strategy and IT delivery as separate elements, each operating within its own silo? The IT function needs to be involved early on in the process of change so it can contribute to the optimum degree. In an ideal world, IT Directors would sit at the heart of the business as the agent of change and would play a key role in strategic planning. They would focus their resource on meeting business goals, rather than delivering ‘projects’ which are often, wrongly, seen as the whole deliverable. Most importantly, they would ensure that no change, business or IT, takes place without being dovetailed into the organisation’s enterprise architecture. So is architecture the key to aligning business goals with IT deliverables? In simple terms: yes. Whilst few would deny the folly of erecting a new building without the services of an architect and a design blueprint, surprisingly few retailers employ the same disciplines in their business. This can be a positive attribute. After all, change is the lifeblood of retail and success often comes from recognising a commercial opportunity and being quick to grasp it. Nevertheless, having no more than a loose-knit set of tactics rather than a strategic plan to guide operations can result in worrying gaps between processes and systems. By failing to adequately architect change and assess its impact on their business, retailers risk being taken by surprise by its costs and effects. This wouldn’t happen if IT deliverables and business goals were aligned and set in the context of an evolving change management programme. Before they assert that IT is not meeting the needs of the business as it develops (a not uncommon lament), retailers need to have the courage to look at their strategic goals and processes. If that strategic view doesn’t exist, it’s time to call on the services of a business architect. Just as an architect would ensure that all the elements of a new property happily coexist, and all costs and impacts are clearly understood, so the services of an enterprise or change management architect can ensure that IT systems support, rather than work against, business processes and take the retailer in its strategic direction. Few retailers enjoy the luxury of an inhouse…
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Alan Morris
  • 10 Aug

Mind the gap – managing loss prevention

By Alan Morris, Managing Director of Retail Assist No retailer can render itself immune from theft, fraud, shrinkage and loss. It’s a chilling reality, and one that is being addressed by massive investments in security, process and technology. But, whilst each can contribute to an overall solution, retailers often focus on them in isolation, at the same time discarding critical data that could highlight the source of loss and prevent its reoccurrence. To remain competitive, even the most successful retailer must constantly strive to minimise costs, streamline process and maximise margins. Yet, at the same time as attention is focused onabove the line- efficiencies and profitability, a significant proportion of sales turnover, estimated in the UK to be between 1.4% and 1.6%, is lostbelow the line- to shrinkage in all its forms. A retailer turning over £200m with profits of £10m, but with 3% shrinkage, would see those profits rise to £13m if they hit the UK’s average shrinkage level: a creditable 30% increase in profits. As commercial pressures translate into leaner margins, price increases to offset losses are not a practical remedy. Shrinkage has to be tackled head on, but where should retailers direct their efforts? Greatest success comes from a multi-faceted strategy which, addressing the diverse and complex nature of the problem, combines tactics directed at staff, procedures, equipment and IT. And, of course, the starting point has to be an analysis of the problem in all its manifestations, as this will differ by sector, by channel and by retailer. Contrary to popular perception, not all shrinkage is down to customer theft. According to recent US research, staff theft, which is more insidious and harder to spot than customer theft, accounts for over 45% of loss. Procedural errors and poor systems are believed to contribute a further 12%, with supplier errors amounting to 8%. Not surprisingly, whilst improved security measures such as Chip & PIN and RFID are reducing store-based loss, growing online sales have created a new hunting ground for those of a fraudulent nature. Remedies are needed in each of the following areas and, most importantly, must bejoined up- to gain maximum benefit. Security & Culture Retailers are investing more and more in physical security measures, from visible deterrents such as security staff, cameras and alarms, to RFID and source tagging devices on higher value items. Frequently, success is diluted by an indifferent, if not corrupt, staff culture. This manifests itself in little attention paid to security measures, through to active theft, often perpetrated through refund abuse. A less forgiving culture, greater staff involvement and more rigorous training all have their part to play in reducing loss. Process Retailers that take time to map their processes invariably find many are cumbersome, redundant and prone to abuse. There’s much to be gained from tighter policies for refunds and stock management but, even then, a failure to integrate core processes allows shrinkage to pass unnoticed. Only when all phases of the retail lifecycle are integrated, from buying and…
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