What role do our solution provider partners play when choosing and implementing new products and innovations? More importantly, what role should they play? What questions are the most important for loss prevention leaders to ask? What are some of the primary considerations that are part of the decision-making process? What role should the solution provider play in how the innovation is implemented in the field?
When it comes to managing critical products and services, retail loss prevention leaders can no longer rely on “vendors” that simply sell products to help us with game-changing decisions. We need solution provider partners that can help us along every step of the way, from the time a product is purchased up to and including implementation in the field and beyond.
When we discuss innovation as part of the loss prevention process, our thoughts must reach beyond any given product or technology and consider all the creative processes that are part of helping our business fulfill our needs and goals. Having the right solution provider partners that we trust and are capable of making the process successful is often as important as the innovation itself.
To help us answer some of these critical questions, LP Magazine sat down with several industry experts and trusted solution provider partners—Protos Security Vice President of Strategic Accounts Kris Vece, LPQ; ALTO USA Vice President of Marketing, Community Relations, and Partnerships Rhett Asher; CONTROLTEK USA Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Information Security Officer Tom Meehan, CFI; and LiveView Technologies Chief Business Development Officer David Studdert—to share their insights on the role of solution providers and the expectations that retail loss prevention leaders should have when making these important decisions.
When we talk about innovation, we must consider all the creative processes that are part of putting the innovation together, releasing it as a product, and implementing that product or service in the field. When exploring new innovations, what questions do you feel are most important for loss prevention leaders to ask of their solution providers?
Vece: Several things come to mind. First, what is the problem that needs to be solved? Does the resolution solve the problem? What amount of time and energy must be spent on this solution? How much time do I have to manage it? What is the reduction in shrink provided by the end solution? Is the result worth the cost?
Meehan: I would add that it’s important to gain a better understanding of when and where the solution has been previously adopted to help make an educated decision on whether or not the product or service will work for you. Is it new? Often when we talk about innovation we automatically imply that it’s a new gadget or technology—but sometimes it’s just a different way to implement an existing tool. So, if it was successful, where did that success come from? Will it work for you?
The solution provider really needs to understand the problem you’re trying to solve. There needs to be a shared understanding of how the product or service was developed, how it will help solve the need or opportunity within that particular organization and determine the potential return on investment for the retail partner.
Studdert: I absolutely agree. Identifying the need or opportunity we are solving is paramount. Taking the steps to ensure those needs are clearly understood by both parties is the key to any success. Each solution provider considers themselves to be innovators in their own world. We’re creating technologies and services and often we duplicate some of that process. But an important question involves determining whether this new innovation will fit into whatever that broader innovation toolbox might be.
When looking at new technologies for example, how does that specific technology either interact or integrate with the existing tool set currently being used? How do we begin building additional data sets that take us further? All of us can get siloed. We can get monolithic in the way we approach things. But by looking at the broader space, we recognize there are some great technologies and great companies that can help us become better. Asking those questions is the best place to start.
Rhett, during your career you’ve been involved with a wide range of innovations, different types of products, different types of services. What can you add that might be useful for our practitioners?
Asher: I think my colleagues all make great points. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with LP leaders revolve around trying to understand their pain points. As long as you understand those pain points, you can really begin to solve problems by working with your clients.
Is the solution a short-term fix or a long-term solution? Will you have to look for a new solution in two years, or is this an innovation that will stand the test of time? Will this solution or innovation play nicely and enhance a product or service that’s already in place? Having a collaborative approach as a true partner makes the most sense.
Having managed both, what are the primary differences between managing an innovative product and an innovative service?
Asher: A product is often something that must be continually adapted or improved upon from a technology standpoint, especially considering how quickly technology is moving. The environment I’m in now features more of a people solution, and I feel that people are a bit easier and quicker to adapt than a technology might be. In both cases you have to listen to the client and pay attention to what’s going on in the industry around you. Conversations like this are extremely helpful. I’ve learned a great deal from interactions with my solution provider peers.
As a solution provider, what are some of the primary considerations that are part of the decision-making process when developing a new product or innovation?
Studdert: Our mission is to make the world a safer and more secure place. As we look at new innovations and technologies, do they accomplish that? We’re based on a platform where we look at many new and different technologies, innovations, analytics, and similar solutions. There are a lot of best-in-class solutions out there, and as we identify those solutions our number one question is, “If we implemented this new technology, will it make our customers, our partners, and their communities safer and more secure? Is it answering the fundamental objectives we show up every day to accomplish?” In our eyes, everything is a service, even our hardware components. You’ve got to maintain what the product is intended for and build those relationships. The human element is such a big part of that.
Meehan: First, if there’s a problem out there, it’s a problem because there isn’t necessarily a solution—yet. It’s about understanding what the issue is at its core, developing a methodology for solution development, interpreting the challenges at the granular level, and building the product around that. I think the design methodology has morphed into truly understanding what the problem requires to find results. It demands a lot of listening, and a lot of back-and-forth conversation with other solution providers and customers. It’s everyone sharing ideas, because today the problems generally are going to require integration. You really need to make sure you understand the problem at its core and start listening. As the process evolves, the solutions evolve with it.
