At the heart of the CIO’s agenda: Business analytics is the stand-out technology investment in 2017

The recently published “State of IT” 2017 annual survey by Salesforce reveals that IT in industry is experiencing the biggest historical shift of its role to date, from a straightforward cost centre to a service delivering value and innovation, the “central nervous system” of modern business, “partnering with departments to orchestrate experiences with connected data sources and new capabilities”.

With this has come a significant change in the role of the Chief information officer (CIO). No longer just there to keep the lights on, the CIO is increasingly at the heart of the enterprise providing more customer-focused business analytics. Vala Afshar, Salesforce Chief Digital Evangelist, writes that “to be successful, modern CIOs must abandon their tendencies toward control and adopt an outlook that is more collaborative and customer-centric than ever.” There is evidence already that this attitude is becoming commonplace, with 61% of IT leaders saying that providing a single view of the customer is a high priority over the next 12–18 months.

Despite this shift, there remains an uncomfortable mismatch between business strategy and expectations, as CIO priorities are evolving rapidly but traditional views of the CIO as chiefly an operational role are yet to be shrugged off. The Salesforce survey found that 77% of IT leaders now view IT as an extension/partner of business units rather than a separate function. Yet a CIO survey by Deloitte’s found that while 78% of the CIOs polled said that strategic alignment on IT was essential to their success, only 36% ranked their organisation as “excellent” or “leading” in this capability.

A look at IT distribution
Like the business CIO, technology distributors worldwide are intent on making analytics a key area of investment. GTDC’s recently published report, “Insights into 2017 – Channel Executives and distribution leaders share their partner perspectives”, considered analytics as a key focus for distributors. Far from being a new area, analytics in 2017 promises distributors further innovation, incremental revenue and profit potential through the development of complex business intelligence (BI) solutions. As one Distribution executive put it:

“We’re using Analytics to identify opportunities for our business partners. For example, bringing new products to partners. We continually do an analysis of customers for the last two years. We have to move faster in investing in some next-generation areas and help our partners learn how to monetize these new opportunities. That’s really key for us.” — Miriam Murphy, Senior Vice President, North Region EMEA, Avnet TS.

Key questions for CONTEXT’s upcoming Channel Research Group
CONTEXT will be exploring the role of BI and analytics in the inaugural meeting of its Channel Research Group on May 30th in London, UK, asking the following questions to its Distribution, Reseller and Vendor partners:

  • What kind of opportunity is BI/Analytics to your business?
  • Has your company benefited from BI/Analytics information provided by a 3rd party?
  • How are you currently investing in BI? Is this for your own business or to help your partners develop BI solutions in their business?

For more information on CONTEXT’s Channel Research Group, please contact us!

by CS

 

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Don’t dismiss the Printer

I wondered why IT sales are doing so well, despite these extraordinary, uncertain times with Brexit, growing isolationism across the rest of Europe and insults thrown between Trump and Korea. According to the latest figures from the CONTEXT Distribution panel, revenues are up in the Eurozone by 6.7% compared to last year, with the UK steaming ahead with revenue growth of nearly 13%.

My colleagues are often blogging about the exciting new or “interesting” products that start to appear in our sales data – wearable devices, 3D printers, games consoles, mobile phones. Printers, on the other hand, can sometimes be overlooked but this is a market not to be ignored. In fact, in Germany, which represents around 20% of all revenues we pick up from the Distribution channel for IT products, Printing Consumables is ranked 2nd, behind only mobile computing. A similar picture emerges for France and the UK.

So, what is impacting the print market at the moment? We notice, particularly in the UK, workplaces transforming as millennials are looking beyond the traditional office. Working from home is increasing motivation and productivity and new technology is changing the way we work. Vendors are faced with new opportunities, and are rising to the challenge of how to best support the customers’ needs, be it savings on print costs, digitization, unified platforms – essentially, solutions for wherever your ‘office’ is at this precise moment.

