Deepening Personalization of Products and Experiences

By Giri Durbhakula, VP & CIO, National Pen
The cost of delivering services via the internet has dropped to almost zero, and the potential to personalize products and services is ever growing. Technology is enabling personalization of even physical products such as books, clothing, laptops, promotional items, and sporting goods and many others. Personalization is the key to our business and industry-every product that leaves one of our warehouses is customized and personalized. So, this needs to show well in a multi-channel manner to appeal and capture the interest of our customers. Developing a genuinely personalized offering requires us (and our solution partners) to have deep understandings of customers and the different elements of product and service experiences that they may want personalized. Furthermore, leveraging massive amounts of data in the right manner to derive the insights needed presents a great challenge.

Having a 360º view of the customers is a key component that very few organizations have right today, which is why it’s so challenging. This requires multi-pronged approach involving governance, stewardship (functional and technical), prioritization of issues/projects, and the right data tools for transformation, cleansing, de-duping, metadata, visualization, analytics, reporting and much more. One more thing, you’re never done on this–it’s a continuous improvement and work in progress.

Technologies that Provide the Competitive Edge

The emergence of technology has resulted in manifold of opportunities of cost-effective one-to-one relationships with the customers. However, technologies such as Personalization, Forecasting Accuracy, Predictive analytics, Digital platform to scale with business, Inventory visibility (including ATP), Fulfillment tools and Data Management (Analytics, PIM, MDM, and Customer) will further help to meet customer demands and attract, retain customers and grow relationships on a daily basis.

“What technology solution do I wish I had?” - Cost affordable big data solutions with managed services that offer the benefits of cloud based solutions, with the flexibility of scalable big data solutions and the concept of flex resources on demand for SMB enterprises like ours that don’t have “ginormous” budgets will have a HUGE impact on our industry. (For that matter I’m sure larger enterprises would
benefit too)

The Role of IT

Technology and more specifically IT is “front and center” at enabling most of the critical projects and desired functionality/solutions that our company needs over the next several years. My role as CIO is as much a change agent as it is a people/project/financial manager with one eye on innovation and strategy, and the other eye on running the business. I also share accountability for helping drive and enable our digital transformation as well as our evolution up the data/analytics maturity curve.

IT is helping drive and enabling transformational changes in eCommerce, Supply Chain and Marketing. This, along with our continuous journey in Data and Analytics and our continuous improvement process on providing reliable and available Infrastructure that scales and performs are our primary focus areas.  Further, I’ve set up a PMO to help bring a more professional and structured approach to our demand management and project/program management processes for our Sprints, releases and strategic projects.

The Role of CISO

We are not big enough to have a full-fledged CISO. So my Director of Infrastructure plays this role. He has the “technical side” of this role, while I play the “functional side” and work on communication and awareness and compliance across our stakeholders. We are looking into security appliances and partnerships in this area to help us ensure we are PCI compliant and protect our customer data and PII.

What Keeps You Up at Night

No matter what shiny toys you have that run your infrastructure, there’s always something that happens that inevitably results in unplanned efforts to fix, normalize or stabilize things, despite our best laid plans. This is what keeps me up at night. Plus if I had a magic wand to get human resources on demand that knew our data, systems and business processes and requirements and I could flex up as needed, I would definitely sleep better.

Words of Wisdom

“Hold on tight as there is never a dull moment.” No seriously, I have found you are always learning and you will hear more when things go awry as opposed to when things are going well – it’s just the way it is. But effective communication and transparency along with asking questions and listening effectively go a long way in enabling success.

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