Streamlining POS Upgrades

Are you as tired of reality TV shows as I am? Even if you don't watch them, it seems like every other commercial is about who is getting kicked off the island next. While many would argue that reality TV is about as real as big-time wrestling, the principles at work in the shows are often used when making IT decisions in retail. And just like in the TV shows, it is often not the best solution for the retailer that wins, but rather who has the best alliance (internal sponsor, who the CEO plays golf with, or whose kids share the same soccer team).

But Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) legislation has changed many of these good ol' boy practices. Retailers are looking for ways to add more rigor and objectivity to their IT decisions and thus the incumbents often no longer skate by as the uncontested winners.

Tied to this trend also is the fact that IT implementations continue to broaden in scope and interest among the business units. Take a POS implementation, for instance. Ten years ago there were a few different business units interested in the POS and the functional requirements of a new system. These business units included IT, store operations, accounting and pricing. That was pretty much the extent of the business unit involvement.

However, now as the POS has become the focal point of both customer and employee interaction with the retailer, many merchants are really struggling to gather and implement a process to capture all the necessary input so that the new decision not only meets the requirements of what the retailer wants to do today, but has the features and flexibility for where that retailer wants to be in five to 10 years.

Marketing wants to track data points and make specific offers to the customer. E-commerce wants the ability to have true multi-channel access to data and orders. Operations wants the ability to access real-time inventory availability at the current or nearby stores. And human resources (HR) wants to offer e-mail, training and workforce management functions.

These are just some of the frequent business unit requirements today. There are many others.

Meeting the RFP Challenge

The challenge of gathering all these requirements often delays IT decisions for a new POS selection for months, even years. Most retailers simply do not have the process in place to gather all of this information. There may be a standard IT steering committee that involves top-line professionals from major business units, but often missing are the requirements from the practitioners in each of the business units that must utilize the data from this new system.

The Association of Retail Technology Standards (ARTS) from the NRF has released several schemas to help retailers organize requirements. The POS schema was the first that was provided. While the lists of requirements are a great first step for retailers, many retailers are simply adding a cover page to the ARTS RFP (request for proposal) and calling it their own. When this happens, retailers miss the opportunity of adding their own unique requirements as well as setting a priority of features that can be used to evaluate vendor proposals.

Help is now available, however, to take the work ARTS has done to a new level. A new set of tools is now becoming available as part of the ARTS RFP Partner program that incorporate the ARTS functional requirements into a comprehensive process that manages the entire project from requirements gathering to store deployment.

The first tool released is called the Rapid Project Toolkit from C-Core Consulting Group, a group long on experience in retail as practitioners in store operations and business process improvement, but relatively new to consulting. What is impressive about this toolkit is that it is the result of deep retail experience that ranges from being involved in store management to IT to store operations to business processes.

The C-Core implementation starts with the business processes that are affected and the business units that are involved in those processes. It is then integrated with the ARTS functional and technical requirements lists, but in a way that allows for each relative business unit to provide an objective weighting to the importance of each feature.

Once vendors respond to the RFP, the tool automatically and objectively scores vendor responses based on the retailer's pre-determined ratings and makes a recommendation as to which vendors should be invited in for demonstrations. The process then walks the retailer through the demonstration process, once again capturing input from every business unit involved across their most important issues, and then provides a ranking/scoring of the top vendors.

Retailers not only understand who scored highest, but they also have a strong audit trail of why each vendor received its scores, noting key items the vendor does well, features they do not have in their product, and whether important items are considered custom or extra. Perhaps most importantly, the process ensures that the decision made has the backing, input and support from each of the business units.

A Comprehensive Tool

What happens when such a process is utilized? Field reports indicate the results can be quite powerful. One national organization of movie theaters recently used the C-Core process to go from initial requirements gathering to vendor selection for a new POS system in about 65 days. For most retailers this is a process that can take 12 to 18 months.

The reason the movie theater chain was able to do this, according to an executive involved in the process who wished to speak off the record, is: "The process is quite comprehensive and our management team is quite confident in the decision we made with the C-Core toolkit. It is hard work and challenging to work through all the business unit input, but we've already adapted the process for some of our other IT projects because it is an excellent way to make solid IT decisions."

Another specialty store executive using the process on another project remarked, "This will save six months of my time just trying to organize my own thoughts." While he has not finished the process and wanted to remain anonymous at this point, he believes it will ultimately result in major savings in time and resources.

These types of tools not only save retailers time in pulling their requirements together, but the tools provide an objective review of vendors that can pass new SOX requirements. Vendors also are supportive of the process, because they get a similar template each time they work on a proposal and their time to conclude a deal is greatly compressed. Because the retailer is making decisions two to three times faster, vendors know when they win or lose a deal equally fast. This allows vendors to get involved in more deals per year per sales representative and burn a lot less jet fuel.

The C-Core toolkit is not the first and will hardly be the last process on the market that can meet RFP needs. ARTS has a list of several other partners, including BearingPoint and Superior RFP, to choose from who are developing similar tools. In the increasingly complex world of retailing, where every part of the company wants something from the next POS implementation, the input of business units is imperative to completing a successful IT implementation.

Before you begin the process of your next IT decision and begin voting vendors off the island, make sure you have a process to effectively gather and organize the necessary information within your company.

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