Adaptability has always been critical to retail success. But in the digital era, where disruptive change is constant, many retailers find it difficult to evolve fast enough to remain competitive — let alone relevant. That is especially true for companies burdened by the weight of legacy business models, inefficient back-office processes and outdated technology infrastructure. A proof point: The massive wave of brick-and-mortar store closures seen so far in the first half of 2017 involving many well-known retailers that simply didn’t adapt fast or well enough to change.
Most retail executives recognize that their businesses need to embrace digital transformation if they are to survive. These leaders yearn to get ahead of the curve — or at least, ride along with it comfortably — but struggle to create a viable digital strategy. One reason for the struggle is that digital transformation is a nebulous concept. It’s vast and complex and evolving. Discovering and defining what digital transformation means and looks like for the business is a journey for any organization, particularly one encumbered by a legacy business model with longstanding brand promises.
To bring digital transformation into focus and develop viable business strategies around it, it helps to understand the four key drivers for pursuing this type of change:
- Improving customer engagement
- Digitizing products and exploring new business models
- Improving decision-making
- Driving operational efficiencies
These are major challenges for any business, but retailers are under relentless pressure to deliver consistently on all fronts. Many become fixated on trying to develop and execute a sweeping digital transformation program but end up overwhelmed and falling further behind the curve instead. That’s because a do-everything-at-once approach is not realistic. It places additional stress on an already hectic business and results in the company overlooking the value of achieving substantive change through smaller, value-adding steps.
One example of an incremental step is the move to mobile technology for retail audits. While not one of the flashiest digital transformation initiatives and not necessarily a strategic move by any means, it nevertheless allows technology to be used to create more efficiency in back-office processes. And greater efficiency can increase operational effectiveness for the entire organization.
More than a decade ago, Protiviti forecasted that internal audit functions in retail would expand their use of mobile audit technology to streamline processes, increase analytic capabilities, and supplement traditional store audits with continuous monitoring and standardized store self-audits. In our most recent report on this topic, we note that “… the adoption rate and maturity of mobile audit technology have increased to the point where retailers not actively pursuing mobile store audit technology initiatives risk falling behind regulatory and shareholder expectations.”
Here’s a quick look at some of the ways that this simple but important technology change in the back office aligns fundamentally with the four drivers of digital transformation:
- Improving customer engagement: Internal audit’s “customers” are business owners. Mobile technology for store audits helps to streamline and accelerate the audit cycle. That helps to improve the experience for auditees and keep them engaged in the process. And by making the audit process more efficient, the business can address risks and make improvements to external customer-facing processes more quickly, ultimately creating value for the retailer’s external customers, too.
- Digitizing products: An automated mobile solution for store audits can eliminate paperwork, delays and errors. Audit findings also can be analyzed sooner; data is entered only once at the store into a web-based reporting system that delivers real-time results.
- Improving decision-making: Store audit technology can provide management with instant feedback on current store performance as well as real-time insight into compliance trends. Organizations can use that insight to detect and resolve ongoing problem areas before they become insurmountable issues, and improve the company’s overall performance.
- Driving operational efficiencies: As we note in our store audit technology report, “Self-assessment, coupled with improved productivity from a mobile reporting solution, not only allows auditors to physically audit more stores, but also effectively increases audit reach to all locations by providing convenient, easy-to-use means of comprehensive store-level data collection and analysis.” This is what operational efficiency is all about.
While the retail industry’s general adoption of mobile technology for store audits has been years in the making, increased regulation and compliance changes over the past 10 years have created more of a pressing need for a digital solution. It’s an important reminder that real change takes time and is brought about by necessity, even in an era of rapid digital disruption. It is also a reminder that each thousand-mile journey begins with a single step.
Strategic back-office technology improvements are one such step. Such changes can add significant and lasting value to retail businesses in multiple ways. They can also help retailers become more agile, creative and adaptable — qualities that are essential to achieving digital transformation on a broader scale.