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The Six Steps – Step 3: IT Engagement Modeling

Who is in the driver’s seat? Is it the business… or your IT Service Department?

How much money are you leaving on the table because your ROI plans are not shared?

These articles outline the six steps that are the components pivoting you towards being able to achieve ultimate success for content or commerce driven websites and other channels of engagement:

  • Executive engagement
  • Needs Assessment/Analytics and the Science of ROI
  • IT: Collaboration and Balance
  • Marketing
  • Operational Execution/Employee Engagement
  • Customer Care and Centricity

In the previous articles, Executive Engagement and Needs Assessment/Analytics were focused upon as the first two crucial steps on the path to ultimate success of a value driven and robust customer experience and solution across channels. In this section, we will be discussing the importance of IT Department collaboration and balance in maintaining focus, prioritization and fixing and enhancing functionality, leading towards successful deployments of YOUR selected roadmap components.

The IT (technology) Team is the support of the business team, and provides the business, as a service, the ability to make enhancements in functionality (existing or new), changes in content that are hard coded and the ability to evolve your channels of sales or content by providing backend technological development. Very often, the IT department is a shared resource, supporting enterprise or company initiatives as well as cross channel evolution. In rare instances, there are assigned and dedicated resources from IT for your other channels, but this is not common. Consequently, it makes it difficult to ensure alignment and focus on other channels besides the brick and mortar. Non -contingent upon this, however, the driver of the online business as well as other channels needs to be the business, with the IT team supporting the decisions and assisting. This is not usually the case for many reasons. Sometimes, this has to do with the capital expenditures that are required because they are in the IT budget, not the business budget. Often it is because there is no real governance over the interdepartmental processes and procedures that need to be adhered to in order to embrace a holistic approach which incorporates IT work efforts as part of the enterprise that has stakeholders involved, particularly at the beginning of the prioritization process for the greater enterprise. IT appears to be driving the business in many companies, writing business cases as well as deciding on components of releases. And even when the business is prioritizing the enhancements of bug fixes or changes, the final say as to what goes into a release is often IT determined, and determined for reasons that were not about the end user, the customer. Time factors, work efforts and feasibility studies can change the business plan to a watered town version of the original, sometimes with major positioning pieces left out or moved to later in the calendar year. Determining what will be deployed based upon man hours available or complexity of functionality or even difficulty, is a huge mistake. Resource limitations and difficulty of work can result in important customer facing changes being put off for an extended period of time. Basing your business decisions on how many staff or resources you have, is not going to align you properly with your desired end results. Your business plan comes first and then you figure out how to implement it. Start with the customer and move backwards from there. The customer doesn’t care how many man hours it takes for you to provide them the value. They just care about the value. The question then becomes, “how do we do this?”, not, “we can’t do this”. The first step in balancing out the relationship with IT and cross channel venues is some sort of IT engagement model.

Today, IT groups are charged with a huge amount of goals. These goals are sometimes company wide, often enterprise wide and very often amidst conflicting single or multiple project goals for other corporate departments. As we detailed earlier, IT departments rarely have dedicated resources for alternate channels of business. These same resources are also charged with maintaining the current projects (channels). The very best way to ensure that enough attention is given to alternate channels is with some form of IT engagement modeling. MIT CISR research (Center for Information Systems Research, Nils Fonstad and David Robertson) provide an excellent definition complete with key elements of providing an IT engagement model which not only has governance, but can address immediate business needs, combined with long term enterprise goals and engaging key stakeholders. Some form of engagement model is necessary to bring people and programs together (with sometimes conflicting objectives) and be able to then make decisions that address the challenges holistically.

Without some form of engagement model, the silos we talked about in the prior sections are not only erected, but fortified. Silos in the IT department and the business department lead only to very resource heavy, non- holistic and challenging solutions implementations. We’ve all been faced with wanting to integrate a solution for a piece of our website and being told that we could not do so because there were other projects that were more important, or because this would involve too much integration, or too many man hours to achieve. We sit in meetings, aggressively touting our solutions for our verticals. Not only do the conversations get heated, but often end up with incorrect decisions being made. Yes, with the science of analytics, this will become easier over time, using ROI proof. We need to share this information with the other stakeholders, including the IT department. We can’t run our business around limitations. Rather we need to govern the process and IT engagement so that the decisions that are made are focused on the customer and what we need to do to engage and keep them for ultimate revenue, profit, retention and loyalty.

