With the increasing popularity of mobile devices and social networks, managing the omni-channel experience will be a key priority for retailers this holiday season. Leading experts say that retailers need to update their legacy technology systems to handle the large amounts of data being generated by these channels.
Breaking down the silos between e-commerce and store-level platforms to get a single view of the customer and enterprise-wide inventory levels requires retailers to integrate existing platforms. With newer channels such as mobility and social media playing bigger roles in cross-channel operations, existing mainframe operating platforms are getting stretched further than ever. New cloud computing technology is helping make the transition easier, while limiting the impact on existing business operations.
“The mainframe was king for retailers because it was very robust and was created with strong business logic,” said Keith Champeau, national director of business development, Fujitsu, Sunnyvale, Calif. “However, that business logic was built more than 20 years ago, and big data stemming from social and mobile channels is taking a toll on those mainframes.”
These new channels are also impacting operations, including website and network support and functionality, as well as the ability to scale site capacity and deliver real-time online marketing campaigns. Rather than embark on a costly and time-consuming rewriting of code or “ripping-and-replacing” existing platforms, some companies are exploring the gradual migration of legacy business processes to open platforms.
Cloud computing is helping retailers in this endeavor. Since retailers can provision the power and applications they need, the cloud’s elasticity gives retailers more agility in their go-to-market strategies, and the open platform costs less to maintain and operate than mainframe options.
“The cloud is really changing everything,” explained Brad Wilhelmy, industry marketing development manager, Microsoft, Redmond, Wash.
“Last year was a year of discovery, but now companies are getting their heads around the cloud. The cloud doesn’t eliminate integration challenges, but instead creates new opportunities to integrate systems that have traditionally stood alone.”
Having the proper platform in place is a good first step, but more work needs to be done to prepare for the holiday season. Retailers need to ensure all back-end systems integrated on the modernized platform can support end-to-end multichannel transactions. Among the priorities:
• Supply chain performance: Retailers must ensure orders be fulfilled from an IT perspective as well as from a distribution point of view. And all details can be monitored through the new platform.
“The cloud enables retailers to do performance testing as well as load testing to ensure that once orders hit the back end, that they can be fulfilled,” said Eric Payeur, director of Fujitsu’s application modernization practice.
• Centralization of customer data: Having a single view of customer data in a centralized database is a must for all multichannel operations. The same holds true for inventory data.
“Those who struggle with who their customer is, or what their inventory looks like across all channels, will only have challenges going forward,” Wilhelmy said.
• Differentiated assortments: Differentiating inventory and assortments based on consumer demand can make a difference for retailers as they engage shoppers when they are ready to buy this holiday season.
“Retailers need to be ready for consumers when the customers are ready to buy,” Wilhelmy advised. “The business insight that retailers can get from open platforms helps them better predict what products customers will demand so stores can adjust inventories accordingly.”
When it comes to completing cross-channel functionality integration, retailers should keep one eye on modernization and the other on the fast-moving calendar.
“These health checks are a must, but they must be completed now,” Payeur said.