Why retailers need to get their heads in the cloud
If the pandemic-induced disruption to retail in 2020 taught retailers anything, it’s that the need to be flexible is crucial not only to business continuity, but to business survival. The uncertainty caused by repeated lockdowns, social distancing and working from home - not to mention Brexit – has had an enormous effect on society as a whole, but the closure of non-essential shops and the rise of ecommerce has had just as big an impact on retail as an industry too.
Clearly there is a need for retailers to be agile, pragmatic and fleet-of-foot, and yet many retailers are still using rigid legacy systems that are already outdated at the point of installation and often lack the resilience needed to operate within the industry today.
Against a backdrop of disruption, Alex MacPherson, Director of Solution Consultancy and Account Management, Manhattan Associates, discusses three reasons retailers should be looking to adopt cloud technology right now, as they begin rebuilding for what comes next.
Implementing a cloud-based system promotes business innovation and improves efficiency. Why? Well, with legacy on-premise solutions, organisations are stuck facing numerous time-consuming upgrades in order to get to the newest version of the technology. The only innovation coming into the business will be when the system gets upgraded and even then, companies will have to wait until the next upgrade - which could be years - in order to introduce the newest developments, meaning that companies miss out on improvements which benefit the entire organisation.
At this point, any chance of innovation is lost, leaving retailers behind the pace and a crowd of fed-up customers in their wake. Working in the cloud and with microservices specifically, however, enables retail organisations to continuously innovate, without the roadblocks of constant hardware upgrades, so that new ideas, systems and processes can be implemented rapidly to stay ahead of the curve. By freeing up internal IT capacity – which let’s face it, comes at a premium in most organisations – working in the cloud means that more time can be spent on performing value-add services. Consequently, innovation will flourish, rather than just focusing attention on business-as-usual activities and maintaining vital systems.
Respond quickly to changes and demand
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the rate of change is even more rapid than we may have ever thought. Being able to adapt and respond to changes in an instant is now no longer a ‘nice to have’ competitive advantage, it’s essential. Organisations that choose to move to the cloud will have the capacity and ability to respond to changing consumer demand and behaviour, rather than becoming stagnant and settled.
When shops shut their doors for the first time in March 2020, the retailers that were able to respond to these changes by adapting their Click and Collect networks, offering curbside pickup, turning their stores into mini distribution centres and collaborating with other local businesses were able to do so because their systems were flexible enough to handle the rapid changes.
Additionally, having the ability to quickly react to trends or seasonality changes; such as fashion retailers who could immediately offer loungewear on a larger scale, instead of office wear, when people were working from home, meant that less stock was being left to face large-scale discounts when stores were able to reopen. From Order Management Systems, to Warehouse Management Systems, retailers with a cloud-based approach were able to add new processes in a matter of hours, meeting customer demand - and customer expectations as a result.
Supporting business continuity
For many, the pandemic saw a halt to normal business practice and the realisation that a high-level of agility was needed in order to respond to industry developments at a supply chain level. Having a system that maintained business continuity was essential at a time when retailers frantically working like mad behind the scenes to maintain ‘normal’ levels of customer service.
Being able to upgrade seamlessly, without having to worry about every upgrade cycle or new IT deployment required enables this level of continuity and agility. At a time when so many other challenges and changes are being faced on a near-daily basis, being able to rely on this level of business continuity is something every retailer can take advantage of.
The road ahead
The drastic changes in the retail industry of the last twelve months have demonstrated how vitally important it is to have a level of flexibility, agility and pragmatism in order to adapt, evolve and survive. In our daily lives we don’t care or even think about what version of an app we use on our smartphones and this consumerization has certainly filtered into enterprise thinking over the last few years too.
In an increasingly digital-first world that is constantly advancing, innovation and business continuity are two of the key pillars for all industries - not just retail - and the best way to achieve these goals is to turn to the cloud.
Unlocking the next chapter of the digital revolution
As the world retreated to a hybrid world in 2020, our reliance on technology took the spotlight. But it was the jazzy new social and video calling platforms that took the encore. Behind the scenes, our servers worked overtime, keeping us connected and maintaining the drumbeat of always-on newly digital services. Let’s take a moment to pay our respect to the unsung technology heroes of the pandemic – the often-forgotten IT infrastructure keeping us connected come what may. After all, as we look ahead to more resilient futures, they will be playing a central role.
