You may have read or heard these words before:
“Trust is good, control is better”
“Power is nothing without control”
The first is a quote by Russian politician Wladimir Iljitsch Uljanow, which is probably based on an older Russian proverb. The second is a slogan from Pirelli tires. The desire to be in control has always been part of human nature. A 2015 research undertaken in Germany shows that the majority of German car drivers switch off their advanced driver assistance systems while driving, as they prefer to be in full control of the driving experience. On the other hand, convenience also plays a big part in people’s decisions. From automatic laundry wash-tumbler combinations to one-click software solutions, we fill our lives with technology because it makes our lives easier, and lightens our workload.
But how does this relate to the retail software industry?
Example number 1: Retailers’ demands for both speed and control
Here’s the very short version of a workshop that I ran earlier this year with some retail customers. Retailer: "Does the system support automatic replenishment?" Consultant: "Yes." Retailer: "Can I control and change the system suggestion before creating the purchase order?" Consultant: "Yes." Retailer: "Then this is exactly what we are looking for. The replenishment system runs fully automatic end-to-end, and in between we have total manual control." Consultant: "Actually, this only partially the case. You can either run the system automatically from beginning to end, without user interference, or you can control and change data half-way through the process - but then the process is not fully automatic. It is part of our workshop today to identify the best balance for you. In order to do that, we need to find out which information you will need to insert into the system. Based on that, we’ll estimate how much time and work it will take to implement this customization." This sample conversation shows that there are different levels of what we call ‘“automatic”. The correct level of automation is a matter of opinion: it depends on how much control versus how much convenience the users would like to have. It is also important to note that a system running on the highest level of automation might require more setup and configuration work - plus a lot of testing – before being put into use.
Example number 2: Staff management systems
Another good example can be found in staff management systems. These systems manage staff planning by suggesting which employees within the different roles can cover the work that needs to be done. For example, a grocery store with three checkout lanes might need three cashiers and one store manager during main operation hours. The staff management system, however, would not make that decision. That would be based on user experience, and would have to be input into the system by the users. Only once these kind of parameters are set, and the staff members’ time registrations are in the system, can the staff management system suggest which staff could cover the work. In other words, the staff management system only automates part of the process, as it delivers a suggestion which is based on user input. The suggestion is then used by the staff manager to take a decision. Finally, the manager might choose to use the system to automatically distribute the work roster – maybe having it sent to staff members by email or SMS. Although they offer great benefits through automation, saving managers time and mistakes in organizing shifts, staff management system are not fully automatic. It is true that one might run the staff management through a kind of expert system to fully automatize it; in practice, though, this is rather unlikely, and quite inadvisable.
Finding the right balance
These two examples clearly show that we have a need for a good balance between automation and user control. Too much control means more work, but too much automation removes our ability to be in charge of the process. This is why, in our software solutions, we always try to find the right balance between demands for control and need for easy, quick solutions. Advanced ERP-based retail solutions are designed to grant users flexibility, empowering them to decide which level of automation they require. If you are interested in knowing more about our versatile solutions and how they can simplify your retail management, drop us a line or come see us face to face at our next events.