I recently had the chance to catch up with Paul Papas, Global Leader of Smarter Commerce at IBM, to understand what impact the transition to agile commerce is having on IBM, its business strategy, and its organizational structure.

Forrester: Paul, thanks for taking some time out to talk to us about agile commerce. We have been continuing to talk to clients about the evolution of their business from channels to touchpoints that span mobile devices, social networks, advertising, marketing, traditional channels, and various places online. How are you looking at this and what does it mean for your business?

Mr. Papas: Our view is that there’s a very strong and consequential change taking place as the result of the huge surge in the use of social networks and mobile devices. It’s this, customers expect to do business on their own terms, and most organizations are unprepared for this today. This is not only changing how companies and their customers interact, it is thoroughly changing what customers value and expect from companies. One example is this notion of immediacy. People are turning to their smartphones, tablets, and online communities for instant satisfaction — finding discounts and recommendations, based on their current location — all available to them at the instant they decide to buy. This is adding intense pressure for businesses to adapt to provide value, personalized and sensitive to the moment or instant, anywhere — and to do so continuously. 

Forrester: As businesses evolve from channel-centric focus to a customer-centric focus, how do you think organizations will need to change to respond to the changes in the ways you do business? Do you see a new organizational model having to take shape?

Mr. Papas: We see a new organizational model evolving — one that is truly customer-centric in the sense that instead of targeting and barraging customers at the endpoint, it seeks and uses customer input to inform every activity along the value chain. Another way to think of the customer-centric model is as a “customer-activated organization.” To get there, they need to forge connections with customers at every stage in their business, not just the front end where businesses have traditionally focused their attention. This means that they need to make customers part of the conversation — or collaboration — in every part of their business, including activities like product development. And they will need to learn how to engage social networks in an authentic way. Not simply populating social network sites with a big flashing commerce button but being invited in and welcomed . . . because customers recognize that the business has something to offer of value. And of course, they will need to get far better at “listening” to the global conversations that are taking place online, which will in turn require analytics to make sense of it all. 

Forrester: How are the solutions your firm provides changing to address the changing needs of business transacting and marketing online and across touchpoints?

Mr. Papas: We recently launched our Smarter Commerce initiative, which includes a new practice in consulting, which I am leading and is integrated with a comprehensive set of software solutions across IBM. We’ve grouped our capabilities in three areas which we believe are meaningful to clients in terms of how they approach their business. The first is around customer value strategy. This is about creating a digital transformation strategy to enhance, extend, or redefine their products and services using the latest social and mobile technologies. Next is around advanced customer insights, which uses deep insights about customers — gleaned in large part from predictive analytics — to deliver timely and personalized engagements across multiple touchpoints. And lastly a capability around customer and partner engagement, which enables customers to shop, exchange information, and collaborate seamlessly across all touchpoints — spanning the physical and digital, social, and mobile modes of access. Smarter commerce is our way of bringing those capabilities together to drive value for our clients.

Forrester: Thanks so much, Paul. It is great to hear how your approach is aimed at addressing the complexity of the agile commerce. It will be great to see how the solutions continue to evolve.

This is the sixth in a series of interviews with executives about the ways they are responding to agile commerce. I really appreciate Paul’s participation and look forward to bringing more of these to you. If you are interested in participating in this series or have ideas for eBusiness & Channel Strategy leaders you would like to see us include, please email me at brianwalker@forrester.com.


For more on agile commerce, read our blog post or our report, or participate in our community discussions.