The online retail industry is experiencing an unprecedented boom, with indications that the sector was worth R30bn in 2020, a full third higher than estimates just three years ago. This means retailers of all shapes and sizes need to ensure their systems and e-commerce capabilities are modernised to keep pace with the modern consumer.
The most sustainable route to future-proofing a retail business is by building a long-term relationship with its IT partner. Both sides need to contribute ingredients to the recipe for the success of these partnerships.
Before we look at the recipe for successful partnerships between retailers and software developers, it is important to consider the main reasons these arrangements go wrong, which results in frustration and delays.
Software developers need to accept that they cannot be everything to everyone. It is impossible for a vendor to be an expert in all industries. There is a difference between being competent in what you do as a developer and understanding the nuances and reality of the industry you are servicing.
Retailers, on the other hand, should make a project sponsor available. One of the main causes for inertia or frustration in software development projects is the lack of a senior project sponsor within the retailer to drive the project. Think about it, the steering committee identified a need and passed budgets, but if there isn’t a resource, a mature thinker, who drives from client-side then the project will go nowhere quickly.
If the vendor is deeply entrenched in the industry, and if the client’s senior staff have empowered a project sponsor to drive things internally, the plate is ready for the remaining ingredients for a long and fruitful partnership.
Nortje shares building blocks from his experience building successful relationships between clients and development partners.
- Aim to nurture long-lasting relationships with clients. This means getting to know your client. Understand their business, their people and their processes. There’s little to be gained in terms of meaningful work with once-off projects chasing fast money.
- Invest in people. Attitude is more important than aptitude. Once everyone has similar skills, go for the ones that want to learn and grow and be part of a team. Personalities make teams, so take time to get these dynamics right.
- Develop processes that can be repeated. This is important beyond being efficient. When you have a formula that works, that is consistent and can be used time and again, you can offer this type of predictability to clients. Invest in your processes.
- Choose your target market carefully. This is directly related to the number one cause for relationship failures – trying to be everything to everyone. Stick to your key competencies. Work where you have expertise. In other words, work in industries where you speak the same language as the customers.
- Develop meaningful relationships with clients’ IT teams. If the client has a strong IT department it will affect their ability and willingness to work with the project team. However, if they don’t have a mature IT department, this relationship can be nurtured. Work with them, to help them understand you, your needs, and your business. It is important for clients to see IT not as a support function but as an enabler of their business. This type of trust is just like any relationship – it takes time and investment to get right.
- Be brave enough to challenge thinking and be willing to say no. This is not always easy, but the power of honesty goes a long way in building a lasting relationship built on transparency and trust.
- The business owner, or director of a business unit, needs to buy into the work and processes of the vendor. This is important because, with their support, the vendor can achieve the objectives more efficiently, because the senior director will drive this faith in the vendor – and its processes – internally.
- Provide internal access. For a vendor to be able to do their work properly they need a client who provides access to systems, data, business users and subject matter experts in the business. It may seem obvious, but by not providing this access the vendor is unable to effectively achieve its objectives. In addition to this, Nortje says that reducing internal red-tape and laborious approval processes will go a long way towards clearing the way for a fruitful relationship.
- Take the time to develop a basic understanding of the vendor’s business. This is related to the vendor putting time in to develop meaningful relationships by educating the client on their business. Take the time to appreciate who the key players are, the processes and how the vendor achieves its objectives during projects.
- Be willing to change. At the end of the day, you brought a vendor in to improve your systems. Sometimes this will require changing the way things are done – it may be uncomfortable at the time, but is essential for success.
- Gerhard Nortje, Operations Director for enterprise retail software specialist redPanda
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