Each quarter, the shift is moving from single to multi-function printers. We demand more from a printer than just printing. Unit sales of Inkjet and Laser multi-function printers grew around 6% in Q1 this year and now account for around 70% of all printers sold in Western Europe.

Inkjets are marking their return in the B2B sector with consistent double digit revenue growth of both the consumer and the business inkjets since Q2 2016. With more emphasis on lower print costs for businesses, vendors, particularly Epson and HP, are moving further into the higher price bands with revenues for business inkjets over Euro 400 growing by 37% year-on-year in Q1 2017. Business inkjets now account for almost 40% of all printer revenue in the SMB channel.

Finally, we’re also seeing a return in consumer confidence in some of the countries that have been struggling in the last couple of years. Spain has demonstrated an overall growth year-on-year of 16% in the print market, with a 12% growth in IT sales overall.

So, World disorder? I guess so, but business goes on and the printer market is still alive and well.

by DC

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What a Journey! CONTEXT Scoops Best UK Workplace Award

We always knew CONTEXT was a good place to work, but now it’s officially one of the best in the country, according to Great Places to Work. A massive “thank you” should go out to all those whose hard work made this possible.

The value of Great Places to Work
Great Places to Work (GPTW) is a highly respected industry voice on a mission to help improve workplace culture and CSR. As part of its efforts it releases an annual Best Workplaces ranking, announced this year on 3 May. Its unique methodology is what sets it apart. It comprises two elements: a Trust Index employee survey; and a Culture Audit, where experts appraise any HR and management policies designed to help drive engagement.

This methodology makes it a particularly credible way to measure workplace culture and engagement. In fact, many organisations apparently use it as a stand-alone work assessment tool, helping HR analyse where it’s performing well and which areas might need attention.

Engagement and innovation
After identifying the award as a focus for us back in 2013, we’ve done much to transform the company, and we will not get tired of looking for new ways. A CONTEXT-wide questionnaire identified seven areas of improvement, ranging from salary and benefits, to training, communication, and – my favourite – more fun! A focus group was set up to tackle each, with an executive team sponsor and employee(s) on each group.

The succeeding three years has been a constant journey of improvement which has seen us introduce a range of fantastic new initiatives. These have included:

  • Summer family outings at Hever and Leeds Castles
  • End-of-year Christmas party River Thames cruise
  • Much greater focus and investment in training
  • IT training and English classes
  • Two People Days, company-wide meetings designed to foster bottom up feedback during which we listened to and learnt from each other on areas in which we could improve
  • New air conditioning
  • A two week salary bonus in 2016 – 2017 bonus still pending Q2 results
  • A range of innovative new benefits – including healthcare benefits, early leave on your birthday, discounts in local restaurants and stores, etc
  • A new STAR recognition system

Getting better all the time
It goes without saying we’re all delighted to have been named as one of the UK’s Best Workplaces. It’s testament to all the hard work that’s been put in over the past three years, and will help us grow as a company by attracting the brightest and best going forward.

But I also have to say, this is the beginning. We’re onto something special here and we’ll certainly not be resting on our collective laurels. The challenge going forward will be to continue listening to and engaging with our employees, working to introduce more innovative new initiatives, and ultimately, to continue making CONTEXT an ever greater place to work.

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by JD

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Window Shopping and Shopping on Windows

A running theme over the last few years in business news in the US and elsewhere is the terminal decline of the physical retail store. Many of the big name chains once thought of as bastions of the high street have fallen victim to the online juggernauts, on what seems like a weekly basis. The finger of blame is most often pointed at Amazon, whose profits continue to soar to such extents that some financial analysts are now claiming that their share price is overvalued and based upon forecasted earnings of massive proportions.

It is possible that President Trump may attempt to curtail Amazon’s growth through trust-busting legislation – something which could be motivated by his feud with The Washington Post and its owner/Amazon exec Jeff Bezos – however there is little legal ground to challenge the etailer simply because their business model and disruptive technology offers a better deal for consumers as things currently stand. It’s true that few retailers can take on Amazon based on pure pricing, however there are still assets which Amazon does not yet have: a large high-street presence and refined customer service.

