Industry 4.0: It’s happening right now

BY Bill Wilson

The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Digital transformation. Connected retail. Industry 4.0. Call it what you will, the current trend for automation and data exchange in retail technology is transforming the front-of-store, customer experience, and back office operations—disrupting how we deliver goods today and transforming the shopping experience of tomorrow.

There’s no doubt that Industry 4.0 is having an impact on the independent retail space. In the future, machine-learning capabilities and connected equipment will enable retailers to further automate back-office operations, allowing employees to up-skill, take on new duties, add greater value, and focus less on repetitive tasks. They can therefore expect to be employed in more interesting and challenging roles in the future, helping their personal development and growth.

Industry 4.0 will involve a significant shift in how people work—specifically their mindsets, habits, and responsibilities. Here are three such attitudes that will need to change in retail as Industry 4.0 alters how we work:

1. ‘That’s not my responsibility, talk to a different department about it’

Industry 4.0 is breaking down the traditional silos that separate the different departments within a retail operation, with business management software playing a crucial role.

Business management software acts as a single-source for business intelligence in the age of Industry 4.0, presenting employees with real-time data when they need it, thus bringing departments closer together. That data might include information about the status of a project, updates on inventory, or analytics about customer trends. For example, with the easily accessible data in their software system, family owned and locally operated, E&H Hardware Group now analyzes pertinent data, benchmarks it to other stores, and compares their planogram currency. With the data available in the system, they’re able to make informed buying decisions and more strategically plan for growth—not only growing sales and margin, but also store count, which helps them keep up with customer demand.

When sales teams, management, and retail staff alike can access real-time information like this, they can optimize conditions on the floor while improving sales and the bottom line. In short, sharing data makes retail more agile, bringing the days of moving in silos to an end.

2. ‘If you want it like that, you’ll have to wait longer’

Industry 4.0 is dawning a new age of personalized retail, combining customized products with the speed and on-time delivery expectations of today’s consumers. As we’ve heard over and over, this is the age of the customer, and customer demands bespoke products, fast.

One of many companies putting this into practice is hardware and home center PaulB Hardware, a 50,000-sq.ft., two-location retailer. PaulB Hardware uses a special-order application to more quickly, easily, and effectively manage the purchasing and distribution process. The retailer completes 7,500 special orders a year and a streamlined ordering process has significantly improved their customer service. The very fact that orders c

an be customized without pulling employees away from other tasks is a testament to the rapid progression of Industry 4.0, and to PaulB Hardware’s successful digital transformation.

Intelligent and integrated software systems play a vital role for retailers that want to put their customers first, delivering real-time details to management about specific customer orders as they progress.

3. ‘A machine can’t do it better than me’

Industry 4.0 requires a cultural change in the way humans work with machines. Not only will retail employees be able to work closer across different departments in an Industry 4.0 world, sharing real-time data and insights to make accurate decisions in the workplace, they will also be able to have some of their tasks automated, allowing them to work on new, less tedious tasks instead or spending more time with customers.

This involves a significant change in the retail environment, and a fresh approach to workplace dynamics. One example of this change is a cloud-based workforce management tool. Accessible by managers and employees alike, gone are the days of Excel file schedules and time-off requests via notes or easily forgotten conversations. Instead, employees can log into a simple software app to access their schedules and request time off—and managers can easily see those requests.

C. A. Lindell & Son, Inc., a 20,000-sq.-ft. hardware store and 60,000 sq.-ft. drive-through lumber warehouse, had upwards of four people involved with scheduling in the past, which included a lot of copying, pasting, and chasing around. Since implementing workforce management software, now only two managers handle the task. For every hour they used to spend on scheduling employees, managers now spend thirty minutes—half the time. The time savings is a notable improvement, allowing more time for customer-focused activities.

Managing the inevitable shift

While the retail technologies associated with Industry 4.0—from the Internet-of-Things to big data analytics and artificial intelligence to 3D printing—are transforming business processes, an often-overlooked challenge is managing the inevitable shift in workplace dynamics, which is crucial to supporting the successful integration of Industry 4.0 technologies.

The three points above are fitting examples of attitudes that need to shift, as retailers break down barriers between departments and staff, embrace change, and work in tandem with software systems. It’s up to employers and their teams alike to change mindsets as they grow their retail businesses in the Industry 4.0 world.

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Bill Wilson brings over 35 years of technology experience to his role as senior vice president of product development at Epicor Software Corporation. Wilson came to Epicor in May 2011 following the merger with Activant Solutions Inc.



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