Blog article
See all stories »

From Multichannel To Omnichannel And Beyond

Over the years, my background in IT marketing and product management has brought me close to the subject of how a software should be extended over new channels. I can recall being involved in drawing up specs for new channel suppport on the following occasions in the past 15-odd years: 

  • ERP in Branch Office in the mid '90s
  • Internet ERP in the late '90s
  • Electronic Bill Payment in the mid '00s
  • Mobile Banking in the late '00s, and
  • Social Media Sales and Customer Support in the last one year.

On each occasion, the initial expectation of the market was identical: The software must do everything on the new channel that it did on all the old channels. Attribute it to customers affected by hype or consultants sitting in ivory towers or whatever, but a software gained legitimacy to its claim of supporting a new channel only when it permitted every step of every business process to happen on the given channel. Let me call this the “multichannel support" wave.

In each instance, it took a few years for the market to appreciate that each channel had its own strengths and accept that there was nothing wrong if the software only supported those features that played up to the strength of the respective channel. For example, since Internet was a great way to extend an ERP to customers, suppliers and partners without requiring specialized hardware or leased lines, it became okay for ERPs to only support marketing, sales and channel processes via the web to begin with.

Soon thereafter, the market recognized that there was no point in making the software support a certain feature on a certain channel when the corresponding business process wasn't likely to happen on that channel. Out went "web-enabled MRP" from an ERP's production module, for example.

It took a while longer for customers to understand that their internal and external stakeholders don’t think so much in terms of channels as overall user experience. And for vendors to respond by offering superior UX by splitting a single business process across multiple channels in such a way that each channel leveraged its strength and the customer found each hop natural. I call this "omnichannel support". Or "interconnected retail", as Home Depot's CEO Frank Blake calls it in this FORTUNE magazine interview to describe "as seamless an experience as possible for you as a consumer, whether you're interacting online or in the store."

To take "buy mortgage product" as an indicative business process in the context of a retail bank, omnichannel would translate to the following steps on different channels:

  1. Mobile: Hear about a new low-interest mortgage product from a friend on social media
  2. Desktop: Check out the online buzz about this product, visit the bank's website to learn more about it
  3. Branch: Find out the finer points of this product, sign up for it, fill forms, and submit documentation.

As I'd highlighted in Jumping On The Omnichannel Banking Bandwagon, multichannel banking is neither necessary nor feasible in many cases. Omnichannel banking is not only the most pragmatic way forward for banks but also fits in nicely with the new buyer journey postulated by McKinsey.

Once all key processes are omnichannel-enabled, or even alongside that phase, I envisage a next wave in which channel-specific strengths will trigger functionality that is unique to a channel. Early examples of such functionality include Mobile Remote Deposit Capture and ATM Turn By Turn Navigation. Because these features use camera, GPS, and other accessories that are standard on a smartphone - but are absent on a desktop PC or telephone - they're only supported by mobile banking. 

Over time, I predict that "Omniplus Commerce" - as I'll call this wave for the want of a better name - to prevail over the traditional notions that all features must be supported on all channels or that mobile is only an extension of the web.


Comments: (5)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 24 December, 2013, 11:26Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Dear Ketharaman - Very good insight. Few thoughts -

a. I view Omni channel as a channel that is omnipresent for customers to avail services of a bank / interact with a bank. Before Mobile / Smartphone revolution, customers were able to access branch, call centre, ATMs and Internet channels mostly to interact with their banks and these before mentioned channels are not really omni present because customers don't have it all the time. With the addition of Mobile / Smartphone, which a customer carries all the time, multi-channel offering became omni-channel offering .

b. I believe spliting process elements of an E2E business process and offering each of them in appropriate channels to provide rich & seamless experience to customers can be achieved with right channel mix strategy & meticulous multi-channel integration. I am not sure if Omni Channel is an appropriate description for this?

I believe Omni Channel is just a new buzz word created post introduction of mobile / smartphone (as a channel) to describe original Multi channel & Integration .

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 27 December, 2013, 18:37Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes


TY for your comment.

Omnichannel is indeed an industry standard term used to describe spreading out a transaction between multiple channels. 

Establishing a common store of actions occuring across various channels - or multi channel integration - is a prerequisite for omnichannel commerce. But, multichannel is not the same as omnichannel. You can find examples to differentiate between the two in the blog post titled Jumping On The Omnichannel Bandwagon on my personal blog (link not provided per Finextra Community Rules but this post will come up on top of Google search results).

Not to get lost in etymology, but Merriam-Webster defines omni as "universally". ATM and Internet are pre-mobile channels that are on 24/7/365 and qualify as omnipresent without being omnichannel. Researching online on a desktop and buying from an offline brick-and-mortar store - or ROBO as it's called - is one of the earliest examples of omnichannel commerce even though it doesn't involve mobile. (Granted that the more famous term 'showrooming' does involve mobile and is indeed omnichannel). 

Therefore, I don't see any direct link between omnichannel on the one side and omnipresent or mobile on the other.

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 03 January, 2014, 05:18Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Thanks for your response, Ketharaman.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 10 December, 2014, 15:00Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

I only said multichannel banking is "neither necessary nor feasible". According to this McKinsey article, multichannel integration has also been a bad use of IT budgets for banks!

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 17 November, 2015, 09:461 like 1 like

This @Protiviti article published in The Financial Brand reinforces my reading of the omnichannel-banking writing-on-the-wall.

Now hiring