Data Portability Is Your Get Out Of Jail Free Card

Written by Todd L. Michaud
March 7th, 2012

Todd Michaud runs Power Thinking Media, which helps retailers and restaurants tackle the convergence of social, mobile and retail technologies. He had previously spent nine years delivering technology solutions to more than 10,000 retail locations as VP of IT for Focus and Director of Retail Technology for Dunkin’ Brands.

On your list of must-haves for a new retail technology, application functionality is essential and ease of use is great. But the absolute top requirement should be the portability of the system’s data, even if you don’t need that portability today.

Being able to move data around your enterprise gives the most flexibility in using that data, and data portability also future-proofs your system by letting you bolt on new technology quickly instead of slowly and oh-so-carefully making changes to what you’ve already got.

When you are evaluating systems, you are judging them by the current functionality each system offers and by a roadmap of each vendor’s enhancements weighed against your business needs as you know them today. But we all know that business needs change, a lot. The system you choose to meet your needs for the next six months (about as much visibility as you really have) may not have the capability to meet your needs six years down the road. Let’s face it: Three years ago, would you have wanted to let your customers share their in-store purchases on Facebook from your cash wrap? I bet you’d like that now.

Data portability is so important because it often enables you to add technology to meet the company’s needs, rather than trying to enhance existing technology. When it comes to enhancing existing systems, you have to fight the long and difficult battle to get your current technology platform providers to develop, test and deploy the new technology. And all this before the executive team decides to replace you with someone who doesn’t pick such a crappy system that “doesn’t do what you should have known we were going to need.”

On a side note, I am on a personal mission to help dispel the myth that retail technology should last seven to 10 years. For every person who tells me that, I am going to grab a 10-year-old laptop, drop it on their desk, ask them to use it for a week and then call me and let me know how it went. “Hey, retail executives. If you get five years out of a technology platform, you’ve done well. If you manage to get seven years, you’ve lost money to the guy down the street.”

Data portability also gives you a tremendous advantage when it comes to the oh-so-common scenario of not having a single provider, or single generation of system, deployed throughout the field. Being able to combine and normalize data from different systems dramatically improves your ability to plug in other third-party systems without having to ask questions like: “Does your approach integrate with these four POS platforms and those four payment systems?” And for the franchise organizations out there, how cool would it be to not care about the POS platform your franchisees use as long as it provides the data in the way you need it?

It’s much easier to find a mobile marketing platform today than it is to find a POS package that has highly integrated mobile marketing.


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