E-commerce on the Fast Track
E-commerce has changed dramatically over the years — evolving from being just a business to consumer environment in a digital-only platform to including business to business transactions through mobile phones and analytics reporting. In this episode, our experts discuss the advancements that have been made and their predictions for the future of e-commerce.
Note: Complete audio transcript found after author info.
E-Commerce on the Fast Track
Published February 2, 2018
Curt Cornum: Hello and welcome to Technomics, where technology meets economics here at Insight. I’m Curt Cornum and I’ll be your host for today’s episode, E-commerce on the Fast Track. I thought I’d set the stage for just a minute, because its interesting around the history and the evolution of e-commerce. It started out in the mid-90s with the commercialization of the Internet, and it took a few years. And then some ways into that, when we started doing transactions, and then we had the dotcom incident take place and it thinned out the herd so to speak. In a lot of ways, I think it helped because the folks that understood what it took to do e-commerce in a digital world actually got much stronger from that. And so what was predominantly started out as a business to consumer environment, in a digital only platform that has evolved over the time. We’ve seen technologies like mobile phones and smart phones really have a big impact on that. As well as analytics and born in the cloud companies. And so now we’re kind of into this area where business to business is really becoming more prevalent and there is actually a term out there called O to O for online to offline. And so its pretty interesting where we’re at and I don’t want to steal the thunder because I’ve got two very special guests with me today and I want to introduce them. First of all I have Mickey Bland, he’s our newly appointed Senior Vice President of Sales for our major accounts and he’s out of Tampa, Florida. And also, we’ve got Jamie Werve and I think she’s in Chicago so hopefully she’s staying warm today. Jamie has years of experience and really lives and breathes e-commerce every day here at Insight so I’m really excited to have Jamie on the phone. How’s it going today Jamie?
Jamie Werve: Its great Curt, thanks so much for having me today.
Curt Cornum: Do you guys have any questions or are you ready for me to jump right in?
Jamie Werve: Let’s jump in.
Curt Cornum: Okay. So I kind of set the stage a little bit, but when we talk about e-commerce in B to B, its important about how it fits into the optimizing our clients overall supply chain, especially around information technology. So what challenges and changes have you guys seen around procurement and IT/IT operations as its transformed over the last few years?
Jamie Werve: So from my perspective Curt, between procurement and IT, they’re faced with shrinking budgets, being able to more with less, finding balance between those day to day activities and management of the business while still investing in the future. So I think its very important that we recognize the role that technology plays. We’ve seen a disruption in the supply chain and our clients recognize the need for a full platform solution and the need to be able to have that solution from a mobile perspective to provide inventory tracking, the management of their fleets, full asset management, and I think that the key shift is really IT and procurement are no longer siloed in the business. They now are strategic partners that collectively hold a stake in the business outcomes for their companies.
Curt Cornum: Yeah that’s interesting and some great insight how about you Mickey?
Mickey Bland: Well as you know, I mean Curt, being part of Insight that we changed our mission statement a couple years back; to help our customers better manage their current environment while transforming their future environment to support the need of their end users and their actual end clients within the same expense envelope to be honest. And they’re challenged to do several things around this. Number one is consolidate the number of venders they’re doing business with. So many people do business with hundreds and hundreds of venders in the hope to save a penny here, a penny there on a different headset or a different piece of software. That’s no longer the large enterprises goal, they’re trying to consolidate the venders and leverage larger purchasing power. They want to reduce touch costs. How can we not touch POs, quotes, orders, and even invoices? They want to have better analytics and to have analytics, we need to do things electronically. Because if we depend on people to track things, we all know that we get very inaccurate data. They want to empower end users and remove steps in the process. And good e-commerce tools absolutely do this in fact, Insight was one of the early providers of e-commerce tools in the late 90s providing customized business to business platforms for the large enterprise clients. A great example is a top tier hospitality company that we started doing business with in the late 90s. And today, we actually support over 4,500 properties that do their own ordering, their own processing, their own management quotes, everything else to refresh the front desk operations in those hotels, approximately every two and a half years. The client was able to reduce 15 head count and reallocate those head count to more important transformational activities through the use of the e-commerce platform that we implemented and continue to upgrade over 15 years ago.
