Three New Year’s Resolutions for Retail IT

The New Year is here, and it’s time to make annual resolutions. When it comes to their IT activities, retailers should resolve to make improvements in the following three areas.

The days of IT being responsible for “keeping the lights on” are long over. Enterprise systems are still required to perform basic but crucial tasks such as finance and HR, but any retailer looking to compete in 2016 needs to look far past the boundaries of simple task automation.

Every retailer must actively leverage technology to innovate new ways of engaging and delighting the customer, and then converting and executing sales as efficiently as possible. This means investments in advanced mobile, social, CRM, payment, inventory and fulfillment systems.

Most large retailers now operate some type of proprietary innovation lab to maximize speed of innovation development and to gain competitive advantage with unique in-house capabilities. Not every retailer has the resources to support this type of massive undertaking.

However, every retailer is competing with the companies that do operate dedicated innovation centers (such as Walmart and Amazon). This means smaller organizations will have to find ways to creatively partner with systems providers and/or IT outsourcing firms to ensure they can properly focus on innovation while also making sure those pesky lights don’t go out.

Retailers need more bandwidth than ever before. They are taking in constantly increasing volumes of data from mobile devices, shelf edge technologies, RFID tags, social media platforms, interactive websites, and even “smart” devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT).

In addition, retailers have to deliver more content and data to consumers across a wider array of touchpoints. They also must automatically sense what information a consumer wants to receive, where and at what time. Internally, omnichannel retailing requires a huge infrastructure effort to align back-end systems and eliminate silos.

Recent embarrassing site failures by major retailers including Walmart and Target during Cyber Week illustrate what can happen if IT infrastructure is not robust enough to handle network demand. They also demonstrate that no retailer is “too big to fail” when it comes to infrastructure.

In 2016, resolve to always have enough infrastructure to handle whatever challenges come the way of your IT network. Fortunately, scalable cloud platforms make it easier and more affordable to ensure bandwidth availability, and there are many hosted backup options as well.

Obviously, innovation and infrastructure do not come free. Retailers understand that strengthening their IT capabilities requires monetary commitment.

However, in 2016, retailers should resolve to make IT investments that take the whole picture into account. Solutions that provide “soft” benefits but are hard to quantify for specific return, such as social engagement and listening applications, are just as crucial as more ROI-friendly systems like real-time inventory management.

Furthermore, retailers need to realize the dynamics of modern retail are always changing, requiring maximum IT agility. Upfront investments in cloud computing will not only provide long-term ROI in the elimination of physical overhead, but also more immediate return in allowing you to scale capacity, modify functionality, or even replace systems as needed.

Follow these three IT resolutions and your chances of a happy, safe and profitable New Year will be much higher. Let’s get started with 2016!

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