Manhattan Associates CEO Eddie Capel kicked off this year’s Momentum Connect conference with eight powerful words:
“Imagine what our whiteboard could do for you?”
Not only were these words inspiring for what they suggest around innovation but also because they provide the backdrop for one of the most important evolutions in the history of retail — active cloud-based supply chains.
Since my partner and I founded Omni Talk four years ago, we have made it no secret that the principles of cloud commerce are the single most important foundational element of omnichannel retailing. In order to digitize our understanding of the physical world in the same way we understand e-commerce, systems have to coordinate and work together in real-time.
So, I was through the moon excited when Manhattan Associates asked me to attend this year’s Momentum Connect conference and to share my thoughts on all its first day activities around this subject. The day saw me taking in keynotes from supply chain executives, listening to customer testimonials, boning up on cloud architecture and learning the difference from Google between things like “regions” and “zones” and why Colossus isn’t just an X-Men character, to hearing from NASA engineers about the impracticality of exploring how to fly (more on that in a minute).
As much as I loved the whiteboard quote from day one though, believe it or not, it actually wasn’t my favorite thing Eddie Capel said throughout his speech, either. That honor goes to another statement:
“Self-managed integrations leave you in purgatory,” Capel said.
This statement is important for two reasons. One, it is brilliant, but, two, and with all due respect to Mr. Capel, it is also flat out wrong.
Because self-managed integrations don’t leave retailers in purgatory. They leave them in hell.
Because, let’s be honest, the only real difference between purgatory and the hell of not being able to meet your customers’ needs within retail is semantics. Hell and purgatory may as well be synonymous when omnichannel demanding customers are involved.
Agility is what really matters most. Retailers need systems that are flexible, not inflexible. Systems that are “versionable, extensible, and scalable,” as Capel says. Separate systems that work on different release schedules, that are not cloud native, and that are not built atop a microservices architecture don’t have a chance in hell of meeting the average retail end consumer’s needs in a post-pandemic, omnichannel world.
And getting there isn’t easy. It takes practice and time.
For Manhattan, developing this practice took years. It all started with the seminal release of Manhattan Active Omni in 2017, was followed up by Manhattan Active Warehouse Management and Allocation in 2020, and, as was announced yesterday, it has now culminated with the announcement of Manhattan Active Transportation Management as part of Manhattan’s new fully end-to-end Active Supply Chain suite (see diagram below).
As I said on Twitter upon hearing the news, the announcement of a fully cloud-based supply chain suite is bold.
All told from start to finish, Capel says, it took 7 to 8 years for Manhattan to get to where it is now, which means way back in 2013 Manhattan was already thinking about what it meant to be omnichannel far ahead of many others in the industry and far before Active Omni was even a thing in 2017.
Was it practical to think that way back in 2013? Probably not. Back then customer demand was likely more about optimization and just-in-time methodologies than having the flexibility to meet consumers’ needs wherever and however they demand.
All of which brings me full circle back to flight.
Was it practical for the Wright Brothers to try to learn how to fly? Or the countless others that came after them who failed, some of whom even died trying? Absolutely not.
According to NASA engineer Adam Steltzner, things like learning to fly and space exploration are about the furthest thing from practical one can get (and Mars is pretty damn far away).
But that’s the beauty of it all too, the beauty of exploration, the beauty of going against the grain. So much of retail innovation is lost at the alter of practicality.
“We don’t explore because it is practical,” Steltzner mentioned in his address. “We explore because it is impractical and that is how we learn about our potential.”
Powerful words, and ones that oftentimes are best left to a whiteboard.
What does yours do for you?
If you enjoyed this article, I will also be presenting my thoughts on the major trends impacting retail in 2021 at Momentum Connect on Thursday, May 27th at 11:30 EST. You can register via the link below if you are at all curious about what my whiteboard looks like too.