Like so many businesses over the past year and a half, Ralph Lauren has had his resilience tested in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had to close stores and offices, and had to redouble his efforts to better interact with customers and associates, in a safe manner.
Luckily for the business, Janet Sherlock, who has served as Ralph Lauren’s chief information officer for the past four years, has launched a number of initiatives that have given the business a boost. Its scope is such that it has an unusual influence for a CIO. She leads the overall strategy and management of all technology, including conceptualization from design through to the point when products are distributed to wholesale partners, corporate stores or directly to corporate consumers. His team is also responsible for store technology and the entire product and user experience management ecosystem. Additionally, Sherlock oversees all global digital platforms, marketing technology, data analytics, and data science. It all adds up to global infrastructure, cybersecurity, IT risks, compliance and privacy.
Among the fortuitous programs that were in place before the pandemic and which helped the business transition during the pandemic was a hybrid flexible work plan called Flex Place. Based on this, Sherlock’s team quickly rolled out virtual appointment scheduling. His team had already made significant progress on curbside pickup for customers. Completing its rollout allowed the company to continue doing business in stores, even though customers were not able or less willing to enter.
“I think our biggest efforts to the left have probably been in virtual stores,” Sherlock said. “We had considered our approach to virtual stores before COVID hit, but this is something that we have moved forward very quickly and aggressively. Our stores were such masterpieces, and the experience is so unique, we thought it was important to offer the world of Ralph Lauren to our customers, even if they couldn’t physically visit our stores. stores. His team deployed a rich virtual store experience and quickly integrated it into the company’s e-commerce platform so that customers could purchase certain products through hotspots directly from their virtual experience. “At this point, we have seven different virtual store experiences and continue to build on the capabilities we have in our virtual store environment,” Sherlock noted.
One of the thorniest issues Sherlock and his team faced in helping Ralph Lauren’s design and merchandising teams, each of which relied and thrived on in-person collaboration. The Sherlock team put together a design collaboration platform to use, and it turned out to be a silver lining to the pandemic as teams developed new ways of working and collaborating. Now, design and marketing teams anticipate an ability to continue working both in person and virtually, adding flexibility to their work routines.
Another process the company took for granted had to be done in person was the product approval process, which traditionally relied on face-to-face meetings to discuss milestones related to lines, styles and fit approvals. It has long been assumed that those involved must be able to physically see and touch the material in order to make decisions. “We were able to leverage our 3D product development for the approval process, which also had the benefit of streamlining the process,” Sherlock said. “We [also] had to create online experiences to replicate and replace our showroom tours, and support different virtual ordering processes for our wholesale partners.
As Sherlock looked to the future, she noted three strategic priorities: Experiences, Data, and Automation. The primary benefit of these homes should be greater agility for the business. Experiences focus on creating a variety of customer journeys and empowering customers to engage in the way that works best for them rather than dictating how they buy and buy Ralph Lauren products. “Everything is interoperable between our line, our [marketing technology] and our in-store capabilities are combined so that we can create seamless experiences and we have some really cool ones planned for the future, ”Sherlock noted.
Then she thinks data strategy will be a critical area. “We’re very thoughtful about the overall data strategy for the core elements of data, things like our product data, our digital assets, our customer data, strategically thinking about where it’s stored, how they are accessed and used, how they are maintained, ”Sherlock said. “[This will impact not only] data analysis, but [it will allow Ralph Lauren] to serve in real time things like personalization, real time actions, real time decision making… Then, of course, that leads to our capabilities in advanced analytics and data science, which for us is an area major focus and concentration. She points to IT as the “connective tissue” of business to data, and that it is a discipline that will lead to better collaboration between traditional business silos.
Sherlock believes that a greater degree of automation will improve the efficiency of everything IT provides while further modernizing business practices to better compete in the digital age. Sherlock and his team implemented a variety of changes that overturned decades of inherited wisdom about how business can be conducted, delivering new benefits along the way. Necessity is the mother of invention, it is said, and many inventions have been created as a result of the necessities brought about by the pandemic.
Peter High is chairman of Métis Strategy, a business and IT consulting firm. He has written two bestselling books, and his third, Getting to Agile, was recently published. It also moderates the technology podcast series and speaks at conferences around the world. Follow him on twitter @PeterAHigh.