Systems Integration – getting it right in retail
Alan Morris, Managing Director at Retail Assist and Ian O’Rorke, Managing Director at Triquestra UK, debate the issues retailers need to consider when integrating multiple systems such as supply chain and EPoS, and the challenges that they might face.
Within any retail business, the IT solutions used on a day-to-day basis require integration. Retail systems integration is very different to interfacing. For example, within retail stock management, an interfaced solution may include product files in two separate locations being used by different systems. Once an item has been purchased in store, the shop’s product file will recognise this has happened immediately. However, this information will not be fed back to the central solution until polling occurs overnight. This can obviously lead to difficulties if a customer attempts to purchase the same product online before the central database recognises it is no longer in stock.
By contrast, an integrated solution has a single database, utilised by a number of systems. This ‘single view’ of stock is invaluable for any retailer. For start-up businesses, the desire to ‘get it right’ from the outset is emphasised, as poor initial interfacing or integration will result in further expense down the line.
A joint client of Retail Assist (Merret for supply chain, merchandising and warehousing) and Triquestra (for point-of-sale) is new womenswear brand Mint Velvet, who can be credited with getting integration right from the beginning.
Ian: How should retailers go about selecting a systems integration partner?
Alan: It is vital that the suppliers involved in systems integration projects prove they have the capability and experience to deliver in this area. It is always a challenge when you are building links between different applications, but if the development is carefully thought through, well designed and well implemented, there is no reason why there should be any major problems.
Alan: How can retailers benefit most from systems integration?
Ian: Rather than having a ‘jack of all trades’ system that does everything not very well, I’d advise them to start by choosing ‘best-of-breed’ solutions, and have the best of PoS, ERP and finance. If they go for the ‘middle of the road’ solution, they’re more likely to have problems down the line. Investing in the software at the outset is a big outlay, but ‘best of breed’ solutions will last retailers 15 years.
Ian: What do think retailers should be looking for?
Alan: Better products, better locations, more customers and higher net margins. All retailers should be looking to achieve these objectives, and systems suppliers and IT professionals should use their resources to help retailers find what they’re looking for. These four items should be the cornerstones underpinning any IT strategy.
Ian: I echo your comments. You have to agree all these things up-front. Retailers should also look for references, speaking to users of the system before they commission them. Talk to other customers, and make an informed choice.
Ian: As you recall, the Mint Velvet solution required a lot of integration. Looking back, how difficult do…