Curt Cornum: That’s interesting. I know Jamie, you and Mickey both mentioned platforms. And its interesting because I know in the B to B side, on the consumer side, it seems like the deal is really over at the transaction. But I know in the business side, its much more about simplifying that entire end experience for the client so its much more of a hybrid model. Can you guys talk a little bit about how you would define further that changing landscape, specifically for B to B commerce and what are the types of things that companies need to do to really be impactful?
Mickey Bland: So Curt, I’ll take the first part of this question. When we look at any technology solution, there is typically a design or architecture phase where our client is deciding what they need to do. For example, we have one client who needed to implement what they call endless aisle purchasing. Which was, if you were in store shopping and they don’t have something in stock, they want their in-store sales person to be able to place a B to B order for you. So the architecture and design phase of these types of things become more and more complex as we try to push those solutions closer to the actual end consumer. Once that architecture is done, once they’ve decided what they need to buy, they will need to procure it, which is what we’re talking about in the B to B world. They will need to be able to deploy it, and then they’ll need to be able to support that. And then they’ll need to refresh that. Because as you know, think about the phone environment today. Everybody’s refreshing their phone every two years. These types of solutions will need to be refreshed much quicker. And when you really think about this B to B approach, what we’re talking about is using e-commerce to free up that transactional processing time and free up those resources associated with that by automating that. So that we can focus better expertise on architecture and better expertise on deployment and support. Ultimately delivering the client a higher level of service at a lower cost.
Curt Cornum: Yeah that’s good. How about you Jamie, what’s some of the things that you’ve seen around the changing landscape as you deliver this out to our clients?
Jamie Werve: Well I think we all agree, one of the interesting quotes from Forester is that they project B to B e-commerce is going to hit 1.1 trillion dollars by 2020. So just with that, we all agree that the online commerce, it continues to grow at an amazing pace. And so it definitely just to support what Mickey commented, many of our clients expect the online solution, it has to both meet those complex business needs, while also providing a consumer-like experience. You know there is definitely a shift and trending information reinforces that there is a natural convergence happening between the consumer and business experience. Our clients, as we partner with them, we must be able to provide them data, not only purchase history but more than that. The data that helps them with their forecasting, their life-cycle refresh. Because as Mickey said, they’re focused on not only managing their day to day business but transforming for the future. Some of the technologies that are out there, that are definitely front of mind are AI, machine learning. Mobility, the ability to make.. we all in our personal lives have made purchases from our phones. Or its becoming more prevalent. And its becoming more critical that we understand where AI and machine learning can be integrated into those technology solutions. An example is understanding our users journey through our e-commerce site, so we can ensure that we’re providing them rich and relevant recommendations. Using that data that we’re capturing from user sessions again to provide them relevant recommendations so when they’re on the site, and they’re trying to make a purchasing decision, we’re showing them the products that are more relevant and most relevant to them.
Curt Cornum: That’s interesting, I was going to ask you about the recommendation engines because I know that was kind of an early thing that we saw on business to consumer and I was curious how much that’s come over to the B to B side. It sounds like and I would think that that’s equally important for folks on the B to B side. What about some of the other stuff we see around reviews and ratings. Do you think some of those things, have those transferred over? Do you think those are as big of a play on the B to B side as they are on the consumer side?
Jamie Werve: You know it’s interesting there was a recent study by Accenture Interactive. 94% of the participants conducted online research prior to making a business purchase. So not only are we required as partners for our clients to provide them rich product information, tech specs etc., but we also have to provide them the ability to gather that information about the product that they’re evaluating. You mentioned ratings and reviews, that’s definitely a part of the e-commerce solution. And clients, as I’ve mentioned, the buyers who are buying from a business perspective, also buy from a consumer perspective in their personal life. And they have that available to them, insights like Amazon. So its really important that we provide those capabilities from a business perspective as well.
Curt Cornum: Yeah, its interesting. And this is a pretty techy crowd we have for Technomics, so they’re probably wondering who’s the 6% of folks who don’t do a search online. So I’d imagine its probably 100% for this audience, go ahead Mickey.
