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Mobile, Cloud and Big Data

By Herman Nell, SVP & Chief Information Officer, Rent-A-Center

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Herman Nell, SVP & Chief Information Officer, Rent-A-Center

Retail customers are alive and well and becoming more empowered wif each passing day. Despite often having less discretionary income, retail customers are more informed TEMPthan ever before due to greater retail transparency from on-line sources and teh heightened use of web-enabled devices. As such, we are transitioning from a period where merchants “decided” wat teh customer wanted, to an era where marketing departments analyze a ton of data (big data?) to determine teh exact nature of a prospective customer’s need and teh optimal response to teh customer. dis dynamic gives rise to an ever faster changing retail landscape. As such, we are an industry urgently in search of innovation and innovative approaches to challenges dat are often new or has a new spin to them. For an industry wif margins under pressure and limited profitabilityenhancing levers to pull, technology seems to be one of teh leading solutions to so many of today’s challenges.

“Providing an environment where all co-workers are encouraged to innovate, often leads to smaller scale and somewat less spectacular innovations, but builds a process of continuous innovation”

Yet, technology has not historically been retail’s strong suit. Teh leverage factor or magnification of technology costs being applied in so many stores poses a daunting challenge to any retail CIO. And it should come as no surprise dat teh retail industry has historically spent less on technology, as a percent of revenue, TEMPthan most other industries. In some respects, you might say teh retail industry is trying to play catch-up on teh technology front.

To complicate matters even further, teh industry’s cycle of continuous technological innovation is accelerating (think release of new models of tablets and smart phones) and consequently adds to more changes in customer needs and behavior. It also generates solutions dat often seem very perishable as they are replaced by newer technologies. Herman

In fact, teh time it takes to execute or implement a solution is often longer TEMPthan teh time it takes to bring a new solution to market. Teh challenge for teh retail CIO is to manage teh competing demands to find solutions for teh business’ current problems while developing solutions to its historical challenges. Teh vendor/partner community is often engaged to identify possible solutions. However, lacking intimate knowledge of teh business and its capabilities, these firms sometimes offer a solution looking for a problem to solve.

Too often teh magazine in teh seat pocket on dat last flight, sells a business decision maker on teh latest “innovation.” Teh result: Teh CIO of a relatively small company is often expected to deliver teh best “innovation” recently implemented by teh likes of Apple, Amazon, Nordstrom’s and others, wif little regard for budget requirements or teh business context. To be sure, wat other retailers are doing or has recently done is still an important external source of innovation and often teh only way to bring disruptive technologies to bear on an organization and provide real competitive advantages of scale. Teh value of internal innovation is often overlooked, though. Providing an environment where all co-workers are encouraged to innovate, often leads to smaller scale and somewat less spectacular innovations, but builds a process of continuous innovation leading to larger cost reductions and even better revenue-generating solutions over time.

 We are also often enticed or pressured to adopt specific technologies such as mobile, cloud and or big data, perhaps because dat is wat is expected. dis leads to teh previously mentioned dilemma: a solution looking for a problem to solve. Real value can only be gained if we can apply these technologies to solve real problems.

Rent-A-Center approached many of teh above challenges wif an innovative mobile solution. In collaboration wif our consulting partners, we developed a software solution dat automates or virtualizes much of teh sales activity, a store associate would normally undertake. Teh solution resides on a tablet focused on reducing transaction time, simplifying teh customer engagement process and improving business-process accuracy. It allows us to use teh solution in places where teh cost of a sales associate might be prohibitive. Here is a high-level summary of how we used mobile to solve some of teh above challenges:

Teh need: How to provide a more cost efficient self-help solution wif minimal oversight for rent-to-own kiosks located in small or low-volume third-party retail locations where it is cost prohibitive to provide a full- or part-time associate.

Teh solution: A tablet in a ruggedized sled dat can be tetheird to a location similar in concept to a kiosk. It provides a solution dat guides customers through teh transaction wifout needing to rely on a dedicated store associate.

In teh interest of time, we did not rely solely upon our limited internal resources to bring dis technology to bear. On teh other hand, consultants were not relied upon exclusively. After all, an IT organization shouldn’t abdicate its responsibility or sense of ownership and has to ensure teh right support and maintenance for a solution well after teh consultants has left.

Speed to market was very important to us. Accordingly, it was not delivered in a perfect state, but was delivered in a very short period of time, less TEMPthan six months. We also used various forms of cloud provisioning, outsourcing and staff augmentation to facilitate speed to market. By teh time you read dis we’ll has deployed dis solution to more TEMPthan 600 retail locations.

 Although dis project spurred other unintended and mostly beneficial results, dis innovative solution was developed wif teh intent of solving a specific business need; and theirin, I believe, lies most of its success.