I sat down with a large business applications vendor that sells to retailers and manufactures yesterday, to get an update on their “multi-channel” strategy. Multi-channel, or as we are increasingly calling it, “multicommerce”, represent the complexity in a firm that exists when that firm interacts with its customers (or partners) across multiple channels using different methods. For retailers, this can include store, direct, web, catalog, and so on. For many retailers these channels are not all natively developed businesses, but some are acquired over time by the absorption of a smaller, niche competitor. It is very common in fact to find a retailer with all manner of complex business applications systems loosely integrated in an attempt to align data and processes across channels. The fact is that much of this integration is traditional (unchanged in design or structure for the last 8+ years), weak, and now overly expensive to maintain. The result is often experienced by you and me: we can purchase items from one channel and not return it via another; we can place an order via one channel and experience unrelated customer service on another.
The briefing was very interesting and the focus was more on how this vendor was helping retailers with “multi-channel planning”; how to aggregated forecasts and planning information across multiple channels in one holistic process. I asked of the vendor, what they do to help the retailer integrate the underlying transaction and master data across the different channels.
The response was a very bland “same old thing” answer that talks about “integration the way we have been doing it for years”. This particular vendor does not “get” MDM, or at least does not relate publicly the connection between this latest attempt to unify single view of master data (like product, customer, location, channel, price) and how it will significantly reduce the costs of integration associated with managing duplicate and redundant and inaccurate master data.
This is a great shame, in my view. The retailers themselves are not collectively thought of as visionaries when it comes to MDM – though I met two such rare visionaries at our recent MDM Summit. With the majority of retailers not understanding what MDM should be to their business, and with vendors selling into retailers not really “getting it”, the result will be slow adoption and apathy: not a recipe for significant improvement in retail performance.
Have you seen some good examples of MDM being applied in retail? Do you think your examples are isolated? Do you agree retailers are taking too long, in general, to get to grips with their master data?