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Cloud sparkles in Michael Hill transformation

When the first Michael Hill shop opened in 1979, jewellery retail was a personal and mainly face-to-face business – after all, it could take a month or two’s salary to buy an engagement ring.

Fast forward to 2017 and retail and Michael Hill are both radically changed – but the personal touch remains central to the now international jewellery organisation. What has shifted is the way a personal shopping experience is delivered and the central role technology plays.

Today Michael Hill International Ltd owns the brands Michael Hill and Emma & Roe; operates more than 350 physical stores in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US; has four online outlets; and harbours ambitions to grow substantially over the coming years.

Matt Keays, chief information officer, says over the next five to seven years the company has its sights set on a target of hundreds of stores internationally. And while the company already benefits from a robust reputation and commanding market position, it understands there is no room for complacency and that it needs to transform itself to ensure its future is as successful as its past.

Keays explains the foundations for this success are being laid with a robust yet flexible information systems platform, which is being rolled out to serve the needs of customers and Michael Hill staff at the same time. Simultaneously it promises the scalability and agility the company needs to fulfil its growth and service ambitions.

To build a system that meets the expectations of consumers for rapid service and instant information, Michael Hill partnered with Microsoft Dynamics Partner Sable37, known internationally for its CRM expertise. Leveraging Sable37’s knowledge and expertise in the retail sector coupled with its understanding of the Microsoft ecosystem is allowing Michael Hill to build a trusted system designed to match its needs, incorporating customisations around the edges of the core stack with Sable37’s end-to-end solution for retailers, Retail37.

“We are an enabler of the growth expansion strategy – we need to empower people,” says Keays. “We want to go on a journey with our customers thanks to much richer information about their behaviours, tastes and preferences.”

The foundation for that insight engine is a new point of sale (POS) system which is a feature of  Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations running on Microsoft Azure.

The “clientelling” solution provides a platform for company-wide digital transformation, delivering employees with deeper customer insights – but also with tools and back end systems that inject efficiency, allowing personalised, faster and more effective customer-staff interactions.

At the same time the system delivers data insights to customers and staff to support jewellery selection at both Michael Hill and Emma & Roe outlets.

Face-to-face contact in retail outlets is part of Michael Hill’s DNA, but Keays notes “digitalisation should foster doing things faster and more efficiently” with staff provided instant access to information to support the sales & customer service processes.

He says the efficiency derived from using the cloud based Dynamics 365 for Operations retail solution should ultimately mean transactions can flow faster, with less human input, but acknowledges that there has been disruption for the stores to navigate while the technology foundations are put in place.

The organisation has already also shifted administrative tasks to the cloud and uses Office 365. Ultimately the intent is to streamline operations and ensure retail staff are free to spend more time with customers rather than be tied down by administration.

It’s also providing greater transparency for executives. “I found the Microsoft technology stack is quite open and it’s easy to get information out and plug into reporting systems,” says Keays.

The solution has been designed to underpin future e-marketing and e-commerce initiatives and in time allow Michael Hill to reach even remote customers not currently served by close physical retail outlets.

It’s not just the frontline retail staff who will be freed from mundane tasks thanks to increased levels of automation, Keays says the move to cloud computing means the IT team should be liberated from much of the grind of systems management – freeing him and his team to spend more time with business users providing strategic advice and training about how to leverage and use technology to improve business outcomes.

“Moving to the cloud gives us a lot more agility.”

– Matt Keays

“We have seen that already with the Office 365 rollout,” he says. “The benefits from the point of view of maintenance and scalability are paramount. All the work behind the scenes to operate systems to manage disaster recovery – all that pain is taken away. It allows us to become advisors and business partners.”

While Keays notes that companies considering a move to the cloud needed to carefully assess the total costs of a move to the cloud, he is clear that cloud’s “agility is second to none.”

Instead of being several generations of technology in arrears, simply because of the challenge of updating software, the cloud based Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Operations platform means that Michael Hill is always at the leading edge with the option to turn on additional functionality as required ensuring its retail sparkle remains bright.