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Retailers can enable digital transformation through a data-driven culture

Figures from numerous sources indicate that over 30% of British consumers are shopping more online now than during the recent lockdown. The message for retail couldn’t be clearer – digital retail is here to stay and being (or becoming) a truly data driven organisation is what will mark the difference during a significant period of upheaval. Retailers who are prepared will be in a position to capitalise on the opportunities. 

Historical challenges

Historically, retail product attributes were largely the domain of logistics and supply chain. Enrichment was done by marketing. Ownership of product content was shared among several departments. Nevertheless, a legacy approach like this has always created the bugbears of duplicated effort in siloed departments, an inability to react rapidly, a sluggishness in time to market for new products, and inconsistencies in the customer experience across different channels.

In recent times, the shopping experience has become digital – there’s a proliferation of product information and a big driver of customer satisfaction is the seamless and frictionless omni-channel integration of structured and unstructured data.

Products have increasing numbers and varieties of attributes and there is a plethora of available digital assets which significantly enhance the customer experience. Other factors, like long-tail SKUs in omni-channel operations, or the rise in volume of unstructured data (including multi-media and consumer reviews) create the challenge of standardising systems to collect, validate, and distribute data internally.

Becoming data-driven: challenges and opportunities

Legacy systems

As retailers’ product data requirements have been increasing rapidly, legacy practices for managing that data have become inadequate. Perhaps the ERP system isn’t flexible enough – it’s unable to deal with the rising complexity and spread of product data. Maybe it’s the multitude of product data formats coming into the company – sorting, converting and feeding that data in a standardised way to an increasing number of marketing and sales channels is becoming virtually unmanageable.

The Desired Destination

There are a number of broad business principles surrounding a successful digital transformation. Where data is concerned, these principles are not siloed into departmental initiatives but apply a 360૦ vision to the status of data in the business;

  • Firstly, becoming ‘data-driven’ implies a change in company culture. This means realigning mindsets to recognise and appreciate the importance of data in driving purpose and achieving aims. Leadership in inspiring this transformation is fundamental for organisation-wide buy-in. 
  • Secondly, crafting a mindful retail product data management strategy will help with gaining commitment to a change management process, which is an essential tool.
  • Thirdly, having built the foundations of a data-driven business strategy, generating cross-functional collaboration is key in promoting the role of high-quality product data in decision-making, insights, analytics and, of course, the consumer experience. 

The Foundations: Product Data Governance

What is Data Governance

Business paradigms have moved on a long way from the days when data management was synonymous with data governance. Data management is the territory of I.T., while governance should be an organisation-wide endeavour. It must be a quality control discipline fit for purpose to assess, manage, enhance, monitor, maintain, and protect the organisation’s information. 

Why it matters

As a critical part of the business program, product data governance needs clearly delineated policies and practices, best determined through collaboration and consensus across the company. Product information data governance will provide actionable answers to how a company can determine and prioritize the benefits and risks associated with that data. A governance framework determines exactly how product data can be used in different contexts and, perhaps most importantly, it defines exactly what constitutes ‘good’ data – the ‘single source of truth’.  

The product data value chain informs all parts of the business: from when it is onboarded from vendors, through transformation, storage, enrichment and deployment to its use in enhancing and optimising the customer experience. That’s why product data governance must engage stakeholders from across the entire company. The reliability, trustworthiness and security of data is everyone’s responsibility. Otherwise, retailers are condemned to remain stuck in the vicious cycle of data silos, where each department makes up its own rules. The ensuing irregularities mean that disputes over data standardisation, quality, completeness and reliability recur on a monotonously regular basis. Staff time, effort and agility are all sacrificed and costs stack up.

The Chief Data Officer

At the core of governance are concepts of ownership, accountability, processes, planning, and data performance management. As ever more extensive and granular product data proliferates, the role of Chief Data Officer is becoming widespread for truly data-driven organisations.

In a nutshell, CDOs (‘data governors’ as such) are responsible for leading oversight of; 

Embracing the future

This isn’t a case of overnight change. It is, however, a process of re-orienting the way in which the organisation strives to perform at its very best and serves a target market whose needs, desires and expectations are changing at a rapid pace.