I was speaking to a colleague recently whose wife works as a beauty consultant in London’s West End. She was upset that although their footfall was good and plenty of customers wanted to try out products, very few actually bought anything, and many could be seen price-checking and purchasing on Amazon before they even left the store. Let’s be honest: many of us do this every time we shop. Her general feeling was that they shouldn’t even bother stocking anything in-store. This remark was borne of bitter resignation, but some retailers have done exactly that, using a sophisticated omnichannel model to remove the need for significant store inventory.

There are certain categories where consumers will always want to try products in person, and which if prove unsatisfactory can result in a glut of expensive return logistics. Clothing and fashion is an obvious candidate; US brand Bonobos recently posted a $60m increase in revenue over the past five years, driven by their Guideshop setup. Consumers visit physical stores to see the new lines, try on clothing, then pay to have clothes delivered when and where they wish. The store itself does not hold large stock or inventory. Bonobos’ system challenges the assumption that most consumers want to leave with the product in hand, and has allowed them to reinvest logistical savings in staff training and a high service-level.

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This phenomenon is also seeing green shoots for technology sales, with showroom setups such as London’s Sandbox offering hands-on experience with new categories including VR. Like Bonobos, Sandbox’s function is to give consumers the chance to try room-scale VR, something Context’s 2016 VR consumer survey showed to be a key factor in purchasing VR. At this stage in the category’s lifecycle relatively few consumers have tried room-scale VR, and would therefore be unwilling to part with the daunting initial upfront cost.

These kinds of demonstrations are arguably more important for VR marketing than traditional advertising. VR can be a revelatory experience, but selling it to someone who has never tried it is an uphill struggle. It is also fair to say that many consumers shop online to avoid feeling pressured by a salesperson, and at present very few retailers can offer truly excellent face-to-face customer service. By removing the onus of making the purchase then and there, and potentially allowing for price reductions to compete with Amazon, Bonobos’ solution, or a modified omnichannel setup could be the saviour of the high street, not to mention a huge boom time for the distribution channel and drop shipments.

The art of window-dressing has a long and proud history, once a place of hubris for serious-minded shop attendants and source of satire for comedians, but now the whole store offers a window into (Microsoft) Windows.

by JW

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B2B – a risk for the channel or a missed opportunity for tech retailers?

The recent news about Amazon launching its B2B activity in Europe, starting in Germany, has generated a lot of press coverage. In the US it is reported that in the last two years the number of business customers shopping at Amazon has increased from 200,000 to 400,000, so resellers in Europe are concerned. “Amazon’s B2B challenge is a danger for the Channel,” was the headline on CRN UK’s front page.

So is this news a risk to the channel or in fact a missed opportunity for retailers?

Three years ago CONTEXT ran a conference which highlighted the opportunity of what we named “R2B” short for “Retail-to-Business”. Many retailers from across Europe attended this conference, but very few had the real commitment to make it happen. So will the news of Amazon’s arrival in this space make them wonder if they missed an opportunity? Surely if Amazon, with no stores, no experience of providing human-to-human customer service, and no expertise in business IT, can go for this sector, then the tech retailers can do so also.

Successful retailers in B2B are those who have invested in a service capability. Best Buy and the Geek Squad, DixonsCarphone and Knowhow, the Darty van with “le contrat de confiance” emblazoned on it – these are the retailers that have invested in service. Sebastian James, CEO of DixonsCarphone, said at Retail Week Live in March 2015 “if we don’t invest in the whole chain we risk to become irrelevant”. Some etailers have also managed to create a space in this area – an example is LDLC in France which has set up a nationwide network of resellers who help their business customers to install and maintain their IT equipment.

