Replacing an ecommerce system (also known as ‘replatforming’) is not a trivial task, because it touches many parts of the online business – including merchandising, product management, content management, digital image management, design, ERP systems, order management, warehouse management, customer services, IT and many more.
To get the process of to a flying start, there are 10 things that your business should be doing before sending out the first RFP.
Even if your business is small or one of the top 50 online stores, time spent reviewing and taking action on these 10 steps will pay dividends later in terms of saving time, money and sanity later!
1. Define the vision and KPIs for the new platform
This is the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ for the new platform. While a vision statement may be seen as being a bit ‘over the top’, it is key to have a clear objective of where the business will be once it has the new ecommerce system. A vision sets the purpose or raison d’être for the solution that helps to focus the minds of all parties involved in the process and will help bring clarity to the process when the going gets tough.
2. Develop the business case
Along with the vision, the business case helps to clarify the financial rationale for the new ecommerce system; considering the investment vs. the financial rewards, that will flow once the system is up and operational.
The business case helps determine the overall budget, as well as kick-start the budget approval process. Depending on your business, the IT department may also participate in the approval process so it is important to understand the steps in the process at the beginning.
3. Define the business requirements
The business requirements are a detailed shopping list of what the new system should do. These form the basis from which to evaluate the solutions and services that are required in order to deliver the ecommerce platform. As such, the business requirements should be written such that the business and any 3rd parties can understand what they mean and leave little room for interpretation and assumptions.
Depending on the size of your business, you may choose to engage a consultancy or specialist resource to prepare a business requirements document. However the business must be fully involved in the definition and then the review in order to ensure that the requirements are complete.
4. ‘Fit-gap’ your business requirements against your current site and operation
This fit-gap (or gap-fit) review assesses how closely the business requirements fit or what the potential gap maybe in terms of system, people or processes.
For each business requirement, compare it with how your current website and business operation currently operates. This process will help to ascertain additional requirements for the ecommerce platform or additional preparation.
One of the objectives for the new ecommerce system is “to offer customers a pick-up from store option within 1 hour” – which the business does not currently offer to customers. There are a number of business requirements that have been captured, such as:
- Enable customer to choose to purchase online from store stock
- Enable the customer to choose which store location they will pick-up from
- Interface between the website and the store to advise of an online customer order
- Pick instruction for store staff within that store to pick the item
- Store application to record the order collection event of the customer from that store.
Since pick from store is a new business operation, there will naturally be a ‘gap’ in systems, people and processes that will need to set-up during the project. A new design maybe required for the checkout screens; a new solution may need to be required to enable store pick-ups to be recorded; the store system may need to be integrated; and new store operations processes may need to be implemented.
Getting a head start on understanding the potential gap in the business will ensure that the project is defined properly, preventing delays and unexpected costs later in the project.
5. Review your existing IT systems and infrastructure
Investing effort into understanding (a) what existing systems will be required to interact with the new ecommerce platform (b) how they in turn integrate with other business systems and (c) how they are supported by the IT department will help identify considerations for the ecommerce project.
During the review often a series of new elements are surfaced: additional business requirements, constraints and considerations for integration and additional members of the business as well as 3rd party suppliers and solutions providers that should also be engaged in the process.
6. Prioritise the business requirements
While it may seem premature to prioritise business requirements before you get started, taking a first pass using an approach such as MoSCoW (Must, Should, Could, Would/Won’t) will get holistic view of how critical each requirement is to your business.
This prioritisation will help later with definition of scope, contract negotiations and any project planning (or replanning) that may occur later in the project. It is also helpful to the team to understand whether there are any ‘sacred cows’ in the requirements. Keep this in your back pocket for later in the process!
7. Research potential ecommerce systems and service providers
Start to research the ecommerce systems, other solutions and service providers that could be in the frame. When reviewing the requirements consider what systems might be used to provide the features. No single solution that can meet all ecommerce system requirements and even where ‘out of box’ functionality exists, there may be additional development required to make it work as desired. Take the time to see what the options are, including ‘Build’, ‘Buy’ or ‘Rent’ (as with cloud or SaaS solutions).
8. Consider who and how the business team will be involved in the project
Involvement of the business team members is crucial to the success of implementing a new ecommerce system – or in fact, just about any type of IT project. Within a typical project there are activities that require the business team to make decisions, coordinate parties, manage timelines, complete negotiations with 3rd parties, user acceptance testing and prepare the rest of the business for the changes that a new system. Depending on the system and the type of activity, some business team members may be required to participate full time.
Identify who needs to be involved and agree how their day job will be managed in the background. This may require backfilling of the day job or recruitment of additional project resource to take their place.
9. Consider the timelines
At the beginning, it is often tempting to specify a launch date for the ecommerce platform and then work backwards to make all of the activities fit. However, an achievable launch date can only be determined after understanding taking into account what is being delivered and what activities are required in order to get there. Before you publish a launch date to the business (and management!) keep in mind critical dates for your business, get the input from all 3rd parties and your IT department and identify the critical milestones that may impact the launch date.
10. Prepare to be realistic
With the possibility of a shiny new ecommerce platform, it is easy to get overexcited about what new features the business might get! However these new features will be ‘out-of-the-box’ (read: requires a developer to customize in order to make it work how you want) or it will require additional business effort to enable the benefit to be realised.