Phasing Implementation with Easy Learning Curves and Accelerated ROI

Replacing or upgrading any system can be a daunting task. When it’s one that is customer facing and drives sales, the risks are even greater. Oftentimes we think of a system upgrade as being an all or nothing endeavor completed using only internal resources, or perhaps with one external resource for project management and staff augmentation. It’s time to rethink this.

There are ways to phase in an implementation, simplify the learning curve, and accelerate the ROI. Many technology solutions today are built in a modular fashion, which makes it possible to add incremental functionality while mitigating the risks that can come with technology upgrades and modifications.

So how do you go about approaching a project of this scale? Who can you look to for guidance? Let’s start off with some tips, and then we’ll get into some real-life examples with Ulta Beauty.

Where to Start?

Here are some tips to consider when getting started on what might seem like a daunting process:

  • Identify requirements up front – don’t purchase a software solution without first defining what you need. The bigger and more complicated the system is, the more formal your requirements should be.
  • Select the solution that best fits your requirements – don’t hesitate to take the time to compare solutions.  Be sure to assess the solutions against your requirements. It’s easy to be sold on something in a demo that you think fits your business needs, but in reality doesn’t come close. One of the main reasons for project failure is a gap between the business requirements and the actual functionality within a solution.
  • Determine the best order for implementing modules – if you’re implementing more than one system, evaluate each and determine which one is going to give you the most immediate ROI and/or is most synergistic with other projects in play. There can also be cost and timeline factors that may affect the decision. Use criteria that best fits your business and then focus on that solution.
  • Develop a project plan – this one is critical for businesses of all sizes. Without a project plan, there’s almost a guarantee that the project will be late and over budget. Each phase should have its own project plan.
  • Partner with experts – working with outside experts who know a product inside and out will streamline the project and shorten the learning curve. There is a cost associated with hiring professional services, but the investment pays for itself through knowledge transfer, on-time implementation, and accelerated project timeframes.
  • Detail your implementation and backup plan – it’s ideal if you can find ways to phase in an implementation by leveraging a content delivery network and distribute traffic to both versions. You can start slow and see how things go, make adjustments, and continue to ramp up the traffic to the new version. If that’s not possible, it’s not a problem; in any case it’s critical to have a backup plan that allows you to easily roll back if necessary.

Ulta Beauty Gets it Right

Ulta Beauty recently implemented two major system upgrades following this approach and has had great success with the outcome. Their priority was to elevate the ecommerce experience for their guests and they wanted to do so in a way that was the least disruptive and minimized the risk.

Not only did they phase in the implementation one module at a time, they ran dual sites and leveraged their content delivery network to distribute traffic between the new and the old versions.

They ramped up the percentage of traffic driven to the site with the upgraded capabilities for about a month before rolling Oracle Endeca Search out completely in October 2013. The same methodology was used for the implementation of Experience Manager in the first Quarter of 2014.

The navigation experience is now consistent between search and browse, there are no more product discrepancies, and the business team has complete control over the search and navigation experience.

This control enables them to personalize merchandising, make changes on the fly, and boost or bury products within the results. Guests are now able to filter and sort results by all of the important attributes, which means they can find the right products quickly – improving the overall customer experience.

It Can be Done!

Ulta Beauty is a great example of how a company can take a very large project and break it into manageable pieces to accelerate improvements the customer experience and gain a more immediate return on investment. They leveraged the knowledge and experience of both internal and external experts to streamline the projects and keep the implementations on-time and on budget.

Now it’s your turn. If you’re facing a major update to your ecommerce platform, start by identifying your requirements and then take it one step at a time and you’ll be on the road to success.

Marcel Munoz is the CTO of Thanx Media.

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