RILA's Lisa LaBruno talks supply chain

Lisa LaBruno

The Retail Industry Leader's Association's (RILA) annual Retail Supply Chain Conference was a four-day gathering of the industry's top executives in supply chain and logistics, held February 23-26 in San Diego. FierceRetailIT caught up with the association's Lisa LaBruno, senior VP of retail operations, to discuss some key takeaways from the event, how supply chain feeds omnichannel efforts and what's next for the association.

FierceRetailIT: Omnichannel is the topic among retailers today. How important is getting supply chain and logistics right?

Lisa LaBruno: All parts of the omnichannel equation are important. Indeed, a holistic view is key to successful omnichannel integration. Supply chain is about delivering the goods, and at the end of the day if you can't deliver the goods when, where, and how your customer wants them, that's what the customer will remember about you.

FRIT: There is a fair amount of trial and error going on as each company looks for its best solution. Where do you think retailers are in the process?

LL: There are some trailblazers who are leading the charge in omnichannel initiatives—many of these companies spoke at the RILA conference and shared their omnichannel journeys to date. Most retailers are in various phases of figuring out where they want to get to, how to do it, and actually doing it. And, how to make a profit while doing it.

Several companies shared their omnichannel journeys, in presentations and in round-table discussions at the RILA conference. Target, Office Depot, Sears, Lowe's, Walmart, The Home Depot, Belk - these companies are really doing some amazing things to enhance their customers' experiences. The companies that are having the most success are those that have combined a realistic sense of their strengths and capabilities with a thorough understanding of their customers, and used that information to come up with clearly-defined goals that make sense for them.

The stakes are too high for anything less than a methodical approach.

FRIT: In the wake of this winter's security breaches, CIOs were reporting a much greater interest by their CEOs in IT security, the allocation of more funds and a better integration of the department into the larger enterprise. Are you seeing supply chain operations being weighted more heavily within the retail enterprise?

LL: I think the first wave of activity was one of trying to "do omnichannel" with existing resources, processes, and systems. It didn't take long to realize that the lofty goals of many companies' omnichannel aspirations aren't very achievable with legacy inputs, so now you're seeing a reevaluation, including more investment going toward supporting these strategies.

FRIT: Silos are a problem in any organization, how are they getting in the way of supply chain and logistics improvements?

Today's customer wants a seamless shopping experience. To deliver that successfully, retailers recognize they can't operate in silos. "Omnichannel" is just a buzzword for holistic customer engagement, which means the company's approach should be holistic too. Marketing, e-commerce, supply chain, finance, customer service - all parts of the organization need to function together as one machine singularly designed to meet customers' expectations.

Retailers are taking a good, hard look at their current structures and operations, and trying to determine how they need to evolve to thrive in today's retail environment. This includes re-evaluating current processes and potentially changing organizational structures.

FRIT: Are there any initiatives that will be acted on or developed based on conference topics, surveys or attendee input?

LL: In response to the great hunger for more information, resources and benchmarking on the topic of omnichannel, RILA is expanding its omnichannel offerings including gauging members' interest in assembling an Omnichannel Leaders Council to be composed of top retail executives who are leading the development and execution of omnichannel strategies.

Also, RILA's Women in Supply Chain network has been rapidly gaining momentum since it was launched in 2008, and in addition to a breakfast panel session at the Retail Supply Chain Conference, this year the group transitioned into sponsoring a general session, featuring General Becky Halstead, U.S. Army (Ret.). Gen. Halstead's inspiring message on leadership energized the Women in Supply Chain network even further, and as a result we'll be expanding the network's regional activities in 2014.

This is an exciting time to be in retail supply chain, and there is a lot of opportunity for companies to differentiate themselves by recognizing and adequately responding to customer demands.  It's the only way to continue to exist.

Lisa LaBruno leads RILA's efforts in the association's key retail disciplines including supply chain and asset protection. She manages all leading practice, benchmarking and research initiatives as well as educational programming and executive networking to promote operational excellence within the industry. LaBruno works intimately with retailer, product manufacturer and service provider executives while managing RILA's executive leader councils and committees.