Earlier this month, I wrote a post about Stefan Weitz, a former Microsoft exec who left that company after 17 years to embark on a mission to help online retailers thrive, despite having the dominance of Amazon perpetually looming over them. In this follow-up post, I want to drill down on the vehicle he chose to accomplish that.
That vehicle is Radial, an omnichannel order management system provider in King of Prussia, Pa. Weitz serves as Radial’s chief product and strategy officer, and in my recent interview with him I raised the topic of a Forrester report, released in July, that included some findings that warranted a response from Radial. This follow-up post focuses on that response.
I kicked off this portion of the interview by noting that in its Forrester Wave Omnichannel Order Management report for Q3 2016, the research firm listed IBM and Manhattan Associates as the two omnichannel order management providers in its “Leaders” category, with Radial in a second-tier “Strong Performers” category that includes Oracle, SAP, and NetSuite. So I asked Weitz what Radial needs to do to break away from that pack and get into the “Leaders” category. He initially responded by distinguishing Radial from IBM and Manhattan:
With all respect to my friends at Forrester, who I know very well, that was done at a point in time when I’m not sure we nailed the delivery. But here’s the reality: For midmarket companies, say, $20 million to $500 million in online sales, there really aren’t many options. IBM and Manhattan are great if you’re a very large corporation that wants to spend 18 months and several million dollars in [systems integration] fees to implement their software. Go knock yourself out. The reality is, our software is designed to be deployed by a midmarket company way faster. IBM will take 18 months; we will take weeks. IBM will charge you millions of dollars; our implementation fees are a teeny fraction of that.
Weitz then got into the crux of the matter:
So what we have to do, because we didn’t really show up well technically in that [Forrester] evaluation, is bring together, in a better-looking interface, a lot of our functionality. Our systems are best-in-class, but they don’t always look as though they operate together. So in the next couple of months, with the next turn of the crank on our systems, they will look and feel more cohesive; they’ll have better centralized reporting, better user management — basically, it’s a feeds and speeds game at this point. The core technology that we pioneered around ship-to-store is still the best in class — no one can touch us there. It’s all the ancillary pieces I think we can do better on, and that’s what we’re working on right now.
According to the Forrester report, moreover, “The [Radial] solution … excels in store fulfillment, offering best of breed for most capabilities. However, as part of the divestiture from eBay Enterprise, Radial lost the strong endless-aisle and clienteling capabilities found in the former Retail Associate platform.” I asked Weitz for his thoughts there, and he acknowledged that it’s a tough space:
The good news there is we have just shipped out the new version of our mobile client, so we now have a spectacular mobile client for retail associates in stores. On the endless aisle and clienteling, that’s a tough space right now. Magento took the Retail Associate platform with the divestiture. Magento, which was the front-end Web store side of the business, went off and did their own company. They took that Retail Associate platform with them. The reality is, I think they just recently shut it down, so I’m glad we didn’t have it.
Other companies out there who are doing it are having varying levels of success. We are in active conversations with a number of different partners to see how we can get something up and running there. But the reality is, it’s tough, and a lot of retailers haven’t made the leap yet to enable their associates to have those experiences with in-store customers. So I think the market’s a little early at this point. That being said, I like to be ahead of the curve, and we are working aggressively on building it out. But certainly our mobile client, which just shipped out, takes us 80 percent of the way down that path.
The Forrester report also said, “From a strategic perspective, Radial lags the Leaders in areas of focus, investment, and innovation, and lacks a strong network of key technology partners.” I asked Weitz how he plans to address those issues in his capacity as chief strategy officer. His response:
I arrived on Feb. 1, and we had to go show Forrester all our stuff on Feb. 27. So since then, I’d say I’ve done my job, and we now have an extraordinarily strong strategic direction, and we’re building against that right now. So I’m looking forward to talking to them again, when we can actually show them what we’ve got. But look, there was definitely a transitional time. GSI [was sold] to eBay, and then eBay wanted to sell the company and split it up. So there probably was not the greatest amount of focus on innovation during the time that we were understanding how to stand up a whole new company. It was still happening internally, a lot — I’m not sure we did a great job of telling customers about it, to be really frank. And I think that’s when some of our customers got that impression.
Now, I feel very good about what we’ve done from a strategic standpoint. Moving forward, I can’t wait to show the world what we’ve got — especially in January, when we turn the crank on the next version of our products.
I asked Weitz what that “turn of the crank” is going to yield. He said it can be broken down into four main areas:
The first one is just making our system by far the easiest to deploy, easiest to configure, easiest to manage. We’re looking at how to get time-to-market down, because a lot of these retailers are looking at what they want to do and say, ‘Gosh, I’d love to have omnichannel, but I just can’t afford the up-front investment. I can’t afford an 18-month deployment with IBM. I can’t afford millions of dollars in systems integration fees.’ So we are looking heavily into how do we drive that down to weeks — single-digit weeks, in a worst-case scenario.
The second one is just much better business intelligence and streamlined reporting, to make sure that the retailer can look at his or her business holistically — look at all the customer data, all the orders, where they’re coming from, how to optimize their distribution networks. So having proactive, intelligent reporting is a key focus for us, as well.
The third one is just collapsing a bunch of features that we’ve traditionally had in separate products, into one — making it a modular, extensible system for retailers. In the old days we had a self-fulfillment product, an order-management product, a customer service product. We now have built a UI framework, and an application framework, that allows us to put all those things in the same place, and only show what people need to see, based on their role. So it’s just a modern software approach to the whole operation.
And the last, which is probably the most important, is enhancing our omnichannel routing capabilities — just being smarter about where to source orders from. We think we know, based on our experience and the experience of a lot of our customers, that that is the really key driver of profitability when it comes to e-commerce. It’s knowing where to ship something from that minimizes cost, maximizes the customer experience, and really takes a lot of the risk out of doing e-commerce effectively. So that order-routing logic that we pioneered a long time ago, we’re adding a lot more intelligence to that, using the billions of data points that we’ve acquired over the last 10 years of operation to optimize this.
I turned back to the Forrester report, which also said, “Client references noted their satisfaction with the OMS [Order Management System] itself, but felt that Radial approached the market as a solution provider, rather than as a full strategic partner.” I asked Weitz what he’s doing, in his role as chief strategy officer, to fix that. He said it was a fair critique, in some cases:
We’ve got an amazing Client Success Team, but I think there was probably a time, maybe a few months during transition, when it was a bit rough. The good news is we brought in Steven Birdsall about a month ago from SAP as our new chief revenue officer. The Client Success Team reports up through him, and he and I are in lock-step now around how we have to go to market differently — how we have to go in as a solution provider, how we look at a customer’s e-commerce challenges and not sell them software. Because frankly, that’s what everyone’s doing — everyone’s going in and selling more software. Retailers don’t want more software. They’ve been burned — they have fatigue now around more stuff that they bought, that’s not delivering the ROI that they care about.
So Steven and I are building the muscle, the technology, the service that’s required to go talk with a customer and ask, ‘What’s killing you right now? What parts of your e-commerce operation are losing you money?’ And Radial will fix those problems. The retailers don’t care how we do it — they don’t care if I have gnomes in a back room using abacuses, with fairies and unicorns flying around. All I’m going to tell you is I’m going to commit to delivering you zero fraud, for example — guaranteed, you have zero fraud in your business. I can do that for you. Whatever it is that you as a retailer actually want to achieve in your e-commerce operation, that’s what we’re going to sign up to deliver. And it’s a combination of our software, our people, and our processes that allow us to do that effectively.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.