Mickey Bland: Well Curt, its interesting as Jamie said. Any e-commerce tool needs to provide that high level, that detailed expertise, that researchability, everything else. One of the unique things about partnering with Insight for e-commerce solutions is Jamie’s team and their ability to spend time with your organization and analyze the flow of the solution and implementing the technology solution in your business. For example, one of the largest pharma-equipment manufactures in the world, we’ve partnered with to build an intelligent engine that allows their dealerships to actually, we call it guided purchasing, to actually step though what they of technology they need to purchase, what type of servers, what type of storage, what type of software. Based on the size and type of pharma-equipment dealership they are, that allows them before reaching out to the headquarters operation for approval of their purchase, it allow them to basically build a solution that’s 98% vetted. And it solves a ton of time, and it provides that level of research down to what I call the last mile needed for the price line.
Curt Cornum: Its kind of interesting to me, I see a couple trends Mickey. You talked around some of the stuff up front about having more time to understand the technology and do the architecture and design work. But at the same time, the things that should be automated, we need to find a way to make that much more of a, as we like to say today, a frictionless transaction for folks so they can focus on some of the higher value things. So I’ve got another question, its kind of related to that. I see that trend that I just talked about but there’s also other trends that are happening out there and I know you guys are pretty close to this so can you talk about Insight specifically is helping solve some of these challenges for e-commerce. And I would kind of redefine e-commerce. I know its been defined as that kind of transactional piece you guys talk about. How it really doesn’t stop when we sell a product. That there’s much more that’s happening behind the scenes and even after the fact of a sell in terms of helping them adopt it and actually drive a business outcome. So can you talk about some specifics of how Insight’s doing that today?
Jamie Werve: From an Insight perspective, Mickey mentioned our e-commerce team, we’re really an extension of our sales team and together, we partner with our clients to understand what our business challenges are. Specifically, what their procurement process looks like today. And areas of opportunity for optimization. So from a procurement perspective, we understand what their process looks like, we customize an online solution to meet their needs and ultimately streamline and optimize their processes. That ranges anywhere from whether it be catalog standardization ensuring that we’re providing visibility to the right products within a client’s purchasing department. We also look at automating and streamlining a pool routing [assumed]. So if clients want to be able to extend purchasing to end users, they can still maintain control of those spend decisions through customized work flow. Client specific data collection and reconciliation; ensuring that at the beginning of the process, we’re capturing those data elements that are key to the client in order to help streamline all those reconciliation activates on the invoicing side back to them. And integrated system solutions; directly integrating and connecting our back-end tools with our clients to provide a seamless and integrated solution. In order to truly help our clients with their challenges, it begins with the partnership to understand what they are. So Mickey I’m sure that you have a few as well.
Mickey Bland: Yeah so I’ll just summarize that with a great example. As I mentioned, a very large hospitality chain with multiple brands. So just visualize that you were to happen to open a hotel in Tampa, Florida for Brand A under this particular hospitality flag. I can’t mention their names because we are under a non-disclosure since they do consider our tool a competitive advantage. But you open a website and you log onto the hotel flag website. You click on your brand name. It asks you a few questions about your hotel. How many beds does it have, how many assistants do you need at your front desk, etc., etc. Intelligently, the system will build what we call a hotel in a box including all parts, pieces. Provide that end user with a bill of materials or a quote for that. That quote is then forwarded to the headquarters operation. They will validate that and say this will work for your environment. Then forward it to Insight. It is then processed at Insight, but what’s most important here is we now received an end user driven bill of materials that was a guided web purchase to ensure that they will get what they need. But sitting in our warehouse is a guaranteed stock of inventory, which also guarantees a delivery time. It flows through our integration labs and its fully integrated and welcomed into that hotel network and tested in our facility so that reservations and invoices and check-ins and door locks and door keys and everything else can be created. Its then put on a pallet or in a box, hotel in a box. Its delivered to that new hotel location, hopefully within a day or two of them receiving their certificate of occupancy. And then it is installed. But the majority of the work’s already done. So the installation takes less than 8 hours, which was reduced from at least 24 hours to up to 40 hours in a previous action. So as you look, take an effective and well thought out B to B solution can drive a dramatic reduction and cost savings in a very serious improvement and service levels with regards to this. And that’s just one example and one industry. We have many more detailed examples like that, but there’s lots of ways that we’re working without customers to utilize the B to B platform to actually manage their business better today and free up funds for transformational activities as they move forward.
