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4 Key Requirements for Building Retail Innovation Competencies

A team of academic researchers recently took an interesting approach to uncovering the key drivers behind innovation in retail – they analyzed employment advertisements! Surprisingly enough, the results of their study, which were recently published in an article in 360° – the Business Transformation Journal, provide provocative insights into how certain digital competencies can help drive innovation in retail organizations.


The article is entitled Driving Retail Innovation: The Demand for Digital Capabilities to Transform the Industry. In it, the researchers surmised that if retailers were focusing on becoming more innovative, they would need to do so by advertising for IT people that could enable business transformation.

To support this theory, they used a texting mining technique called automated latent semantic analysis to gather data from nearly 1,100 job advertisements from The data came from ads for positions in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia that contained the words “retail information technology.”

After a series of data collection and processing steps, they extracted patterns of employee capabilities that supported current and future qualifications for the development of retail IT solutions. The researchers then were able to summarize what skills were associated with innovative business transformation in retail and what the corresponding contemporary technological trends were.

Driving innovation through specific skill sets

The data points to 17 key categories of distinct skills, or digital competencies, that are helping retail organizations drive innovation. Based on these findings, the researchers suggest four areas of key competencies for retail organizations that want to build the kind of staff that will help them transform into a more competitive organization.

Here is a list of the competencies and a few highlights of why each set is important.

  1. Must have both – IT and business-related skills. The research data clearly shows a duality, say the authors, because while the study did not include business skills, it was evident that these were important to retailers. The bottom line is that retailers are searching for employees that can apply IT skills to the business requirements of their specific industry. A good example is how competencies in creative and agile design can combine IT- and business-related skills to drive innovative and transformation processes.
  2. In high demand – cloud, mobile, and general development skills. The researchers’ analysis revealed that there is a great demand for software developers and user-experience specialists for web-based solutions. This points to the flexibility that is needed in today’s retail world – customers must be accessible through whatever device they are using, whether it’s a desktop, notebook, tablet, or smartphone.
  3. Highly sought after – marketing and sales, campaign management, and supply chain management. The frequent appearance of these terms in the analyzed job advertisements points to the fact that these areas are key to the future of retail IT. These functions support core business processes in retail organizations and will contribute greatly to the competitiveness of individual organizations.
  4. Equally important – project management, business development, and business analysis skills. In addition to technical skills and core business process knowledge, the researchers found that there was also a need for general “methodological” skills in business transformation. IT projects are often complex to manage, so these skills are ultimately essential for the organizations that are most dedicated to retail innovation.

The researchers suggest that retail organizations can use the data from this study to identify technological trends and assess their existing in-house capabilities. They can then take the appropriate action towards developing the right capabilities for business innovation. The researchers also point out the value of bringing together experts from outside resources with different areas of expertise, especially for hard-to-find competencies.

The article provides many more insights on the trends and required skills associated with innovative business transformation. To learn more about this research and the recommendations for building these competencies, read the full article, Driving Retail Innovation: The Demand for Digital Capabilities to Transform the Industry (starting on page 44).

The 360° – the Business Transformation Journal is produced by the BTS Business Transformation Academy, a thought leadership network devoted to providing cutting-edge insights on innovation and business transformation.

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