CIO50 2021 #26-50 Matt Rodda, Baby Bunting
Everyone is a technologist at baby product retailer, Baby Bunting according to general manager, IT & program management, Matt Rodda.
The company now relies on a multitude of technologies and each staff member has a role to play to ensure the company gets the most from them.
“The IT team has some expert knowledge, but they also have a responsibility to help uplift the technology literacy of business teams,” Rodda says.
When he joined the company three years ago, much of the business had a view that the tech team was responsible for implementing and supporting technology. When something went wrong or changes were required, it was IT’s role to fix it.
“Only a few business people understood how applications worked and how data flowed between them to enable business processes. On the flipside, the IT team often didn’t understand the value and criticality of technology to the business, and so didn’t focus on the right things.”
Projects that delivered technology changes consisted mainly of technology team members and had poor engagement with the business areas that would be impacted by change. As a result, the technology often did not meet requirements and the change was not managed well with users, he says.
On top of this, few people were focused solely on the delivery of projects with operational responsibility always taking priority over project work. No-one had formal project management qualifications.
“Unsurprisingly, projects were typically delivered late, over budget, and with business value below expectations.” The ordering process was inefficient with product availability across Baby Bunting’s more than 60 stores well below where it needed to be.
Rodda says he takes a holistic view of IT changes where the technology is just one component with the process it enables and the human interaction with the tech being the least important.
Aligned to this thinking, Rodda went about making some changes. Firstly, he made sure that there would be strong business ownership and sponsorship moving forward. For instance, when implementing a new application, the business executive or their delegate should be the best owner of the technology.
“They need to understand how it works, be the conduit to the vendor or build a team from a functionality perspective and ensure that it delivers value to the business area. They should be the project sponsor, considering and managing the process and people impacts.”
Secondly, business subject matter experts were embedded into the project teams. They take responsibility for the functional requirements of the solution, processes, data, user testing and identifying organisational change impacts. After the project, they become the ‘super users’ who support other users and work to get more value from the technology.
Thirdly, Rodda has brought in experienced project delivery professionals – project managers, business analysts, UI/UX designers, QA resources and change managers. Having dedicated and experienced project resourcing has resulted in more predictable delivery timelines and higher quality outcomes.
The Baby Bunting Projects and IT team, led by Rodda, introduced RELEX software to centralise and automate store replenishment. Its algorithm considers upcoming promotions, historical sales performance, supplier lead times and other factors.
When COVID lockdowns hit, the retailer needed more capacity for online orders and also a contingency in the event that our data centre was shut down due to a COVID outbreak.
“Within weeks, we developed an application to intelligently route customer orders to a nearby store if the location had stock. We turned 15 stores into online fulfilment hubs,” Rodda says
The introduction of a forecasting and replenishment solution to a retail business is not unique and often a business the size of Baby Bunting cam use an ERP system to do these tasks. Rodda says that the retailer’s ERP system didn't have this capability and evaluation of modern ERPs showed that they were also limited.
"Despite the challenges of COVID with unreliable supply from our own suppliers and wildly varying demand in stores due to lockdowns, in-store availability has increased from below 90 percent to around 95 percent. This has been a key contributing factor to double-digital sales growth,” he says.
Meanwhile, total inventory holding in stores has reduced by millions of dollars because RELEX is better than aligning stock levels to customer demand. By removing the need for stores to order stock, the company has saved labour time in stores which it has invested into customer service.
“Improved product availability and additional customer service has contributed to a better customer experience. We measure this using Net Promoter Score, which has increased from 81 to 87 over the last year,” Rodda says.
"Delivering this solution in a short time was possible due to an investment in the WebMethods integration platform and loose coupling of our website and ERP. This enabled the company to introduce the application without needing to change its website or ERP system," Rodda notes.
“This solution enabled us to satisfy increased online order volume by up to 44 prior on the prior year. It materially reduces the delivering times, providing a better customer experience and contributing to increased sales".
Finally, the introduction of communications tool, BB Central, has been a huge step forward for human engagement, says Rodda.
It has opened a direct communication channel to the majority of the company’s 1,400 staff who work in its stores or distribution centre. This has removed the need for information to be cascaded down through managers as every team member can see policies, procedures and other information on their phone.
“It has been great to see people posting in the social chat channels with birthday and service milestone celebrations and stories and photos from stores,” Rodda muses.