Your companion on the omni-channel journey
- Posted on February 10, 2017
Consumer behaviour keeps changing and businesses must keep up.
Online shopping, the revolution of the last two decades is now a thing of the past. A more realistic, holistic mixed-mode form of retail has matured over the years, and now deserves decent research into best practices and success factors [CLICK TO TWEET].
This is exactly what two researchers from Cranfield University published in Focus Magazine about "The journey towards omni-channel retailing." It was a great article as expected of one of the best universities in the world in the field of operations and a magazine that is an authority on operations and supply chain management. The subject of the article was that retail, a complex endeavor, has three elements that need to be integrated seamlessly: buying process, delivery process, and back office operations. Integration of these elements can be passive (e.g. an accurate shared data model as a minimum) or active, incorporating data analytics, shared market intel and resource optimisation.
IT's all in the IT
What the article does not explicitly say is that all the above are characteristics of a decent IT system. Without it, there are no analytics, no shared data, or even an online outlet. Sound management decisions and supply chain practices aside, this model of trade is highly dependent on IT systems.
When it comes to IT, the choices are endless. You can start with POS integrated to the core business and financial systems (hub and spoke), or a fully-blown retail solution with its own inventory and accounting modules. Or you can adopt a comprehensive ERP with a retail extension like Dynamics 365 for Operations.
Retail was added to and almost perfected in the earlier versions of Dynamics (AX 2012 R2/R3). It comes with features for retail replenishment, call centre, distribution, and an integration connector to an online store of your choice. It also has a good POS solution and a very powerful pricing and gift voucher functionality.
Dynamics product catalogue import, retail product hierarchies and product release workflow provide the ability to release and update required products throughout the whole application almost instantly. Stock availability and pricing, the basic questions for any consumer, are available in an optimised architecture to handle web-service calls and price updates. The ability to reserve stock on the fly, and tie these reservations for stock replenishment planning is so powerful. But this is only one level of its capability.
The new "edition" of Dynamics was built as a true cloud application, with a common data model (CDM). Built on HTML5 makes it platform independent. Cloud hosting, gives AX the advantage of not being bound by infrastructure speed or performance, especially in peak times. Microsoft Azure cloud platform can do the integration optimisation job for you in that case.
Being in the cloud, Dynamics 365 enables you to ramp up, ramp down and outsource the IT support to Microsoft or to a partner… the lot.
On the other hand, the CDM enables scaling the data up and across, as well as extracting it real-time for analytics and reporting using Power BI or any other analytics tool of choice. This is the second level of integration, the active level, that the researchers have vouched for in their article. The beauty of this model is the ability to scale it to accommodate personalised customer data entities.
Moreover, the power that Dynamics 365 has over other Retail products is basically being an ERP; this means that half the battle is won with the fully integrated supply chain, planning, retail and finance systems. Another equally brilliant feature is the ability to build your own apps, using Power Apps, and if you're on Azure again, you can store them in the marketplace and sell them on.
The final, probably a bit overused but never dated feature… it is Microsoft… it integrates natively with Office 365 (hence the name), and navigating it has the same look and feel of any other product you must have used in the past.