If a retailer is keen to take on Amazon in the B2B area here are the 5 key steps to follow:

  1. Identification and targeting of business customers through the use of CRM and intelligent sales activity – for example, every time a customer asks for a VAT invoice, this is a sure sign that they are a business; or when they purchase more than 2 of any machine, this should be a sign. Human interaction with the customer is important, as well as the posing of key questions online. On Staples website, the very first action is to identify yourself as a business or as a normal customer
  2. Curation of business SKU’s – with the support of vendors, retail is a way of targeting incremental sales from small businesses of less than 25 seats. But it is necessary to have the right products, which are not always made available to retailers. You can buy a Lenovo Thinkpad for a B2B customer on PCWorldbusinessonline, at Amazon.co.uk, at LDLC but not at Fnac, Darty, El Corte Ingles or even Media Saturn.
  3. Category management to drive out the optimal product mix – the business SKU is part of an ecosystem – understanding the upselling opportunities to meet the full needs of the business customer is a key element of success. R2B market data is a vital support for retailers by showing top selling products and typical market baskets.
  4. Service at every stage – the business customer needs service in store, online, at the point of installation and support in maintaining equipment in a functioning state. This is the most demanding element of the proposition in terms of investment. Recently, I asked the CEO of a retailer in the Middle East if he was concerned about Amazon’s purchase of Souk.com, and he said “No! We will differentiate ourselves through our service offering.”
  5. Financing of small businesses – this is a key activity which helps SMB to survive and grow. Healthy credit terms and even loans help small and medium businesses to expand without fear of cashflow shortage.

It is not too late for retailers to enter into this space, and capture a market which is at risk from the ever-innovative and expanding Leviathan which is Amazon.

by AS

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3D Printing running shoes: Why the adidas announcement is different!

This month the German footwear brand adidas announced a partnership with 3D Printer start-up Carbon for their Futurecraft 4D program, a new initiative to leverage 3D Printing to make running shoe midsoles. Last year, when first announcing their new Multi Jet Fusion 3D Printing process, HP also announced a partnership with a footwear company (Nike). The past few years have also seen various announcements from New Balance, Under Armour and a host of others. Prior to this announcement from adidas however, most companies touted their use of 3D Printing as a technology to accelerate prototyping or as an “experimental” technology, essentially just beginning to uncover what 3D Printing might be able to do for them. This announcement from adidas takes the industry one step further in that it indicates that it will begin to use the unique Carbon 3D Printing technology (and material) to produce the running soles for its new line by firstly making 5,000 pair this year and then 100,000 pair by next year.

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This hits at the heart of the next hurdle for the 3D Printing industry, moving away from just prototyping and cracking more into gargantuan manufacturing industry. 3D printing excels in the production of complex parts, in one-off production, in on-demand and in “mass customization” (think hearing aids and invisible orthodontia braces both of which have been made using 3D Printing for a long time). 3D Printing has not been able to compete against tried-and-true manufacturing techniques like injection-moulding (or “molding” as I spell it) for producing say millions of smartphone cases or office chairs (and maybe never will) but for lower volume production it is now starting to make inroads into mass production.

Carbon’s CLIP 3D Printing technology is a twist on one of the original 3D Printing technologies (there are at least 7 core technologies) and is relatively new to the market. The general technology uses a laser or light source to harden a liquid polymer (plastic) resin material layer-by-layer to build a part from the ground-up (or top down sometimes). The twist on this age old technology (technically called Vat Photopolymerization) is that the Carbon printer allows for this process to be sped up considerably and allows for new materials to be used. While adidas and Carbon noted the longer term intention of offering specialized soles for each purchaser (harkening to the “mass customization” abilities of 3D Printing), what is actually more newsworthy is the mass production aspect of the partnership. As Carbon and others speed up the 3D printing process, this is BIG news in the 3D Printing industry which is definitely looking for a spark to help it move into its next phase of evolution, mass-production.

