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Don’t Start Your Omni-Channel Projects Without This Key Ingredient

By . 7 March 2019 . in Omnichannel, Uncategorized

Over the last 5 years, we have seen a significant increase in omni-channel projects now that the “leaders” have adopted and expanded their capabilities. Despite this transformation, only 5% of the market achieves a truly seamless customer experience while executing their omni-channel strategy. Likely culprits are due to lack of proper staffing and organizational alignment, “hack” system design and poor data architecture.  No surprises thus far but I’d like to explore these a little deeper. 

Regarding staffing, the Solution Architect in particular, is critical to the success of the project. However with so much on the line, why aren’t more retailers acknowledging and hiring for this key position? The blog below explains what a Solution Architect (SA) is, why the role is important, and what traits an omni-channel SA needs in order to achieve project success.

Sometimes It’s Better To Think Inside The Box

During the last few years of my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with over 30 leading retail brands and still have yet to see this role of Solution Architect consistently be recognized and staffed for internally. When I see this role staffed it is either someone without ample experience, or worse, someone with experience but a lack of skill-sets to take on the full breadth of the role.

I can recall a recent project for a luxury goods company, where we were asked to serve in the role of Order Management System (OMS) technology experts. The architect on this project did not understand the OMS application and over-emphasized defining the new business processes without fully understanding what the OMS solution could and could not do. On the surface, this was made to look like the OMS “Couldn’t do what we thought it could do”.

The problem wasn’t that the architect is right and the OMS isn’t, the issue more often than not is that there isn’t enough knowledge in the SA’s we put on projects, and the impact of that is unnecessary customization and therefore a higher cost of ownership in the end-state solution. The underlying issue was that the SA on this project did not think creatively on the solution, looking only to address things as “black or white” relative to OMS capabilities. Let me be clear, it’s important to map out the fulfillment flows system-agnostic to start, the issue was that the flows he was suggesting weren’t things any OMS in the market was capable of doing out of the box. Furthermore, this person lacked the communication skills necessary to articulate an end-state solution that involved some business process changes and some custom solutions within the OMS. The result was that the IT and Business teams were in a stalemate and the project as a result stalled out.

On another of our current projects, we were asked to come in as the overall Solution Architect, and that project is on-budget and actually ahead of schedule. Why? It all comes down to staffing someone with the right skill set. Whether you do this internally or more often than not through a firm like ours, you’ll need to understand exactly what traits are necessary to make the most out of this role.

The below identifies some of the characteristics of good Solution Architects.

Defining The ‘Solution Architect’ Role

Simply put, the role of a Solution Architect (SA) is to provide the right design/architecture between system and process changes to meet the needs of the business and its users.  The SA typically has a prior background as Business Analyst with some software experience, or in most cases is a systems applications expert that throughout their time has been a liaison to the business and during a major Omni-channel project is “elevated” to the role of SA. In addition to knowing the business process and supporting software applications, the SA must also be:

  • Someone with a technical background, that understands the value within the technology solves, but with the business, acumen to understand the real-world scenarios to apply it to.

  • Someone who is detail-oriented, who knows which conversations to “dive into” and which to keep at surface-level, for the sake of time and attention of the broader group.

  • Someone who communicates well, and has ample experience implementing large-scale transformation projects (i.e. understand fundamentals of ‘Change Management’).

  • Someone who can navigate risk, and understands basic mitigation strategies to use during implementations.

  • Someone that is a rational/pragmatic person who can rise above emotional tendencies and see the problem for “what it really is” (or see the problem behind the problem) and design a “right-sized” solution that meets that need, and not designs for more than that.

What Are The Specific Traits Of An Omni-channel Solution Architect?

In more mature areas of retailers’ business processes (such as distribution center operations or finance/accounting), the Solution Architect’s role is clear-cut, but given how relatively new “Omnichannel” as a trend is and the lack of adoption, coupled with the relatively still immature Order Management market, the “Omnichannel Solution Architect” role has still not fully developed. I’ve put together a few bullet points of some Omnichannel specific traits that an SA needs.

  • Prior experience working directly for a software provider, or within a 3rd Party Implementer on two or more Distributed Order Management project.

  • An understanding of Store Operations and Call Center Operations, and has actually spent time in both environments as a store-associate or call-center representative.

  • Expertise and experience in developing an end-to-end integration landscape, and typically being able to design for intermediate flows as the solutions involved are replaced/enhanced.

    • Specifically – Being able to rationalize what capabilities are most valuable to the organization, design the flows as such, and be able to communicate to the business the roadmap and rationalize the approach.

  • Technical understanding of capabilities within leading solutions relative to:

    • Order Creation (across all channels) – Involving tax, fraud, payment and email messaging.

    • Order Modification (by any channel)- Involving changes to order and the impact on payment and customer communication.

    • Integration with CRM and Financial Posting Systems.

  • An understanding of different ‘order profiles’ within specific industry categories, what is required to support those typical flows, and how to architect a scalable solution to support multiple profiles (also called “order types”)

No Change In Sight For SA’s In The Market

While it’s my wish that more retailers formally acknowledge the need for this role and staff for it prior to starting a project, most still have budgeting constraints relative to headcount that overemphasize the cost of the actual software without considering the cost of stalled or failed solutions because human capital wasn’t accounted for. Even with proper budgeting for the role, we find that retailers contact us because they struggle to find the right mix of technical and business acumen necessary.

If you’re considering starting an Omnichannel solution and have not yet staffed this role, we would love to talk. If you want to hire someone full-time we can help connect you, and if you need short term assistance, we can help there too. Contact Us.