January 20/27, 2014; Volume 27/Number 19
Your phone is probably at the cutting edge of consumer technology, but your business computer system is probably obsolete. Don’t worry (yet), because everyone else’s system is probably obsolete as well. We are at the start of a new cycle of business software, in which all the rules have changed.
It used to be that companies like IBM or Microsoft decided what your business software would look like and run on. Now the consumer is in control. With a little push from Google and Apple, the consumer demands that every piece of software and every website can be accessed the way the Millennial generation expects. It needs to work on their phones, their tablet or at the very least on their web browsers.
There is still a distinction between business software and consumer software, but not in terms of look and feel. Tomorrow’s employees will likely come to work with their own devices, further blurring the line between when and where you are working versus web surfing. So, what will your computer system look like tomorrow?
1. Your computer software and data will be off-site in a cloud. Secure according to the Millennials, but provoking paranoia for the rest of us. Let’s learn to deal with it, because it’s so much easier to support, back up and use systems that are managed by professional hosting companies with endless storage and bandwidth. You’ll never know or care what type of server you are on, and you can store samples in the old computer room.
2. Your software will look great, but make sure it still knows flooring. If it works on your phone but it doesn’t know a roll from a cut or a rebate from a trip fund, you’ll have wasted your investment.
3. Tomorrow’s software will be more focused on your customer than on your internal business. If your software is developed correctly, it will still balance the books and control the inventory, but the focus will be on delivering information directly to your customer and solving customer issues. Distributors and manufacturers already provide robust online services, but many flooring retailers will need to do a better job providing online data to their customers and salespeople.
4. Your systems will have to connect to everyone in the supply chain. No retailer (whether you’re Home Depot or a small, single-store operation) can afford to rekey or reprocess data that exists at their suppliers. Support the Floor Covering B2B Association (fcb2b.org) and make sure you are connected to every supply chain partner you have. Today’s technology allows you to see inventory up and down the supply chain, all from within your own computer system. FcB2B has done the hard work of making B2B technology compatable with flooring.
5. Your next computer system may be free. If you combine the advent of software as a service (SaaS) with the fact that all suppliers want to directly reach their consumers, you have a natural recipe for software that is provided by the supplier to the retailer. You will see this in other industries first, but one day it will relieve the burden of system management from many small- and medium-sized flooring retailers.
The changes listed above will challenge some and provide opportunity for others. Larger retailers can take advantage of their ability to purchase and deploy expensive software. On the other hand, standardization, SaaS and advances in B2B all help to level the playing field and allow small retailers to offer services that rival their larger competitors. As a software developer, the challenge of ever-changing technology affects my company as much as any retailer. My advice for tomorrow is to keep your systems at least as up to date as your samples.