Retail leaders need to care more about tech
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Nikki Baird, VP of retail innovation at Aptos. The article first appeared on Forbes.com.
Technology has gone from a cost to be controlled to a primary enabler of a retailer’s ability to sell, which increasingly puts technology at the heart of the customer experience. Yet business leaders’ understanding of these technologies — what they’re capable of and how they deliver what they do — has not really increased as tech capabilities have grown.
I’ve seen it many times: a “talk to the hand” moment of “Yeah, I get that you want to talk bits and bytes, but I don’t really care about that stuff. Talk to the IT guy.”
Tech is a tool of the trade now, like it or not. If you don’t understand how your personalization solution works, how are you going to best take advantage of what it has to offer? Artificial intelligence only makes these risks larger and more immediate.
The net result of this attitude is pressure on technology vendors, influencers and even “the IT guy” to cast technology purely in business terms. The problem is that a lot of the value of technology is in how it’s deployed. For decades now, business leaders have had more control over the technology budget than ever before, and when faced with the low-cost version of deployment vs. the higher-cost-but-better architecture option, they’ve pretty consistently opted for expediency and low cost.
It hasn’t helped that it has become increasingly difficult to explain the technology purely in business terms.
And thus, retail technology is loaded with technical debt, because the people paying for IT didn’t want to know or care about how the technology works. One example is POS: retailers using Windows 7 thought they were saving money by not upgrading and are now scrambling to overhaul their hardware and software to get to Windows 10.
Equally, the tech industry has a responsibility here too — to make sure that our solutions can be understood by people who don’t already love technology, and to ensure that we do our best to help business leaders see when they are making decisions that will put them right back into their technical debt corner. Too often, tech vendors are enablers of retailers in that regard. And in the end, that serves no one’s purpose.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Has expertise in technology become a core competency that a CEO can no longer delegate to others? Are tech vendors in some ways acting as enablers of a short-term IT investment mentality?