Choosing a technology and vendor for one company is a mammoth challenge and when the solution trickles down to every brand in an enterprise, things can get hairy.
1-800-Flowers.com CIO Arnold Leap and his tech group view individual brands as "our customers and they have a slightly different view of the world," he said, in an interview with CIO Dive.
Choosing a vendor, especially for the cloud, casts a net over all the brands that live under 1-800-Flowers.com. Adhering to standards while preserving differences is crucial to the brands' business. It's also a fine line to walk.
1-800-Flowers.com's technology vendors give the enterprise subject matter expertise for systems and software packages so the enterprise doesn't need to solely rely on internal talent.
Leap wants the enterprise to look at potential platforms and work with technology partners. The tools have to be as "agnostic as possible but then also allow for extensibility and configuration that may require one brand to work to operate or engage customers slightly differently," Leap said.
The parent company tries to streamline IT with a common core infrastructure and services. The tools the enterprise choose must allow for shared compliance so all its brands can "express themselves individually," Leap said.
Even though the brands under the 1-800-Flowers.com umbrella are all categorically related to gift-giving and personalization, they are individually unique. The brands include:
Harry & David
The Popcorn Factory
Leap and his technology group had to "literally find that common ground" between brands. The IBM Cloud provided the framework necessary to control costs and streamline operations across all brands, he said.
One of the first projects with IBM, when it was launched about a year ago, was centered on new extensions for 1-800-Flowers.com's customer service and self-service capabilities. Customers want the ability to change their order, modify their cart and change the delivery date. That all became available when using cloud-based microservices, Leap said.
Each of those services extended across the parent company's portfolio of brands, allowing them to engage with customers in a unique way but on a common platform. Retailers are operational and tend to deploy cookie cutter models — develop a set of processes and stamp it over and over — but brands promise different footprints, a challenge Leap is always aware of.
Having a standard platform across brands is imperative to "make sure that the experience from one brand to another was really very similar in nature," Leap said.
Before choosing a technology or vendor that will impact the enterprise's portfolio of brands, the IT organization consults with a marketing council that spans across the brands. Each of the brands has representation and contribute to setting the technology agenda.
The objective of the council every year is set by asking what is needed of each brand or the enterprise in terms of marketing, communication and support to fulfill their "ability to deliver smiles to [customers'] loved ones," Leap said.
"They sort of caucus and come up with the requirements and say 'hey, this could be a really cool idea to be able to put this function into our capabilities,'" he said. From there, each brands' representation can pipe up and say we already have partners that might be able to supply that capability or function.
Leap and his team will "pick up the requirements, pick up some of the leads" and vet new vendors with potentially beneficial solutions.
The most important job of the IT organization is to understand how to build the new solution into 1-800-Flowers.com's existing Celebrations Platform to extend the function across brands.
The entire caucus and brand teamwork is "sort of a family thing, it's a family relationship," Leap said. "There's always going to be some level of tension, there's always going to be some level of exuberation and everything in between." But the council allows for all the brands to be on the same page with access to tools that everyone can benefit from.