Like a lot of companies well into their second decade of ecommerce, Office Depot found itself sitting on a rat’s nest of systems and complications when it finally decided to bring digital order to its operations.

The company, which is owned by private equity, operates in 30 countries. According to Jonathan Newman, Chief Digital Officer, the extent of Office Depot’s digital problem became apparent when it decided to push ahead with personalisation initiatives.

“We needed to start introducing personalisation. But we had, through the lack of technical governance, created a house of cards.”

He told the delegates at the SAP Hybris Live event in Barcelona that “… I suspect there are a few people who have got similar slides back at the office that tell a similar story.”

Describing the extent of the challenge, he said “We created 31 distinct web sites, distinct home bases, with different functionality from market to market. There was no internal process control, and we lacked agility.”

So at the end of  2014, the company decided enough was enough, and that it was time for a reset. “We looked at three themes: people, process, and tools.

“From a people standpoint, it was clear to us that we didn’t have the right talent internally at the time to deliver our inspiration.” To address this, the company built a Digital Innovation Centre in Milton Keynes, northwest of London, UK.

“On the process front, we had a unique opportunity to start with a blank sheet of paper. We took an agile-first development approach to delivery. And since we launched our first [SAP] Hybris-based ecommerce site in 2005, we’ve held true to that. We drop new production code into our environment at the end of every two weeks. We’ve got a great ops team who are continuously focusing on improving the automation of our process.”

And there was another benefit.

“What’s been interesting on the process front … is that the digital innovation centre we set up has essentially become the tip of the spear for agile methods for the rest of our company. We found just recently among the organisation, they’ve fully restructured themselves around an agile marketing methodology. It’s been great to see the success that we’ve begun to establish our Hybris platform for our ongoing delivery capability starting to translate into other functions across our business.”

The company also took what he described as a then-controversial decision to move to the cloud. “When it all came down to it, we did not have the business ability to run a data centre. As a business, we sell paper clips and paper — we really have no place trying to run a world-class ecommerce data centre.”

Progress

“We have our first four markets live. We’ve built and are ready to launch our fifth market — and our largest market — in the UK,” said Newman. “We’ve delivered a rich B2B experience for our customers and delivered a fully responsive web site for customers.”

Just as importantly, he said, Office Depot has built personalisation capabilities into the core platform that allow it to optimise the journey on a one-to-one basis.

“We’ve built into our ecommerce ecosystem the ability for us to track and understand the customer journey across both the online and offline touchpoints … allowing us to continually respond regardless of how the customer chooses to engage with us.”

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