In the sub-segment of metal 3D Printing (which uses totally different techniques), great progress has already been made moving that side of the industry into production (highlighted and validated most recently by GE’s continued progress in the space) but on the Plastics side of the industry, most printers are still used principally for prototyping (or mass customization and the like as noted above). If adidas and Carbon can fulfill on their promise of producing 100,000 running shoe soles next year economically, then indeed the market will we well on its way from evolving from the $5B industry it is today into a $17B industry in the next 5 years.

by CC

 

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TCG Retail Summit – Top Themes for Future Retail Success

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, IMS

The TCG Summit represents a very unique gathering of top European Executives from across Europe. This year’s TCG summit, which was held at the end of March in Berlin, was particularly noteworthy in terms of the dominant recurring themes for future retail success, not only for technology, but all categories of retail. Even though the audience was primarily technology retailer and vendor leaders, innovations highlighted were less about the application of technology in the retail store, and much more about adapting to the most disruptive force in retail today – the omnichannel consumer.

Omnichannel is the New Normal
The underlying theme present in most of the presentations and panel discussions was omnichannel.   The TCG Summit in fact kicked off with Christophe Biget’s presentation focused on “innovation throughout the customer’s journey”.   From “walking in the customers shoes” to “customer centricity”, thought leaders were squarely focused on today’s consumer as a driving force of change in today’s retail.

If anyone had any doubts about omnichannel, it was key topic in almost every presentation and follow up panel discussion. The consensus in many discussions seemed to be that retailing is now moving beyond “omnichannel”.

“Experience is your product”
A top theme of both the presentations and panel discussions was focus on the customer experience as a key differentiator.   Jeffrey Sears from the Modernist group perhaps captured it best with his concept that “your [retailer] experience is your product”.   For traditional bricks and mortar retailers, the DNA now required is creating exceptional store experience as the new differentiator producing disruptive results. Despite all of the disruption from omnichannel, no one was predicting the demise of the retail store anytime soon. Many of the discussion panelists called out the need for new levels of partnership between vendors and retailers to “bring products to life”, particularly in stores.

Indeed, smart home products were frequently mentioned as the “poster child” for requiring hands on customer experience in store.   Smart home products are the growth category of the future that technology retailers are poised to lose … IF retailers don’t deliver an exceptional experience that connects products to the consumer’s life style.

Engagement – Yes we can!
The other underlying theme for future retail success is that retailers must develop internal DNA focused on customer engagement.   In the product centric past, it was enough to build stores, run ads and wait for consumers to come shop.   In today’s omnichannel world, consumers are very proactive and in control of their journey.   To be successful, retailers must focus on innovative ways to move from a passive display to proactive ways to engage customers where they are and how they want to purchase.

Perhaps the highlight presentation of the TCG 2017 Summit was from Nilesh Khalkho, CEO of Sharaf DG. Khalkho provided an amazing visual journey of Sharaf DG’s mantra of “Growing through Differentiation” in an omnichannel environment.   This journey included numerous examples of how retailers, especially technology retailers, will survive and prosper by truly differentiating on customer experience, engagement, and service.   The Sharaf DG story was a highlight that became a “Yes we Can!” rallying cry for what is possible in transforming technology retailing.

The Bottom Line – Results still Count
It is one thing for an executive team to say they are transforming to omnichannel, it is quite another to be able to execute omni-presence, experience and service 24/7/365.   There were a number of speakers and commentaries on the tremendous investments required to be able to create the experience and engagement demanded by today’s consumers.ETCG-Flashback-2017-43-2

As Adam Simon from CONTEXT highlighted, investors in tech retail are still looking for a return on their investment.   But achieving that return will require more than fiscal, operational expertise.   The successes, and the future of technology retail will require innovation on how to leverage talent in new ways that generate connected, customer relationships based upon a differentiated customer experience.

The bottom line for the future retail success – future success will not depend upon the sales transactions made today, but rather upon the customer relationships earned through engagement and services that will generate customer lifetime value.

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, IoT, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Technology