Creative Ways National Pharmacies Keeps Customers at the Center of Innovation

When Ryan Klose, who leads tech and innovation at the National Pharmacies chain in Australia, talks about his team’s top technologists these days, he often uses the description “masters of assembly.”

For example, National Pharmacies, a chain of pharmacies and vision centers with more than 350,000 members, wanted to add a ticker to its mobile app that counted down the number of days until a member got an online coupon. The app is built and run on the Oracle Mobile Cloud platform, which allowed these masters of assembly to very quickly extend the app’s capabilities with a gamification tool from a third party, 3radical. The new feature led to an immediate spike in the number of members who downloaded the app.

These “masters” know how to code and build web-based integrations, of course, but they also understand data management, security, governance, and IT operating efficiency. It takes that whole range of expertise for an enterprise to feel really confident that a new feature will wow customers, but also not leave the app frozen or unsecured.

“It’s a capability that we have been fostering over the last couple of years, and we’ve learned that this is where technology is shifting, allowing us to innovate continuously,” says Klose, who as National Pharmacies General Manager also leads the finance and membership organizations. “You have to live in the world of consumer tech to be relevant, and this is allowing us to do this.”

What’s exciting today, Klose says, is that cloud-based systems make it possible for an enterprise like National Pharmacies to get in front of trends—to give members a “wow” experience using technology before it’s just the status quo that every company does. Here are examples of where National Pharmacies is using its master of assembly talent and mindset to test new experiences for members and employees.

Intelligent Bots Get Real

National Pharmacies is testing a chatbot that can guide a member to take blood pressure and weight readings, using Bluetooth-enabled devices, and submit that data via a bot. National Pharmacies is doing a pilot with 100 clinical weight-loss program clients, looking for a new way to serve its members and a new revenue opportunity. The bot-assisted readings could support those programs.

“We’re trying to connect with empathy,” Klose says. National Pharmacies wants to show members that it’s engaging to improve their overall health, not just retain them as members.

Like many tech leaders, Klose has heard the promises of artificial intelligence for a long time, but AI’s practical use always remained off in the distance. Klose never felt he could trust something like an AI-powered bot to talk naturally and intelligently with his customers. But recently, AI-powered chatbots have won Klose over. With intelligent bot building capability built into the Oracle Mobile Cloud platform, he’s ready to let them start testing bots with customers and employees.

Chatbots are benefiting from a confluence of technology advances: better natural language processing to speak like real people do, machine learning so bots get smarter with use, and strong integration that link chatbots to enterprise data, to provide well-informed answers. That means they can understand customer purchase history from a CRM system or product availability from a supply chain system.

As intriguing as National Pharmacies bot pilot tests are, Klose sees it as just the initial learning process for what will become a critical member communication channel. The most exciting thing about the chatbots pilots, Klose says, “is where it’s going to take us.”

Online Vouchers Boost App Adoption

Klose’s chatbot plans build on a two-year run of success providing mobile apps for members and employees. National Pharmacies has about 50,000 mobile app users, and about 5,000 of those only recently downloaded the app in response to one new added feature: online vouchers, with that countdown timer to a personal offer.

“What got people excited is the anticipation of a countdown time—that regardless of what they did, they were going to get a voucher,” Klose says. “And then the countdown timer starts again.”

The voucher effort improves marketing operation efficiency, too, because the team can build, say, 20 active vouchers at one time and deliver those throughout a promotion period, based on a person’s shopping history.

“It’s these little innovations that excite us to keep thinking differently all the time and bringing new things to the table, because the reward is instant with consumers,” Klose says. “They actually tell you straightaway whether they like it or not.”

Better Efficiency by Reusing Standard Processes

Klose and his masters of assembly have to focus on cost-cutting as well as creative new features. Using Oracle Process Cloud Service (PCS), his teams are creating a library of standard operating procedures to help improve the company’s efficiency. For example, the company will use PCS to create one standard procedure for an employee ordering a product.

“The beauty of that is we can use that same PCS procedure for a customer who goes online to purchase,” Klose says. “It’s just the same as an internal stock order procedure.”

Klose is a strong advocate of continuous improvement discipline and lean concepts, where improving quality relies on having a standard methodology that you measure and constantly improve. By encoding those processes within the Oracle Process Cloud tool, Klose’s teams can improve process performance and also cut out entire duplicate processes, so there aren’t two or three processes for moving and tracking stock in a store, for example.

New ERP: JD Edwards in the Cloud

Klose is also taking a creative approach to building a new, modern ERP environment. Klose chose JD Edwards as the company’s new ERP system because he felt it provided the best fit in terms of supply chain capabilities he needed. Retailers need supply chain agility to adapt and be ready for the changing, omnichannel retailer world, Klose says—where members in the future could even pick up National Pharmacies merchandise at another retailer. Klose is running JD Edwards licensed software on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure.

Most National Pharmacies employees won’t interact directly with the JD Edwards interfaces. Instead, Klose wants in-store employees to work off a single tablet screen for everything, from ordering stock to signing up a new member to logging their timesheet. So instead of having employees log in to JD Edwards and use that interface, they can use a mobile app his development team built using APIs to connect the supply chain and workflow smarts of JD Edwards to the mobile app on Oracle Mobile Cloud, and to integrate the business process management via Oracle Process Cloud.

Klose wants employees on a tablet so that they are using the same app in store—with certain added employee privileges and access—as the customer is. Doing so helps keep National Pharmacies’ tech innovation focused on the member’s needs along what the company calls the “path to purchase.” “In retail, we really look to promote the concept of relationship selling,” Klose says. “And with this, whatever the consumer sees in their world, we need the employee to be part of that world as well.”

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