In 2004, one of Canada’s largest and most successful lingerie and swimwear retailer embarked on a global expansion plan. Fast forward to today and Boutique La Vie en Rose Inc. is well and truly a global company, operating in more than 14 countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Georgia and Morocco to name a few. While the company has plans to expand further, it still represents a true Canadian success story and has more than 245 stores nationwide operating under two distinct banners, la Vie en Rose and Bikini Village. The first caters to women aged 25 to 45 looking for quality intimate apparel, lingerie, loungewear and sleepwear as well as swimwear and beachwear at affordable prices. The second is the premier destination for the best selection of brand-name swimwear, beachwear, and accessories for both men and women.
In order for the company to successfully operate across such a footprint it needs to have an efficient and seamless IT infrastructure in place to be able to meet the demands of both the business, but also of the customer. With technology transforming the business landscape at an ever-increasing rate, the challenges and pressures placed on the IT function become progressively more difficult to overcome. If the company wishes to succeed and to grow further, getting this balance right is fundamental. This is the challenge that faces Éric Champagne, Chief Information Officer at La Vie en Rose. For him, IT first and foremost has one true goal. “Our true mission is to support our teams effectively. Innovation is a mean, but not the goal,” he says. “If we don’t support them with their basic IT needs, it’s less likely they will ask us to assist them in their projects. My objective is that all business units see IT as a partner, helping them look at new solutions as we aim to become more efficient as a company.”
This is key for Champagne. Acting as a partner to the business allows greater collaboration and in turn, greater solutions to the challenges that an ever-changing demand can place on the company. Through regular engagement and strategy meetings, IT has a seat at the table and can better understand the business’s needs, avoid surprises and align to unified goals.
Champagne is currently spearheading a five-year digital transformation program, one that will see the company implement new POS and ERP systems and truly transform its entire IT infrastructure to better support the business. The key driver of this transformation was a legacy system in place that, as a result of technology and innovation, could no longer meet La Vie en Rose’s and Bikini Village’s current operational demands. “Our current systems are not capable of supporting the changing requirements from the consumers and in turn our business units. It is getting increasingly difficult to manage,” he says. “In order to better support the teams, we must ensure the business units understand our current infrastructure and our ecosystem limitations as well as our capability to respond or to implement new solutions.”
The first step in this transformation was a request for proposal (RFP) process, ensuring that the customer remained central to any implementation. La Vie en Rose created a 2,000 requirement list and ran this process through all 12 of the company’s business units in order to identify each business requirement and ultimately the systems that could create a seamless and efficient operation. This is where Champagne was able to identify the changes that needed to be made, replacing the complete ERP and POS systems, adding a product lifecycle management system and adding merchandise financial planning systems. This is where the company called upon the services of Cegid, provider of SaaS business management solutions and CGS for its BlueCherry Enterprise Software. With Cegid and CGS respectively, La Vie en Rose will be able to implement the new systems and integrate between them. “This integration then makes the customer journey inside the system completely seamless. An easy journey translates to a better customer experience. If you start complicating the journey and the data flow surrounding it, it just creates a lousy customer experience, which creates a poor conversation with the consumers risking them to simply stop communicating with our brands. It is therefore mandatory to ensure that the data flows well and the communication is flawless.”
There is a larger challenge with technology transformation that centres around following technology trends without fully understanding and identifying the use cases. Champagne is aware of this challenge but understands that the company can call upon its partnerships with Cegid and CGS as well as working across its vendor network to understand not only what’s happening in the marketplace but how it could add value La Vie en Rose. “Currently our ERP, merchandise financial planning and product cycle management as well as our POS system are core elements of our retail operation,” he says. “It was important to us to find a solution that didn’t make us dependent on a specific development or proprietary database and language. We didn’t want to be attached to one vendor alone. This will allow us to implement a new vendor’s solution in a modern language recognized by our other systems. Thus, permitting us to benefit from the changing technology landscape in the market, as and when, with ease.”
A key example as to how La Vie en Rose will benefit from this approach is the company’s plan to embrace cloud-based technology in the near future. The current strategy will lay the foundation for an entirely cloud-based infrastructure, and while Champagne admits that there is a little trepidation in placing all major systems within a single cloud solution, he is proud of how diligent the company has been in the way it is approaching this transition. La Vie en Rose has worked closely with Amazon and Microsoft and is investing in this cloud journey incrementally, rather than isolating money into a full project. This he feels makes it easier for the company from a financial perspective but it also opens the door to the innovative technologies that are disrupting the landscape. “We’ll have the base. Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, even Augmented Reality, these are the buzzwords that all retailers are discussing at the moment,” says Champagne. “Right now, we are focusing on having the systems in place to support our customers, so whatever buzzword comes back or whatever the color of day, we will have the system to support these demands.”
Another major challenge that comes with technology transformation is a change in culture. La Vie en Rose has more than 30 years of successful operation and to try and redefine the entire operational process through technology requires a cultural shift. The goal of this is more a shift in the relationship between IT and the business units, without changing the culture that made La Vie en Rose successful and this is where the challenge resides. Champagne admits that, almost in spite of its success, IT has operated almost separately to the business and this acted as a barrier to unlocking the value of technology. “Due to the age and the complexities of our existent systems, IT was often assigned to execute basic tasks that we shouldn’t be doing,” he says. “Changing a culture is always a challenge. To drive ours to evolve, we're creating an IT ambassador inside each business unit so that all units can become more self-sufficient with their IT demands and focus more on the basic tasks they need to accomplish.”
Champagne can already point to a better and improved relationship between IT and the other business units and he feels that a key part of this is because of the RFP process because it created a way forward for the company built on a unanimous, collaborative decision. This approach extends into the way in which the company chooses partners. Champagne has been working in IT for almost 30 years and he believes that its crucial to create an ecosystem of collaboration. “I created this ecosystem between the company, the business units and the partners so that we all understand where we need to go,” he says. “It gave us the opportunity to gather information, to find solutions or acquire knowledge. It favoured the development of more ideas and at the end of the day, it defined even more where we're going.”
Two years into this five-year journey and La Vie en Rose has already begun to see the fruits of its labor. As an organization, there will be strategic KPIs and measures of success, but for Champagne he will value the success of this transformation with a simple metric: are users utilizing the ecosystem to its full potential. “No one wants to spend time and money buying and implementing systems that won’t be used by the business units,” he says. “Only by having the systems used will we be able to confirm that they are working effectively and in return enable the business units to improve the customer experience. Which in the end is the ultimate goal for the company. All this is for the customer.”