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At the 2015 SAP Retail Forum, hundreds of SAP customers, partners, and colleagues came together at the beautiful Eden Rock Hotel in Miami Beach for three days of exciting networking events, thought provoking keynotes, innovative demos, and insightful customer presentations.

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In the opening keynote, Unleashing Data and Creating a Customer-Driven Culture, Matt Laukaitis, senior vice president and general manager for United States retail at SAP, said Big Data is part of our daily lives at work and at home. That means we are no longer in a business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) economy, we are in a consumer-to-business (C2B) economy.

Laukaitis said consumers are firmly in control and the Internet of Things (IoT) is accelerating the pace of change. Ideas that seemed impossible a few short years ago are expected today, and retailers need to keep up to succeed. Consumers don’t care about a company’s IT problems, he added. Retailers require a strong digital core so they can embrace data, simplify business processes, and focus on the customer experience.

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Lori Mitchell-Keller, executive vice president and global general manager of consumer industries at SAP, joined Laukaitis in the keynote. Mitchell-Keller said the concept of unleashing data to create a customer-driven culture starts with knowing the customer. Digital and mobile adoption is driving rapid change and in five to ten years retail will be much different. She said by 2020 all retail sales will be influenced by digital technology.

The retail industry is being impacted heavily by digital disruption, and competition in the market will continue to come from new and different places. Mitchell-Keller said every retailer will have to respond to this challenge or risk going out of business. At the same time, the shift to the digital economy also presents a huge opportunity. Retailers that embrace it effectively and focus on the customer experience will come out ahead.

Organizational and technical challenges are tough to overcome, but retailers have to face them head-on. She said hiding from change or following the crowd isn’t the answer. So don’t be like an ostrich or a fish, instead be like a lemur – adaptable, agile, fast-moving, and hyper-aware.

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Raif Barbaros, vice president of technology at Loblaw Digital reinforced Mitchell-Keller’s comments in the keynote. Loblaw is Canada’s largest retailer. Barbaros said that about 14 million Canadians shop at a Loblaw brand every day.

The Loblaw Digital team is focused on making the shopping experience compelling and seamless across all its businesses. Barbaros does that by managing his team like an ecommerce start-up. He hires the best talent, builds in house expertise, and creates fast agile teams with a long-term strategy in mind.

Barbaros says there is no finish line in business, and the demands of today’s digital consumer are ever-changing. So retailers shouldn’t set up IT projects to build functions for an end state. Instead they should build platforms that allow for change.

The message to retailers in the opening keynote was clear. Change will continue at a rapid pace and only those brands that embrace the digital transformation will emerge. Having an adaptable and agile digital core is key. Retailers need to run ecommerce channels like a business with a long term strategy and recruit top IT talent.

Related content:

SAP Retail Forum 2015 (#SAPRF15): The Intelligent Retail Enterprise

SAP Retail Forum 2015 (#SAPRF15): Innovation, Relevancy, and Purpose

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