Curt Cornum: Hey thanks for sharing that case study. I love the hotel in a box scenario there. So hey, we need to take a quick break. But when we return, I’m going to ask Mickey and Jamie to give us a prediction for 2018 around e-commerce. So stay with us and we’ll be right back.
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Curt Cornum: Hi this is Curt, welcome back to Technomics. So when we left our heroes, we were talking about tips or predictions for 2018. So I thought I would give Jamie the first shot at that and then maybe Mickey you can give us some of your tips or predictions as well. Jamie go ahead.
Jamie Werve: Thanks Curt, so my tip for 2018 for our clients would be to open their mind around what’s possible from an automation perspective. Often times through our experiences our clients have potentially been doing the same processes for quite some time in finding ways to automate processes that have been in play for quite some time. And my tip would be to just engage in conversation with our experts at Insight and be willing to have that conversation around, is there a better way to do things? And is there some value that we could provide from an e-commerce perspective.
Curt Cornum: Okay very good, how about you Mickey?
Mickey Bland: Well Curt, in my perspective as we look forward towards 2018 and beyond, I don’t see the overall challenge for IT organizations changing that dramatically. I see it moving faster, I see the IT organizations being driven to provide a competitive advantage. In fact, many people would tell you that every organization’s business is IT and is technology. Because we need to deliver a better end user experience, whether that’s a cruise ship passenger, a retail customer, a fast food customer, a banking customer or any of those types of things. We need to use technology to deliver a better experience. Or as you indicated earlier, the born in the cloud companies will. So we need to help our clients continue to transition their business. But my team works with most of the Fortune-500 companies in the US. And I can tell you right now, IT budgets are not increasing. So what I would challenge clients to do is to challenge your current partner base and your organization to drive higher service levels within the same expense envelope or reduced expense envelope so that you can continue to invest dollars to improve this client experience. A true B to B solution is well managed and is just one way and one part of doing that. The team at Insight stands ready to work with you, not only from a B to B perspective, but also from a business process and improvement group perspective and architecture and design.
Curt Cornum: Hey Mickey, those are great tips and I love that you’re throwing down a challenge as well because I know your very client focused and I think its great that you’re doing that because I think that people are going to have to step up and really focus on the business outcomes. So I’ve got a couple quick ones as we wrap up. My first prediction is that the death of the salesmen is way overestimated. I think there’s things that we’re going to do that Jamie mentioned around automation and drive efficiencies and there’s really some great reasons to do that. And a lot of it is to free up folks so that they can do more strategic things. And I think you see that on the client side as well as the partner side, that you need folks to be able to work together like you mentioned Mickey. And the other part of it, I think that we’ll see a lot more of these solutions that are coming to market be delivered as a subscription model. And so I think these e-commerce platforms are going to become even more critical because it isn’t going to be an event like a transaction, its really going to be a process that happens though the lifecycle of our clients’ projects and throughout the lifecycle of the technology that we’ve talked about today. So you guys, I appreciate you getting on the phone today. That was just great banter and I just loved the tops that you gave today. So do you guys have anything else before we close out today?
Jamie Werve: You know what Curt, I think my comment before was more of a tip than a prediction I guess. So my prediction for 2018 is that there is a continued focus on the omnichannel experience. As we talk today, client expectations are definitely changing. So as we develop and deliver solutions, we have to keep the client and experience at the center. Regardless of the way in which they interact with us, whether it be phone, chat, email, their e-commerce site. We have to provide consistent, seamless and high-quality experience. That’s just what our clients expect. And at Insight I’m excited to share with you that we’re already shifting our thinking and approach this direction. We know our clients interact with our teams and tools in a variety of different ways. So we’re focusing now on whether we have inconsistencies or gaps that need to be tightened up, but also on tools and technology that can really help us get there. Which takes us back to our comments a few moments ago that the importance of technology in the changing e-commerce landscape. These tools allow us to automate processes, streamline and optimize interactions with users, gather data and feedback, and then when we analyze that data, we’re able to use it to determine what adjustments or enhancements we need to make to our clients’ experience. So I’m really excited, it’s an exciting time at Insight and I can’t wait to see what opportunities 2018 has to offer.
Curt Cornum: Well I appreciate that. I do want to thank everybody for joining us today. And if you have any feedback on this program, we would love to hear from you as well. So tune in next time for another episode of Technomics. Thanks, and have a great day.