Defining the roles and responsibilities within the IT department is crucial and will involve many stakeholders. IT staff are all working many hours to provide the very best level of support that they can, but if roles and responsibilities are not crystal clear, the end result often enables redundant work efforts combined with other project components being left out and again enables siloed work efforts. Sometimes, project failures can be due partially to the confusion in the definition of some of the roles and how they interact. Recently, with executive teams trying to cut costs and share resources, business analysts are a shared resource between IT and the business. This can assist in providing the best in class planning and solutioning if done properly, but can become a very difficult push/pull relationship if not defined clearly and precisely. Business leaders are engaging directly with their off-shore counterparts instead of going through IT first. Be careful with engaging off -shore counterparts as doing so can be a great solution to cost reduction and may help quicken the development process, but can also cause challenges if this information is not communicated back properly.

Collaboration is key, but when push comes to shove, it needs to be the decision of the executive team with regard to different channels and the prioritization and deployment of fixes or enhancements. By focusing on Executive Engagement , we have alignment and the numbers to back up the prioritization of initiatives based upon the science of ROI. We are in a much better position to transfer this critical path knowledge to the IT department for a final shared determination of focus and planning that will take into account the customer experience.

Once you have an IT engagement model, and have clearly defined roles on the business side as well as the IT side, the next key piece is transparency and disclosure. For even with the best engagement model, information is sometimes hidden and in rare instances even falsified. It is never too early to get the IT department involved. This only help in preparation and planning that takes into account all of the technical aspects of the project that the business may or may not be thinking about combined with the greater enterprise initiatives in which the business leaders may not be aware. Balance is the key here. People get defensive when there are limited resources combined with off-shore resources and this high exposure can lead to mistakes being made. Disclosure and transparency need to occur on both sides, because there are challenges that cause issues with exposures on both sides of the business, but can be avoided with honesty and communication. Get everything out on the table using your back up analytic information and then address each challenge, systematically and with urgency. Break down the silos that are causing faulty deployments, inconsistent project planning and implementation when looked at enterprise wide and changes that are being mapped out from a myopic approach, leaving out key pieces on either the Business or the IT side.

Using the science of analytics, disclosure and transparency is no longer just a good name for a movie, but a doable and necessary predecessor for the facilitation of full collaboration and the balance of interacting departments with occasionally conflicting goals and priorities. For example, the analytics illustrate your pain points on the site, but not what is causing them. Taking this information to the IT team sends several messages. One of collaborative spirit and another which facilitates solving for functionality challenges from a combined technical and business combined perspective. For example, understanding that 30% of your customers cannot successfully log in may be a result of your analysis. The next step is determining why this is the case. Here is where the IT Department needs to come forward with any other possible issues which may be contributing to or enabling this. (I remember once not knowing until I received a “fix” list, that there was an issue on the back end that was prohibiting customers with names longer than a certain amount of characters to log in). Sometimes a new release with other changes can cause problems with a piece of existing or supporting functionality. IT and the business need complementary full disclosure so that they can be solutioning for the customer. By sharing all information back and forth, it will be easier to set up a valid and reliable set of procedures and processes that will take a project from inception to requirements to development to deployment (the full lifecycle of the project) and then to ongoing maintenance.

Ensuring the above will enable you to move digital functionality ahead (higher on the list) of what may appear to be other more other vital initiatives. The consumer is the tipping point and moves faster than you. Catering to other channels besides the brick and mortar store is required or you risk remaining relevant. The customer experience is not in the domain of the IT department. It is the business’ responsibility to transfer this information to the IT department so that we are presenting the science on behalf of the customer and to our service provider and client, the IT department.

