- I couldn't live without it
This summer I was going to do a bit of painting on my house. Knowing that Fargerike, a chain customer in the field of painting and decorating supplies, provides a good service and quality products, I called into my local store.
Since the opportunity presented itself, I decided to ask a store worker if he used the intranet solution provided by the company that I work for. His response was a broad smile, as he replied: “Every day. I couldn’t live without it.”
Tools of the new age
So how can so many chain stores cope without an intranet? Is the success factor in your chain provided by e-mail or the telephone? In a chain such as Fargerike, with over 100 branches, it is entirely natural for its members to be enthusiastic about an intranet. But is it the same story in every chain?
I was recently contacted by a shoe shop chain that has its head office in London. The chain wanted to find out how to integrate its Microsoft Dynamics NAV ERP system with Digitroll’s e-commerce solution – a business-to-consumer online store. Since I was talking with a chain director, I took the opportunity to ask a question: “How do you communicate with your branches, with the rest of your stores?”
“I use e-mail and the telephone,” was the answer I got. But was I surprised? Not really. My experience is, unfortunately, that a lot of chains do not have any communications systems or tools in place.
Return on investment
How much efficiency is lost in a chain as a result of communication being a manual process? The telephone and e-mail certainly do not give the shoe shop chain any competitive advantage. Rather, it is the chain management’s interest in optimising value for its shareholders, its stores and its franchisees. By my reckoning, perhaps 40 per cent of all the chains in the world have a Web-based intranet. Of these, perhaps 25 per cent have an intranet that helps to increase income in the chain. The remainder are just wasted investments.
How much time do you spend chasing the members of your chain for answers they were supposed to have given you yesterday? Registering for courses and events? Have they taken the new campaign with them? Has the campaign material been ordered? We often hear about medium-sized Norwegian chains of 70 shops that can waste half a year’s worth of labour just chasing up their members. Also, how much of your time is taken up by chain members contacting you for information that ought to have been available on an intranet 24 hours a day?
The 'wrong' type of Intranet
A lot of chains that claim to have an intranet actually only have a closed Web site containing one-way information and usually some news. If there is a forum, there are no contributions. This kind of intranet does not promote communication in the chain. What added value does an intranet like this provide for the members of the chain? They can cope perfectly well without it.
The new way of running a retail chain
The ideal situation for the chain is one in which the intranet provides a work, communication, information and training tool. So how can an intranet help? Reminders can be handled automatically within the intranet. This involves the intranet ‘locking’ once the response deadline for a user has expired, so forcing the user to respond. The chain’s various manuals can be stored and used through the intranet. The sale of products can be through an integrated e-commerce solution on an intranet that automatically retrieves all the product data from the chain’s Dynamics NAV application and contains everything from advertising material to the chain’s product range.
Supplier information can be automatically synchronised from the Dynamics NAV ERP system to the intranet. Market strategies can be communicated to the whole enterprise. An intranet can be used to take the chain’s pulse by surveying members’ opinions. It can also be used for competitions and internal courses.
Furthermore, an intranet can be used to enable employees to exchange information amongst themselves. This could involve social networks, forums, getting advice and tips from other members of the chain about problems relating to operations or a customer’s wishes – things best discussed amongst themselves rather than on other forums. It is also better to have all the information about anything that concerns the chain in one place. This makes it easy for the chain’s management to keep track of the members’ views on various things.
Do it simple and efficient
The intranet is a tool that can simplify and improve the efficiency of traditionally time-consuming and burdensome tasks in chains. Too few chain managers understand that an intranet will save both time and money, as well as helping to improve profitability for all parties in a chain collaboration.
One of our customers, a well-known chain of opticians with branches in a lot of countries, never sends out e-mails to its shops. All information is instead available on its intranet. The chain in question is convinced that an intranet is the right tool. The result is that the member companies develop a routine of checking the intranet. There is no disturbance or hassle from e-mail software, and the chain benefits from a proactive attitude on the part of its members with regard to using the intranet as an income-boosting tool.
As I see it, an intranet should be a strategic tool for the chain, and one over which the chain’s executive committee exercises ownership. An intranet allows involvement in developing the member stores, and it can be made such an important part of a member store’s operation, that the store is unable to break out of the chain.
The chain’s management can use a chain intranet to achieve undreamt-of competitive advantages and to build up solidarity and communication in a chain that can provide profitability for all parties.
As we usually say: “An intranet is still a little bit about IT, but mostly it’s about communication.” I couldn’t live without it.