AWS for Industries

A Practitioner’s Guide to Digital Transformation in Retail

I joined AWS two years ago to lead the professional services organization for the AWS retail segment. Throughout my career in technology consulting, I’ve worked with retailers that run the gamut in size, scope, market share, and sector. I’ve noticed a common dilemma when companies want to embark on transformational technology initiatives. Many retailers aren’t sure where to begin, which vendors to work with, and how to prioritize projects. That uncertainty can be risky and scary, especially with millions of budget dollars on the line.

I’ve also learned this key element to deliver successful technology implementations: Follow a proven process. And that’s exactly what my team does. We follow an established, validated, yet flexible, process to help our retail customers achieve their business transformation goals.

In this blog, I’ll explain our process for digital transformation. To bring the process to life, I’ll share an example of one of our multinational retail customers—a North American brick-and-mortar gas station and convenience enterprise. The new CEO had a vision. He wanted to increase the pace of innovation and introduce new solutions faster to the market. In the existing company culture, new ideas came from the top down. The CEO wanted to flip the script, so to speak, and overhaul the company culture so that all employees felt empowered to suggest innovative ideas. He also wanted a roadmap for a new crop of ideas to be implemented as quickly as possible.

Our Proven Process: Working Backwards

Yes, you read that correctly. It may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but we start with the end in mind and work backwards. Here’s how we applied our process to our North American retail customer:

Uncover Initiatives with “Working Backwards” Sessions

Since the CEO wanted to change the company culture with bottom-up innovation and implement new ideas quickly, the AWS Professional Services team initiated a series of leadership workshops to uncover the most pressing challenges. We generated a list of 15 issues, and from there, we prioritized the top three challenges. We also conducted what we call “blue-sky” discussions to answer questions like, “What do you want your organization to look like in the future?” and “How do you want the market to view your company?” Those future-forward goals are the end goals, and we worked backwards to put strategies in place to help our customer achieve its vision.

Prioritize Initiatives

Next, my team of AWS consultants began research to understand the landscape surrounding our customer. We analyzed consumer and industry trends, current and potential economic opportunities and threats, the competitive environment, and the technology landscape. Armed with a plethora of information about the company’s goals, aspirations, challenges, and strategic initiatives, as well as our deep dive of research, we created a thought leadership plan outlining our recommendations to help the company generate and implement innovative ideas faster.

Create Customer Journeys

We created a detailed map of approximately 15 customer journeys, and based on the top three challenges we heard from company leadership, the blue-sky discussions, and our research, we outlined customer expectations, pain points, and opportunities. You can see an example of our customer journey map in the image below.

Example customer journey map for retailer.

Generate Ideas

To help our retail customer usher in a new culture of bottom-up innovation, AWS consultants hosted a series of innovation labs with employees from all lines of business and levels of the company. We welcomed all ideas in a non-judgmental environment, and the employees came up with 150-200 ideas.

Create Working Mechanisms

This is another point in our proven AWS process where we take information from our customers, go back to our offices, put our heads down, and get to work. In this instance with our retail customer, we culled through the long list of new ideas and grouped them into eight to 10 different themes. Taking the themes a step further, we mapped the ideas in each theme in a 2×2 matrix based on value to customer and time to implement. This is where the fruits of our labor emerged. On our 2×2 matrix, we could easily identify the low hanging fruit of innovative ideas—from employees—that the customer could implement quickly.

Example of our 2×2 matrix used to help prioritize the long list of employee-generated ideas.

Implement Ideas

After several months of customer meetings, research, and strategy sessions, we were finally at the point of achieving the CEO’s vision to implement innovative ideas. Starting with the low-hanging fruit projects and progressing from there, we gave our customer an implementation roadmap. In the plan, we indicated which AWS solutions aligned with the different projects. When AWS didn’t have an appropriate solution, we tapped into our extensive partner network to recommend partner solutions. If an existing partner didn’t have the right solution, we surveyed the vendor landscape, vetted solutions, and brought new third-party vendors into the AWS Partner Network.

The results of our efforts were multi-dimensional. First, the customer’s teams were excited about the innovative possibilities and their overall engagement improved. They created a small independent task force, including individuals from business and technology segments, that comes together to not only discuss new ideas but also approve investment requests and track their roadmaps. Second, the team embraced the concept of “fail fast” and realized that iteration—instead of perfection—is the way to bring solutions to their customers faster. As a result, the team ideated, designed, and implemented six new solutions to their “Future Lab” in less than four months. Additionally, the customer is now attracting a broader ecosystem of startups, partners, and talent that is excited to be part of its journey to create and implement cutting-edge solutions.

Because every retailer is unique, AWS Professional Services can apply our proven process to work within the nuances of each customer’s goals, current situation, level of maturity, and technology journey.

Learn more about how AWS Professional Services can help you achieve your goals, and contact your AWS account team today to get started.

Asish Pradhan

Asish Pradhan

Asish Pradhan is the Global Industry ProServ Lead for AWS customers in Retail/CPG/C-Stores. He leads Professional Services industry strategy and helps customers create business value by leveraging AWS technology. Prior to joining AWS, he spent more than 15 years in retail industry technologies with proven success in strategy, product development, consulting, and IT leadership roles.