The challenge of creating an intelligent, sustainable

Digital transformation, building resilience and creating a sustainable enterprise are some of the biggest challenges facing retailers today.

The pandemic years have shown just how important it is to have the proper technology at hand to reach customers and staff, no matter where they are. At the same time, many businesses are working to understand their environmental impact and take steps to reduce it.

These complex issues are difficult to resolve considering the time and resources it takes to address them while keeping the daily operations of a business up and running. To examine what it takes, Inside Retail’s Heather McIlvaine recently hosted a webinar on the topic entitled “The Intelligent and Sustainable Enterprise for the Retail Industry”, interviewing two industry professionals with unique perspectives in the field. Her interviewees were Ismail Mifrah, CTO of the Maldives’ State Trading Organisation (STO), and Prapapachra Phanich, a retail business architect at ERP software provider SAP with a broad knowledge of retail technology and business trends in Southeast Asia.

The webinar examines how STO, as the Maldives’ largest trading company, has undergone its digital transformation journey both throughout and prior to the advent of the Covid-19 era based on SAP’s platform. According to Mifrah, embarking on this journey at an early stage gave STO a head start in adjusting to new pandemic-related business paradigms, while the pressure to accelerate digital transformation during the period pushed STO to achieve their desired targets.

“It’s a factor that some of the organisations tend to forget,” says Mifrah during the webinar, “but if you look at the Forbes 500 companies over the years, you can see that traditional organisations are no longer there at the top. The trend these days is for technology-driven companies heading the list, which shows that traditional business models are dying, and we need to evolve, to adapt to new technologies and leverage them to shape our future.”

Adding her observations from working with retailers across the SEA region, Phanich notes how the pandemic pushed consumers online and permanently altered customer expectations for best prices, best products, instant delivery and a seamless experience – whether online or offline. 

“Most of the great brands have been raising the bar high because they started their digital transformations before the pandemic,” she says. “Customers started becoming familiar with these kinds of things – instant delivery and so on – so they now expect the same from every company, every brand, and the level and value of demand are a lot higher. Most retailers now need to adjust themselves, and change their minds and their operational processes. You have to understand how customer behaviour has changed, and then do some analytics so you know what they want and can offer the right promotions at the right time. Retailers need to have strong operational excellence at the back end to support new business models and strategies”.

As Mifrah points out, there are several key considerations for companies embarking on their digital transformation journeys. The first of these is the need to ask the tough questions, such as whether or not your company’s business model is likely to hold for the next 10 or 15 years, which tells business owners whether or not their changes in the digital space are also going to involve a new approach to the business. Secondly, it’s important to choose the right digital transformation partner – according to Mifrah, a lot of businesses make the mistake of skipping this evaluation, leaving them to proceed without a proper roadmap. 

“The third thing that I would like to point out,” he says, “is that, although the digital transformation journey for us was a top-down initiative, it’s important to include the rest of the organisation to pass this message to get feedback from operational users as well, because there are a lot of key stakeholders involved. It is always important to pass our digital transformation mission or expectations down the line, so that the entire organisation is in tune with our processes. Always involve key stakeholders like customers, vendors and shareholders in this journey, because it’s impossible to achieve what we want without their involvement and get the maximum benefit out of the system.”

For more insights into digital transformation and sustainability, watch The Intelligent and Sustainable Enterprise for the Retail Industry here.