Media-Saturn, Enterprise and Innovation

In the last two weeks I have talked about the recent launch of the new mediamarkt.de onlineshop and have gotten quite a bit of feedback. After having talked to an internal source, most of the assumptions that I made as an outside spectator were verified, others were not quite so true. So I’d like to kick off the ecomPunk week with some additional thoughs on Media-Saturn as well as the question on how Enterprise level business and innovation are interconnected.

True, I’ve been giving Media-Saturn a rough time lately, but sometimes you need to call a spade a spade, right? As far as their strategy is concerned, there’s this weird setup that the local stores are operating individually, at least regarding the product portfolio and the prices. I say weird, but the truth is that this structure made the Media-Saturn group very successful in the past. Apparently there are CEOs of individual stores that invested heavily in their business but also make millions of Euros with them. Who, out of such position of strength would make fundamental changes, some of which I have outlined in an earlier post? As I understand it, Media-Saturn is a remarkably heterogenous construction, with the local stores often being out of a sync with the „central government“ in Ingolstadt HQ (which took the lead in pushing forward the online store projecz). 75% of the business belongs to the Metro Group and 25% to Erich Kellerhals, one of its founders having a blocking minority, thus making the decision process even harder. One could just imagine how much fun it must be to suggest and act on innovative ideas in such an environment.

When, for the sake of the argument, ignoring the special, decentralised Media-Saturn situation, complex structures in Enterprise business that make changes very burdensome, are nothing new or rare. One could make the point that if in some areas a business from the Enterprise world pushes forward innovation, it’s not because but despite of its size. In this regard, the Media-Saturn case supports my personal project experience, where internal policitics and a maze-like software structures smother new ideas and strategies.

Let’s talk onlineshop: in the cases I know of, the focus is and was never on „What does the customer want to see when he gets to our shop?“ of „What do we need to do to make sure so that the customer makes a purchase?“. Instead, challenges such as „How does the onlineshop talk to the dozens of ERP-and-what-have-you-systems we have in place already?“ or „How do we make sure customer service people have an intuitive GUI to work with?“ are automatically brought to the fore. Or, to use yet another Apple example: Do the engineers come up with a piece of hardware that does something clever and ask the designers to invent a case and merge them into useable products afterwards? Nope! It’s the other way around – and Apple’s had an off-the-chart result in the last quarter. Fanboy or not, that cannot just be coincidence.

I’d like to conclude this post with a scenario I haven’t seen anywhere but which I’m convinced would be such a breath of fresh air: Why not take 5 of your brightest people – say a marketing geek, a design God, two coding Titans and a server wizard – leave them alone for a half a year and let them create the best shop they can come up with. Don’t bother them with reporting or meetings. Don’t have them waste their time trying to connect their new project to each and every system your company is running. Let them create a standalone system that has only one goal: provide the best user experience you can deliver.

Of course I’m aware of the fact that it’s necessary to eventually have both departments and systems communicate with each other – could you imagine what would happen if every order at Zalando, rather than automatically triggering the fulfillment process, would only send an E-Mail that some poor service person had to type into another system? No go. In the long run at least. Yet, taking this idea of “power of small” or “isolated genius” will put you in the position of giving fresh ideas a chance, rather than risking it to evaporate somewhere in the organisation.

3 Responses to Media-Saturn, Enterprise and Innovation

  1. Insider says:

    Roman, no offensive – but your article shows me that you don`t have much knowledge how it really looks behind the Curtain in Ingolstadt (MSH) or Dusseldorf (Metro).
    I have been member of quite a dozen of Projects at MSH and Metro.
    There have been already lots of internal and external “geniusses” which had brilliant ideas.
    5 years ago I have already designed the online-reservation and stationary pick-up process which has been set-up now.
    Also U-Boat-Projects like the one you got in mind have been done in the past and failed.
    The problem is management-made (plus the weird backend as second problem) and I only can recommend not to get in trouble with these people…

    Go ahead and look for another opportunity – there are lots of other eCommerce-Projects around (how about Expert in Hanover in the neighbourhood of your collegue Alex?) where you don`t have to wear a bullet-proof-vest.

    • Kai says:

      Hi Insider! Thanks for your comment. I (Kai in this case) agree with you. Since I was working for the Metro as well, I know these “Black-Ops” projects quite well. But the most I saw were not really finished, but more a proof of concept or a prototype. And the political ecosystem made most of them fail, even if they were quite brilliant. So I’m also with Roman and the phantasy that in an ideal world this “lock the team in” approach could work quite well.
      Thanks for the tip with Expert… I made parts of the concept and some wireframing back in summer last year, but left the company in late summer. I’m very curious for the start, what will be left of the concept – be sure, we’ll keep a close eye on that :-)

    • Roman says:

      Hi Insider,
      thank you for your feedback! Of course you’re right, I don’t know exactly what happens behind the scenes and – as an outsider – can only gather bits and pieces of info here and there and approach the subject with some common sense. I used MSH as an example because it’s still in the news, but don’t plan on being sucked into their universe or even combatting them. I know this article is wide-open for criticism, and the fact that we’re now discussing these things is the best that could come out of it :)

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