When it Came to Omnichannel, “We Were So Far Behind, We Were Actually Ahead”

One of the top executives at a US retailer with over 100 stores recently said “We were so far behind (in omnichannel), we were actually ahead.” The executive spoke at enVista’s user conference -FUEL – in Scottsdale Arizona the last week in September. Omni-channel is an initiative by brick and mortar retailers to better integrate their stores and e-commerce channels. So, a retailer might support buy online, pick-up at store; or order online, deliver to home from a store; several other fulfillment paths are also possible.

This retailer provides everyday low prices for consumer goods from name brand manufacturers. They accomplish this by buying liquidated items, unclaimed freight, canceled orders, closeouts, overruns, and special buyouts. Their buyers purchase only in bulk.

enVista is a consulting and systems integration firm that is best known for their expertise in implementing supply chain execution systems and their robust consulting around parcel shipping. Because of their history as a system integrator and consultant, their development of an omnichannel software platform – the Unified Commerce Platform – tends to get overlooked. I had certainly forgotten about it until I attended the show.

This executive’s point was that omnichannel solutions have advanced. Getting started later than many other retailers on an omnichannel initiative allowed them to buy a more modern platform. “We were able to buy an omnichannel solution with no bolt-ons.”

omnichannel

Jim Barnes, CEO enVista

Jim Barnes, the CEO of enVista, was speaking in the same session. Mr. Barnes explained the approach enVista took in building the Unified Commerce Platform. “Why have a POS (point of sale) or order management system unless they are on the same platform?  Order management is becoming the new POS.” The cloud-based enVista solution provides a single view of items, orders, customers, inventory, and payments.

In a demo the advantages of this architecture became clear. A customer could order three items, one item to be carried out of the store, another item to be delivered to his home, and the final item to be held at another store – in a distant city the customer will be visiting on business – and picked up at that location. All items, despite the different flow paths, can be paid for at the same time.

The retail executive said that their initial phase, finished in July, was focused on buy online and pickup in store. But the retailer wants to get to a point in a future phase where customers can buy a product at the store and take it away, buy a different product and have it delivered in a week, and buy another product and have it delivered in a month. “A point of sale system can’t handle this. An integrated order management/POS does understand the inventory and fulfillment logic. There is no separate order based on the fulfillment method.”

One of the reasons this retailer went with the enVista solution was that in his view the better-known solutions in the market were architected for a Big Bang implementation, which the executive saw as a recipe for disaster. “The integration layer is key to the future of these solutions.” This is particularly true if companies want to take a phased approach to adding new omnichannel/ecommerce flow paths.

While this retail executive saw the integration layer as critical, the company’s implementation approach helped minimize the need for more complex integration. They implemented an enterprise resource planning solution from Microsoft Dynamics with no order logic. That order logic resides in the enVista solution. The ERP solution is the backend used for transactions.

ARC recognizes that omnichannel is one of the most significant megatrends affecting supply chain management. Over the years, my colleague Chris Cunnane and I have made several attempts to write case studies of omnichannel software implementations. We have had little success. We suspect that the implementations are so difficult and lengthy that supply chain practitioners just don’t want to talk about the experience. They are also costly. One large retailer’s budget was $50-55 million for this set of solutions (and I would not be surprised if they went over budget).

So, it is significant that at FUEL enVista had a customer talk about a successful implementation, mentioned another company that went live in 12 weeks (I’d like to verify that by talking to this customer and then writing about it), and had a panel of happy customers talk about their philosophy on unified commerce.

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