Essential Retail's View from the Top is a regular series of interviews with executives operating at the heart of the retail technology industry. This week, the focus of the feature is EJ Cay, general manager for global sales at Dell UK.

After a successful appearance at RBTE 2016 for technology company Dell UK, Essential Retail caught up with the business's general manager for global sales, EJ Cay, to get her view on some of the retail industry trends expected to define the retail industry in the 12 months ahead. Many of her observations are based on conversations with some of the biggest brands operating in the sector.

Cay suggested that the major challenge facing European retailers in 2016 centres on deciding when to update core legacy platforms that require refreshing for the modern era. Industry players such as women's clothing retailer Bonmarché are currently undergoing a major overhaul of back-end and front-end systems, and the decision to follow this path cannot be taken likely due to the related internal disruption such projects can cause.

Cay on risk…

Dell's Cay said that retailers making similar investments can be subject to significant risk.

"If you have had a very large infrastructure in place for years and stock control sitting on there, taking that leap of faith and finding a partner to move to new technology that will help digitise that infrastructure – that is a huge investment and a risk," she remarked.

"If you are a CIO you have to be pretty confident in driving that vision."

Large and small retailers alike are finding it very difficult to move away from outdated platforms, Cay noted, adding that they "predominately hold the most important applications".

"It's a brave individual who says 'we're going to move away and embrace new technology to make these organisations more agile."

Many businesses operating in the retail space are putting dedicated "customer-centric" strategies in place to ensure they keep up with fast-changing consumer demand – often involving the recruitment of a chief customer officer or a head of customer experience. It begs the question, what were retailers doing before?

Cay acknowledges the "customer is ultimately everything" and always has been, but said retailers strategies are being driven by the new ways in which shoppers now interact with them, rather than the fact they have only just realised the importance of looking after their customers.

"The other challenge in the market is serving the customer, understanding the customer and the fact that the customer can come through multiple channels," she said.

"That data, and mapping the data across different siloed parts of how you can do business with a customer, is becoming a significant issue for retailers."

Cay on innovation…

In order to stay relevant in the eyes of customers and to keep on top of emerging trends, many retailers and tech companies have opted to open innovation labs where new technology can be tried out, or where fresh thinking and partner meetings can take place.

Dell is no different and, according to Cay, the company is keen to approach clients and potential clients proactively in 2016 to share ideas and promote new ways of retailing.

"We have dedicated retail specialists that are constantly looking at driving innovation and efficiency for affordable solutions that help bring superior CRM models," she noted.

"The more we delve into that the more we can share proactively with retailers. Instead of waiting for retailers to come to us, we are going to them with [information on] customer insight or store experience or the great challenge of omnichannel and unlocking data. Being able to do that repeatedly would represent a great year for Dell in retailing."

Dell also operates customer solution centres around the globe which have been established to help drive innovation, as well as quarterly customer advisory councils for B2B and B2C.

"Innovation is at the forefront of everything we're doing driven by customer requirements and needs," explained Cay.

"With our different partners we hold executive briefings to see what's going on in the market and to identify trends we need to be tracking before feeding back that information."

Cay on RBTE 2016…

Essential Retail first caught up with Cay at London Olympia, in March, for the latest edition of RBTE – Europe's largest end-to-end retail solutions expo and conference. Dell enjoyed a busy event, talking to retailers from around the world and meeting with channel partners over the course of two days.

"It was very good," said Cay.

"It has got better each time we've been along; you learned a lot from being at those sessions. We'll be there again next year."

Cay on partnerships…

RBTE is noted for the platform it provides retailers and technology companies to learn about the latest trends, solutions and changes in retail technology and the wider industry, but is also viewed by many as a forum for meeting partners and forging new tech collaborations.

In recent years, the retail industry has seen various intriguing partnerships form; be it individual retailers sharing store space such as Asda and Decathlon as well as Sainsbury's and Argos, or the likes of IBM and JDA teaming up to create modernised fulfilment solutions for the sector.

Cay says: "Collaboration is absolutely key and, clearly, working with our partners means we get the best customer and ultimately that's what we're driving for.

"Trust is a big deal. Having an open dialogue is important in your partnerships, and finding the win-win for both parties where the customer is going to benefit from that. You want to work with organisations that hopefully drive innovation.

"With mobile point of sale (MPoS) we have great partners where we've used our back-end technology but their understanding of MPoS and how we bring that together."

In addition to these partnerships, Dell is acquisition mode. A special shareholder meeting has been called for 19 July when a decision will be made on the merger with big data tech business, EMC – a deal that has been on the cards for sometime.

"For us it's super exciting time, we have combinations going on with ourselves and EMC, so that's going to keep us super busy, but more importantly it's serving our customers and making sure we're bringing the latest technology to retailers."

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