Established in 1925 by George Rosenthal, a Russian immigrant whose entrepreneurial spirit led him to begin importing fashionable clothing and accessories for South African women from the United States, The Foschini Group (TFG) has spent almost ninety years catering to the needs of local consumers.
Today, TFG is publicly traded on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and consists of eighteen brands that deal in lifestyle products that range from fashion, jewellery, accessories, cosmetics, mobile phones, home ware and sporting and outdoor apparel.
Many TFG outlets are household names. These include Foschini, Markham, @home and Totalsports. With a staff compliment of over 15 000 servicing 2100 locations, TFG occupies a well-established position as one of South Africa’s most influential retail groups.
Any professional who has spent time in retail will profess to how swiftly this environment can change. Popular merchandise have the capacity to lose their appeal as trends and seasons progress. It is not uncommon for a winter coat featured in a window display to be reduced only weeks later. This is the nature of the sector in which TFG and its competitors operate.
With so many geographical locations and thousands of staff, communicating price changes, stock details and general information has always been a challenging assignment for TFG. Although the organization has put in place a robust internal electronic mail framework, email addresses are only afforded to outlets and senior managerial staff.
Over time, sharing mission critical information with employees proved to be inefficient says Marius Botha, Project Lead for Enterprise Knowledge Management at TFG.
“Poor communication between head office and TFG outlets had begun to cause unnecessary administration for our staff on the ground. Due to the nature of internal communication channels, employees at store level often wasted time searching for important information”.
“In response, we took a decision to begin investigating solutions that would enable us to spend less time accessing data and more time interacting with the customer”.
In January 2012, TFG made contact with Intervate, a specialist provider of Enterprise Information Management solutions and certified Microsoft partner, to identify a potential solution.
Using Microsoft SharePoint as a foundation, Intervate worked closely with TFG to address communication and knowledge management difficulties within the group’s structure.
“We had been using Microsoft SharePoint as an information management tool within our head office in Cape Town for some time. When the opportunity to streamline communications throughout the group presented itself, this seemed like an ideal place to start. It was the perfect storm. We had business and IT actively investigating solutions to TFG’s pain points,” adds Botha.
“With Intervate’s assistance we identified a solution which allowed TFG staff to quickly access critical information via a SharePoint enabled framework”.
The result was an internal website that was aligned to TFG’s existing SharePoint and Knowledge Management strategy, inTouch. The incorporation of a responsive User Interface (UI) also made it possible for staff to access corporate data on any device, including mobile platforms.
To date, TFG’s decision to partner with Microsoft and Intervate has yielded several benefits.
TFG’s pilot project for its Microsoft SharePoint enabled inTouch communication and knowledge management platform has already demonstrated that when a sales force is equipped with the requisite tools it can put greater emphasis on customer orientated actions.
Subsequently, TFG implemented inTouch to all their stores throughout Africa.
“The pilot phase has been extremely successful and we decided to implement the solution to all our stores. We also trained 350 Field Managers to assist with this process” adds Botha.
In the months following the rollout of inTouch to all TFG stores, they have seen a drastic decrease in email communication from and to stores. This indicates a strong reliance on the system, content and functionality it now provides.
Furthermore, TFG’s IT management team has already begun enriching the system with new functionality with a view towards implementing inTouch Version 2.
“Ultimately, inTouch Version 2 is expected to entirely replace our head office portals. We will then begin investigating possible additions such as Microsoft Lync and Yammer to augment the solution”.
Responsive Design and Creative Input
During the implementation process, TFG benefitted from access to Intervate’s user experience creative design team, which was responsible for the responsive web design of Intervate.com and a host of other responsive sites.
Furthermore Intervate’s innovation and flexibility in an agile development style facilitated TFG’s need to address the businesses changing demands for priorities without losing sight of the ultimate delivery goal.
“The combined Intervate and TFG delivery team working onsite together ensured a harmony in delivery that resulted in a fantastic solution that we feel will assist TFG to drive communication” Marc Fletcher, Sales Director, Intervate Cape Town.
In conclusion, Botha cites Intervate and Microsoft’s broader partner network as a significant contributor to the success of this implementation.
“Intervate was a perfect match for us. The leadership situated at its Cape Town branch afforded us access to unparalleled expertise and a reliable sounding board. We’d like to thank them for their efforts during both the conceptualisation and implementation process”.