Lessons from IBM Smarter Commerce Monaco: Build relationships


In addition to being home to the Monte-Carlo Casino and Opera House, Monaco recently served as host to IBM's Smarter Commerce Global Summit 2013. With the event coming to a close and the Nashville Summit having wrapped up last month, it's a good time to start considering what lessons can be extracted from leading organizations. 

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One part of Smarter Commerce consists of the technology, as companies require more robust B2B integration and supply chain management solutions to orchestrate their business processes. However, there's much more to Smarter Commerce than a pile of hardware and software. For leading organizations, much of the focus is on their relationship with customers, according to Relationship Economics founder David Nour. The only problem is that customers are busy people and don't automatically make the connection between an organization's offerings and their needs. This means it is the responsibility of the business to understand their target audiences, even when potential customers aren't interacting directly with them.

While part of the challenge will be to implement solutions to bring information together in a meaningful way, the core issues associated with delivering a quality e-commerce service cannot be solved through technology alone. Businesses can collect data and analytics tools until their data centers are overflowing, but that information needs to be translated to actionable insight before it can be meaningful. As a result, it may be helpful to consider new operational philosophies alongside IT procurement.

"Smarter Commerce is an organizational journey," Nour wrote. "Its destination is an enterprise capable of delivering seamless, intuitive customer experiences. Interactions require contextual relevancy; in essence understanding your customers' behavior, predicting their needs, preferences and intentions. In working with several clients, I can tell you that this can't be achieved overnight."

Fostering business relationships
Like all healthy relationships, communication is the secret ingredient to creating positive customer perspectives. Of course, it isn't as easy as adding a dash of collaboration and sprinkling in some integration before mixing it all together in the hope that it will all work. Without a clear idea of what the company is trying to create, the individual pieces will not come together easily. 

For example, consider a common business problem: How can the supply chain be improved so that customer loyalty increases? From both business and IT teams, there are a lot of different parts - file transfer solutions to share data among partners, B2B integration suites to facilitate communication and collaboration and numerous business processes to define how products and services will be delivered. Considering the issue from only one of these angles would fail to create a fully effective solution. This complexity only becomes more prominent when businesses start to consider their numerous partners and how all of those pieces must come together in a collaborative environment in order to meet customer expectations. 

A Smarter Commerce approach focuses takes a customer-centric perspective, focusing on their expectations and needs even when the customer doesn't have a clear idea of what those needs are. There are several factors to keep in mind when making the type of transformative shift that Nour discussed:

  • Analytics: The technology can be a powerful tool, but decision makers must first ask the right questions and outline a way to measure results to maximize return on investment.
  • Relationships: Most of the focus may be on the relationship between the organization and its customers, but other business partnerships are equally important. After all, a miscommunication with suppliers would likely have a dramatic impact on customer perception.
  • Cross-channel integration: Just as all business partners should be on the same page, companies should ensure that marketing, messaging and sales campaigns are connected across every channel they utilize.
  • Continuous improvement: The other side of using analytics is taking action. Companies can benefit from creating processes for translating data into process improvements and IT investments on a regular basis. Otherwise, businesses risk collecting information without making it valuable. 

It's critical to have a clear business and IT strategy to make high-value investments, and establishing such a plan early on will also make companies more able to respond to change. In fact, one issue that often emerges is a lack of visibility over the technologies and processes already in place. For instance, mobile technology has become a prevalent consideration for e-commerce companies. Most business decision makers know that their audience is using more smartphones and tablets than they have in years past. However, a recent survey conducted by security firm ControlScan revealed that many had not yet improved their websites for mobile users. The survey, which included respondents from small-sized B2B and B2C firms, revealed that 17 percent didn't know whether their sites had been optimized for mobile. Another 49 percent admitted that they hadn't made any efforts to accommodate these users. Given the rise of smartphone ownership and the fact that many organizations have begun launching bring-your-own-device programs, this could translate into a lot of lost revenue for these companies.

Solving the bigger business problem
This type of disconnect between customer habits and companies can be a more significant problem for larger businesses. These organizations likely have multiple websites, many more partners and numerous engagement channels to manage. While the issue extends beyond mobile, the technology shows why it is important to adopt new philosophies for both IT and business processes. For instance, using website analytics to identify the types of devices that customers use most frequently can lead to a greater understanding of the company's target audience and to decisions that improve engagement. The second step is to translate this data to action. In the case of the mobile study, it may be worth developing a version of the brand's website specifically for mobile. However, it is essential to then connect new mobile initiatives with existing engagement channels and that will likely necessitate additional business integration to ensure that such efforts do not exist in isolation - this strong connection between departments, channels and partners is essential for strengthening business relationships.

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