IT prioritization of work efforts needs to take into account existing functionality, whether content or commerce based as well as planning for new functionality. Customer facing exposures and subsequent solutions can be separated out and prioritized first. Core architecture and components that currently exist need to be monitored and maintained. These usually include sign in, registration, bonus card, circular, cart, promotions, content functionality, store locator, global navigation and log in as well as other pieces of functionality unique to your business. Supporting architecture and components that currently exist need to be monitored and maintained. These usually include search, referral websites, vendor integration for all programs that are added on to your solutions, sister sites, gift cards, content linking and others. User interface and navigability are important components of providing your customer a best in class solution and should be factored into each iteration of your channels as they evolve. Customer usability review is handled best with focus groups, customer feedback and testing prior and subsequent to deployment by both the IT Department and the business.

Non- customer facing architecture may be a different prioritization process. This includes back end solutions to automate or change infrastructure that does not affect the customer experience across your channels. Combining this fix list with the fixes or improvements is akin to comparing apples to oranges. They are differently driven, solutioned differently and the customer exposure is not a factor. Maintain and work on these separately.

Final Serious Recommendations:

  • Get in the driver’s seat
  • Ensure that there is an IT engagement model including role definition
  • Be transparent and forthcoming
  • Prioritize your work efforts with a balance of fixing existing painpoints
    • If you are far behind the curve, budget for a developer or a temporary person who can be dedicated to the other channels or channel integration.
    • Your other channels of content and commerce must have equal representation or your vendors will go with options that already exist…and so will your customers. Integrate and align your customer service department so that your incoming information is comprehensive
      • IT departments are notorious for having a set of defects, a set of change requests and a different set of new bugs being called in. Be transparent and support full disclosure on the business and the IT side. It is not uncommon for a website to maintain a list with hundreds or even thousands of existing bugs with various levels of severity. (Critical, major, minor and cosmetic bugs). Make sure that you are addressing the minor and cosmetic bugs because over time, the cumulative affect of these can serve up a very inconsistent sloppy presentation to the customer which will result in a lack of trust and subsequent difficulty in building their loyalty
      • Requirements documents are a critical path issue for both the business and the IT department. This is where fatal errors occur, oftentimes errors of omission which lead to huge work efforts subsequent to deployment. Business analysts need to write these with the help of the business. This is key to ensuring that the end result is what the business is looking for. Your customers will be unforgiving when they encounter the results of these errors while on the site
      • In house versus out source solutions for resource support or new enhancements: Keep the door open to entertain external solutions that can be monitored properly. Vendors are now collaborating and partnering to provide more robust and highly monitored solutions. This can help take the “heat” off the IT department
      • Content management. You need it. Having a content management system or resource will assist the IT department immeasurably as well as allowing the business to remain dynamic is a critical path issue for the business and IT department.
      • Testing and usability – often cut with attempts to cut labor, testing hours are vital to the pre-deployment phase. Testing by the business as well as the IT department is mandatory. If you haven’t dedicated resources to this, do so. I don’t remember seeing one budget that ever included resources for testing, quality control pre-implementation and contingency planning on the business side. Deploy usability testing and focus groups annually, detailed by what the analytics tell you.
      • The business writes the business cases, not the IT department.
      • Invest in your core infrastructure

Online grows despite the numbers in the retail store and needs to be prioritized as a major component for dedication of time, resources and budgetary considerations. The end result will be a recession-friendly approach that enables faster project delivery with better returns. Keep in mind that not only your web channel is growing. It is predicted that in less than twelve months greater usage will come from/through mobile viewership. Accordingly, protect, nurture and grow your full digital core.

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Heidi ChapnickAbout the Author:

Currently retained by mid-sized to large content and commerce retailers, my focus is on peeking under the covers and understanding the ‘as is’ situation for the retailer, the internal and external landscapes, followed by prioritization of critical path opportunities and proceeded by roadmaps and deployment of business plans based upon an innovative six step holistic problem solving approach.

Selected Accomplishments:

  • Establishing a profitable model for online shopping and delivery of perishable items
  • Partnering with external vendors within an established brick and mortar grocer
  • Establishing the same day delivery of grocery items
  • Establishing a ‘wareroom’ model for fulfillment
  • Pick up at store after ordering online

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