By Alex Brown, CEO, 10th Magnitude
I certainly don’t have to tell you that the 2013 holiday retail season is upon us, since you’ve probably had to plan your technology all year to handle the imminent spikes in in-store and online traffic. And, in just a couple of weeks, you’ll start planning your technology budget for 2014’s holiday season.
But what if I said that you don’t have to start your 2014 holiday season planning with a functional website assessment, a capacity needs forecast and a customer service review? Instead you could have an innovative envisioning session to brainstorm new technology strategies and mobile applications that would make costs smoother, customers happier and sales associates more effective next year from Thanksgiving to New Year’s? Sounds more appealing, right?
And you can make “nice to have” improvements that smooth holiday customer spikes without increasing your IT costs. Moving your data, storage, website, systems and other technology used to run your business and your stores into the cloud is the trick. The move to the cloud creates three critical dynamics:
1. Your IT costs come down because you only pay for the capacity you use. You no longer have to provision capacity and maintain staff and systems for your greatest use levels.
2. The savings you have now harvested from capacity going into the cloud can be reinvested into applications that mobilize your workforce to better serve your customers.
3. Your cost base shifts from a capex model geared towards hardware and datacenter provisioning to an opex model that keeps costs of IT in line with revenue.
All of a sudden, you have dollars coming back into your budget — how often does that happen? Let me describe a couple of the many interesting scenarios I see from that opportunity.
One area that seems ripe for improvement is the cost structure associated with hiring, training and outfitting seasonal workers. The challenge is to outfit these additional staffers quickly and easily with the selling tools they need. Once you have cloud-enabled your back end, customer and product information, you can provide all your workers real-time access to that data via a mobile application specifically designed to best address your customers’ unique shopping needs. Sales associates can use familiar, easy to understand, inexpensive mobile devices (such as phones and tablets) to scan products for information about stock, pricing, color availability, backorder status etc.
The increased network usage from additional sales associates only two months a year is no problem — cloud capacity scales up and down with your needs. Your sales force would no longer be tied to a dumb terminal and make customers wait through laborious stock checks. Depending on your particular business model, there are numerous other functions that you can program your application to handle.
Another exciting opportunity is in the social media space. Imagine a geo-aware application that offers customers close to your store promotional incentives. For example: I’m a customer who has given you my mobile number or email. As I’m driving through Anytown, where your flagship store is located, I get a text message offering me a limited time, targeted incentive. Additionally, you could do m