Magazine Article | June 1, 2002

Enterprise Portals Provide Retail Value

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Enterprise portals act as an extension of your IT systems, while creating a personal environment for retail employees.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, June 2002
Stephanie Roussel-Dupre

When people say a place has "all the comforts of home," it's one of the highest compliments they could give. The phrase evokes images of familiarity, convenience, and a personal touch that likely will bring the recipient back again.

For retailers, offering a personalized and familiar experience to customers is second nature. But the value of personalization for retailers doesn't end on the customer-facing side. In this role-intensive and increasingly data-driven industry, merely posting reports for employees' use on a company-wide Web site is not enough. Retail employees need role-specific information in the appropriate format to help them perform at peak efficiency.

A Web-based enterprise portal can integrate a retail organization's existing technology systems and recognize employees at log-in to offer information, applications, and services relevant to their specific job functions. The portal integrates data from multiple internal and external sources to provide employees with exactly the information they need to fulfill their daily job functions and contribute to the greater success of the overall enterprise. No longer do they waste time sorting through information that is unnecessary or irrelevant to their jobs.

Collaboration And Unification In A Volatile Market
Retail employees today must interact with complex technology and master new skills. They must draw information from multiple sources - enterprise applications, data warehouses, unstructured documents, Internet content hubs - to perform their jobs. Yet most companies lack the means to make these resources work together to improve productivity and promote collaboration. An enterprise portal should go beyond simply aggregating data. It should be capable of integrating and delivering applications, information, and services that are not only relevant to specific employees, but also help workers turn that knowledge into intelligent action. The ability to push and pull information, such as exception-based reports, from all of these systems into the portal is just one example of how this technology can help boost retail companies' efficiency and lower training costs.

Different Roles Demand Different Information
Store managers, merchants, inventory planners, and executive managers all share an interest in sales performance. But they may draw vastly different information from the same sales report. Regional operations managers check their stores' sales against other geographic areas and compare sales by quarter. Merchandising managers match sales of item X to item Y and revise their demand forecasts accordingly. Corporate executives combine all of the above with a host of financial, marketing, and competitive factors.

A role-based enterprise portal can present this information in a context that mirrors each staff member's decision-making process. Certain portal solutions go even further, allowing employees to easily drag information from one system and relate it to an application within another system, such as dropping an SKU (stock keeping number) into a warehouse management application to locate an item in the distribution channel, with the simple click of a mouse.

Deliver Consistency To A Widespread Workforce
In an industry where 9 out of every 10 employees work at an assortment of retail stores, consistent communication is challenging. Mobile salespeople and area managers who travel between stores are even more likely to miss a crucial e-mail or faxed report. With a portal, the company can push information to employees simply and cost-effectively wherever the employee happens to log into the system. Responses through the enterprise portal can be seamlessly integrated with human resources or financial systems for significant time and cost savings over manual, paper-based processes. At its most basic, an enterprise portal is an extension of the underlying IT systems that retailers already use. But, in an industry where personal attention drives customer sales, there's significant value in providing a personalized, role-based work environment for employees.