One on One with AlixPartners’ Jerry Wolfe

Digitization continues to have a profound effect on the business world, and it’s transforming the retail and consumer goods sector as we know it. AlixPartners recently brought on industry veteran Jerry Wolfe as a Senior Advisor in the firm’s Digital Practice to work closely with the firm’s retail and consumer goods teams as the industries clamor to not only get a handle on their enormous stores of data, but also figure out how to use it in a way that connects with customers. Consulting caught up with Jerry to talk about his new position and the state of digital transformation efforts underway in the space.

Consulting: What’s been keeping you busiest so far?

Wolfe: AlixPartners is a place of a lot of activity, the services are in tremendous demand, so it was just jumping in with both feet and getting busy with client work. There’s so much change and disruption in the industries Alix serves and that’s one of the things I’m most excited about, the opportunity to get involved and get productive and just how the assimilation curve is immediate.

Consulting: What are some of the big digital transformation efforts you’re seeing in the retail and consumer goods industries?

Wolfe: What you see is disruption particularly as it relates to their commercial processes. Sales, marketing, R&D, product development. So you see this shift away from more traditional mass media building awareness and brand equity and a focus on highly-personalized one-to-one marketing. In order to accomplish that and be good at it, you’ve got to wrangle an enormous amount of data that’s being created from which you mine consumer preference and interest. It’s a big data problem, and the solutions for putting that data to work get into the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning. It opens up this whole need for data science and fundamentally different applications of technology than you would have done historically in those businesses. You have these very dynamic, very analytical and also very customer-facing types of work that’s being done in response to the impact of the disruption in those commercial processes. 

Consulting: How is digitization changing companies’ relationships with their end customer?

Wolfe: It’s a shift to more of a digitized service-based view of how you engage the consumer. You think about transforming how CP companies market into more of a service where they can plug into other platforms, like a manufacturer like a Kraft-Heinz or General Mills, rather than sending data over to a Kroger or Walmart or Amazon, they’re now aggressively looking at ways to tightly integrate. It’s now an integration taking place around understanding the consumer and the shopper and targeting content in the form of solutions to the shopper. Consumers are looking for solutions and that’s driving more of an ecosystem branded service type of approach. 

Consulting: What are some of the unique challenges to retail and consumer goods in digital transformation?

Wolfe: One is recognizing that omnichannel isn’t a channel, it’s an interconnected way of serving the consumer. E-commerce isn’t something different, where it kind of stands by itself, but it needs to be understood and delivered as part of a series of services that are accessible when the consumer wants it and in the form they want it. You don’t have this monolithic path to purchase where consumers are going to shop in the store or shop online. You have a combination of both, and you have all kinds of hybrid scenarios. Connecting all of that together and understanding the customer across all experiences is an enormous change for how retailers think about serving the consumer. Success and survival increasingly are a function of the ability to personalize all of those experiences, whether they’re physical or digital. That requires a very different set of capabilities around wrangling all the disparate data that’s available and turning it into actionable insights.

Consulting: What are you seeing as the biggest consulting opportunities?

Wolfe: One is the implementation of a digital strategy for the entire operating model. You’re thinking about every single activity you do as a business and exposing it as a service that can then be harnessed into hybrid applications and different kinds of connections throughout your ecosystem, both to drive increased sales but also to operate more efficiently. It’s a transformational program taking your core business model and exposing it and linking it externally in fundamentally different ways. It’s basically turning your business model, from a technology footprint standpoint, into an API. You’re leveraging all these historic investments that have been made but now getting to a higher order of value. The consulting work is bringing the know-how, the skillset and the speed to focus on the highest value opportunities, test and learn, and get it deployed quickly. The second massive opportunity is around how to harness this explosion of data that’s available into actionable insight, and there’s probably no greater space to do that than in commercial areas like more effective marketing, more effective selling and more effective R&D product development in particular. The consulting opportunity is the strategy for what to do, and the know-how to bring all the new technologies and data science skillsets together and how to do the visualizations to put it all to work.

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