Kris, while what you do is a little different, there’s definitely innovation that comes into play. Change and evolution are also an important part of what you do.
Vece: For us, it’s a matter of taking something that has always had a stigma to it and thinking differently. Everyone thinks differently about security officers—that the security officer should be doing something more or different. So, how do we set the standard for our client? How do we get them to think differently about the security officers at their location? How do we make sure we portray the physical presence of the security officer, but with the support of our technology?
It really comes down to thinking differently. There are so many solution providers out there, but it’s the solution provider that thinks differently—those that want to bring something different to the table rather than doing the same thing over and over—that will have the greatest impact. That’s what we’re trying to bring to the table.
How crucial is it to understand the playing field in our industry? As a solution provider, how important is it to know the other technologies and solutions out there that may compete or play well with your solution?
Asher: That’s a great question. I think these types of forums, including the different events, trade associations, the conferences that we’re all familiar with, all provide a forum for solution providers to get together and play nicely. We need to know the problems our clients are facing. We want to partner and understand companies that share our goal and mission. It’s super important to understand the playing field and what other vendors are doing, then take that to the next level and determine which companies or people we can partner with to make our solutions even better.
Vece: I completely agree. I spend as much time on the trade show floor visiting other vendors and seeing their products and solutions as I do talking to our clients. Going to a trade show and actually seeing other provider’s demos and walking through the hall helps me think through how we fit into the bigger picture.
Meehan: We’re in a hyper-connected world today, and we know this is part of the business. Sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone because you’re going to partner with someone that might compete with you in one respect but not in another. It’s a big industry, but everyone really does know everyone else. You have to take advantage of that. We often have mutual customers, and we have to work together to solve the problems. And from the other side of the fence, retailers need to push that just as hard. They need to say, “You guys have to figure it out for me.” I’ve seen a big movement over the last few years where that’s happening. That’s the future. We know there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and things need to be connected and work together.
What should the role of a solution provider be between the time a product or innovation is actually developed, up to and including how it’s implemented in the field?
Meehan: It’s all about partnerships and approaching the solution together. Through the inception to the rollout and the aftercare, the roadmap for success is about being aligned together. Considering that there might be bumps in the road, our practitioner partners want to know they can rely on us. They need to know we’re in it for the long haul. It’s about building trust and knowing we’re going to figure out how to solve any problems together.
Asher: I agree. The days of selling something and walking away are over. That doesn’t work anymore. Solution providers need to be involved from beginning to end and support ongoing relationships with clients. Things change pretty quickly, and if you’re not partners with the company you’re doing business with, you’ve already lost; you’re already behind. Solution providers should be helping to ensure what we’re doing is up to date, continues to move forward, and remains relevant. We need to ensure all the way through implementation that it’s working well and providing the benefit we said it would.
Studdert: We’re really in the people business. Between the innovation side and the implementation side, it’s all about communication. And from implementation through execution and wherever that partnership takes you, you’ve got to have open lines of communication. We’re not selling widgets and gadgets. We’re selling solutions that make a big difference. Maybe it’s just a little piece, but those little pieces add up as you aggregate all our different talents, technologies, and innovations.
Vece: I would add the importance of education—educating at all levels regarding what we do, how we do it, what the product brings to the table, and ensuring everyone knows how to use it. That includes during the trial periods—between the time we create it and the time of implementation. Having someone that’s not involved in the process look at it, test it, play with it, and see if they can break it because if they can, someone else can. Sometimes because we’re so close to it, it takes an outside opinion to look at what we’re creating with critical eyes.
Let’s expand on the whole education piece. Do you think there’s more that solution providers can do to help roll out the program and get involved in education? What role do you think solution providers can play to add that extra value?
Asher: It starts with ensuring that everyone from top to bottom in the organization understands the solution and how it can help solve the problem. And, that education has to flow both ways. For example, with the LPF certifications serving as the industry standard, our company has asked every employee from our field people, through our operations managers, all the way up through our financing and regional people to become at least LPQ certified. And like many other partners, we also share those educational opportunities with our clients and their teams to take some of the load off them by providing the opportunity for certifications. As a true partner, we owe it to each other to share the journey.
Meehan: Education and awareness in the industry is paramount. One of the biggest roles for a solution partner today is educating people. And if I’m not the person that can help you, let me help you find someone who can. Education, awareness, involvement, networking—these are some of the most important things we’ve talked about today.
Looking at the relationships between the solution provider partners we have in our industry today, how much do you rely on each other?
Studdert: More than you know. Those relationships are everything to us. Our goal is to become thought leaders in our space, but we got here because of those relationships. There are people who have built these amazing careers and have forgotten more than we’ll ever know, who were willing to share and help us get up-to-speed on what the industry needs. It has been invaluable to us in our journey.
Vece: I completely agree. Our relationships are everything we have in this industry. It’s what we base our reputations on. I know I can reach out to anyone here today at any time to get a referral, throw an idea out, or just talk about a solution. If I have a problem, I have no problem reaching out and just saying, “Hey, I need some help here. I need to think through this, help me think a little differently.” Those relationships are invaluable to us. I rely on those relationships every single day. We’re all in this together.