The Emerging Role of an Ecommerce CIO
I have been the CIO at Dotcom Distribution for nearly five years, serving emerging and established e-commerce retailers, all the while observing how the focus of their businesses and the ways we support them have evolved. From creating and controlling the programming and processes to support flash sales and subscription services, to community-based selling, I have seen many changes. Of all, I would say that the following four have had the most impact on how I perform my own role, day to day.
Technical Infrastructure is No Longer a Form of Certification
Just a few years ago, people would question the sustainability of your organization if you did not own and host your own infrastructure. Email servers, server farms, local applications, and closets full of telecom equipment were positive indicators of a long-term plan, responsible investment, and stability. Now, you are likely to be labelled wasteful if you don’t turn over email hosting to Google, turn to the cloud for CRM and other enterprise applications, and opt for a hosted VOIP solution for your telecom needs. Because of the amount of mechanization and guided picking technology utilized in our operation, we still carry a significant internal infrastructure but my role has definitely shifted from that of lead engineer to manager of business relationships. I am now evaluating potential partners, negotiating rates and contracts for services and training my people to become more focused on project management than on mastering individual technologies.
Identifying Business Intelligence from Noise
Social media has had a fast and profound impact on all businesses, even on B2B. We have social media monitoring tools in place to track mentions about our own service, which can then serve as the basis of case management reporting and changes to our own processes, product offerings, and marketing communication. We also monitor social to uncover trends about the markets we serve and to gather competitive intelligence. This effort requires endless tweaking of algorithms to suppress false negatives, responses to retailer coupon codes and other drivers of customer delight or dissatisfaction that are not related to our own performance. Just a few years back this would be a very specialized skill-set while today a firm needs to have this ability readily available in-house ability as keywords and trends change every morning. Because of this, much of my day is spent working with our teams to determine how to find the signals, the valuable information that is hidden in the deafening roar of social media.
The role of an e-commerce third party logistics (3PL) has been trending much closer to the consumer
Increased Consumer Access to Data
Another recent trend that has had a significant impact on how I spend my time is the steady influx of colossal amounts of data that retailers now expose or push directly to the consumer. Many newly established retailers share information from much further up the supply chain than ever before. They notify their customers when bulk orders have dropped, when goods leave the manufacturer, when they arrive at the domestic port, when we receive them, when they are shipped, in-transit, and delivered. My team sources, consolidates, and distributes a lot of this data which in turn helps them in establishing consumer expectations while maintaining a level of excitement. Similar changes can be observed in the international shipping and reverse logistics arena. Consumers expect fewer surprises and a higher degree of transparency, resulting in better managing efficiencies and exposure of data at comparatively higher frequencies.
Mobile technologies have also significantly changed the way we think about integrating with our clients and their customers. Even the voice picking system we use in our warehouse sends transactions to an Android smart phone, freeing us up from having to purchase specialized RF devices. Because of the proliferation of mobile technologies, customers now look at smaller screens while on the move, and want to see more information and less unorganized data, faster than ever. That is, pivot tables and lengthy reports have been replaced with concise graphics and summary information as clients expect information to be updated in real time. End of night processes and batches have been quickly replaced with API connectivity and the exchange of pre-aggregated data and summary information ready to feed graphical reporting tools. After the confirmation of their e-commerce orders, the consumers expect the picture to change anytime throughout the day. My team and I have largely transitioned from writers of transactional reports to consolidators and publishers of specialized data-sets.
Overall, I find that the role of an e-commerce third party logistics(3PL) has been trending much closer to the consumer, and my job has changed accordingly. From managing the algorithms that harvest mentions from social media, to pushing different kinds of information to e-commerce retailers so that they can manage customer expectations, to facilitating changes to the actual data we exchange so that it is more mobile device friendly, the trend for the last few years is clearly more data, faster. In order to free up the resources to facilitate that, we have given up our tight control of enterprise level resources and started to leverage best-in-breed hosted solutions wherever possible. There has been clear shift towards contest sourced application development, and I am looking forward to dipping our toes into that new world, as well. The one thing that I can be sure of, is that the next time I stop to take a look back in time, I will be just as amazed by all the unimaginable innovation in the e-commerce space, and to my own role, as a CIO.