Fashion chain River Island has undergone a dramatic overhaul of its core IT systems in order to now operate with a single view of its inventory, which is giving it the ability to manage its stock across channels and surface reliable data throughout the organisation.

Speaking at an event alongside Retail’s Big Show, organised by the NRF in the US, Doug Gardner, chief information officer at River Island, revealed how the company had embarked on an implementation with Oracle to introduce a Merchandise Financial Planning solution but after six months it halted the process before restarting it again but with a much broader remit of change.

“We uncovered more and more structural problems that involved the fundamentals of how we ran the business. It raised questions about our omnichannel plans and our whole digital strategy. We discovered that even systems on the perimeter of the business were affected by the Planning solution. So we stopped the project,” reveals Gardner.

This prompted an appraisal of how the company needed to progress to becoming omnichannel with a true single view of its inventory. “We looked at lots of things and considered what it means to be a digital company. We found we were not competing with retailers but also with Uber, with its [slick] payments, Netflix, with its personalisation, and Instagram, with its great communications. We decided we needed a bigger digital transformation across the business in order to make planning work properly,” explains Gardner.

The whole of IT was restructured and a customer director was appointed: “We realised our digital transformation needed to be tied into Planning. The project got much bigger. We were building in speed and agility. And we wanted to eliminate spreadsheets.”

Upon completion of the project in June 2017 Gardner says the broadening of the remit - to encompass all aspects of the business - has delivered a much more valuable result. “Now we can plan in an omni-channel way. We can see patterns in the data (for things like managing returns) and we have eliminated the spreadsheets! We’ve a central pot of data and we’ve seen huge efficiency improvements from this,” he says.

Having visibility of the single view of inventory has enabled River Island to better handle its returns as it is possible to see what actions, such as promotions, affect the returns levels. And it is also helping in-store employees. They are equipped with tablets and can access in real-time a view of the web inventory. This is valuable for managing click & collect and for dealing with returns.