Servers could be likened to our plumbing – vital to well-functioning homes but rarely top of mind so long as it is functioning. Never seen, rarely heard – our servers do all the graft with little praise. But it is essential to reflect on the incremental advances in GPU and CPU power, which have paved the way for new workloads that previously were not possible. Chatbots and native language processing that provide essential customer touchpoints for businesses across the retail and banking sectors rely on powerful servers. They also keep businesses competitive and customers happy in an always-on world.
Serving workplace transformation
But, as businesses grappled with pandemic disruptions, the focus was largely on adopting connected devices – and awe at the rapid increase in the datasphere. As they reined in their budgets and attempted to do more with less, one aspect was perhaps overlooked—those hard working servers.
When it came to building resilience into a newly remote workforce, the initial concern was focused on the device endpoints – keeping employees productive. Many companies did not initially consider whether they had the server infrastructure to enable the entire workforce to log in remotely at the same time. As a result, many experienced a plethora of teething problems: virtual office crashes, long waits to get on servers, and sluggish internet connectivity and application performance, often rendering the shiny new PC frustrating and useless.
Most businesses only had a few outward-facing servers that could authenticate remote workers – a vital gateway as the vector for cyber hacks and attacks increased exponentially. That’s not to mention the fact that many business applications simply weren’t designed to work with the latency required for people working from home. What businesses discovered at that moment was that their plumbing was out of date.
Business and IT leaders quickly realised that to stay ahead of the curve in the hybrid working world, a renewed focus on building agile, adaptable, and flexible IT infrastructures was critical. More importantly, it accelerated the inevitable digital transformation that would keep them competitive in a data-driven economy. It is now abundantly clear to businesses that they need IT infrastructure to meet the demands of diverse workloads – derive intelligent insights from data, deploy applications effectively, and enhance data management and security.
Ripe for a digital revolution
Unsurprisingly, IDC noted that there was an increase in purchases of server infrastructure to support changing workloads. However, it also forecasts this uptick will be sustainable and last beyond the pandemic. As the economy begins to reopen, business leaders are looking ahead. IT will continue to play a crucial role in 2021 and beyond – and we have already set the foundations for the digital revolution with next-generation servers.
As we enter the zettabyte era, new innovative technologies are coming on stream, with 5G turbocharging IoT and putting edge computing to work. Exciting new services improved day-to-day efficiencies, and the transformation of our digital society will be underpinned by resilient IT infrastructures. By embracing the technological innovations of our next-generation servers, businesses keep pace with the coming data deluge.
The next generation of server architecture promises more power with less heat, thanks to improved, directed airflow, and direct liquid cooling, resulting in reduced operational costs and environmental impact. As we rebuild post-pandemic, manufacturers and customers alike strive to achieve ever more challenging sustainability goals. With this in mind, a focus on environmentally responsible design is imperative for the servers of tomorrow - uniquely designed chassis for adaptive cooling and more efficient power consumption will be critical, improving energy efficiency generation over generation.
The most notable evolution is the configuration of these next-gen servers around more specific organisational needs. Unlike clunky and often unstable legacy infrastructure, the infrastructure of tomorrow will be sturdier and more modular. The next iteration is streamlined, and in this modular form, can be more easily tailored to business needs. This equates to essential cost savings as businesses only pay for what they use.
Resolving the problem of the future, today
Tomorrow's IT challenges will focus on response times and latency as Edge and 5G technologies go mainstream. As businesses develop new and innovative services that utilise supercharged connectivity and real-time analytics, staying on top of these challenges will give them a competitive edge. For example, in the world of retail, automation will power new virtual security guards and even the slightest delay in the data relay could result in financial loss.
Similarly, in the smart cities of tomorrow, the network must be responsive. With city-centre traffic lights controlled by an AI-powered camera that monitors pedestrians, delays in data transfers could cost the life of an elderly pedestrian who has fallen in the road. The stakes are far higher in a 5G-enabled world. As our reliance on technology deepens, the margins for error narrow, placing greater emphasis on the efficiency of those critical underpinning technologies.
Fully enabling the hybrid work model today is just a stepping-stone towards more fluid, tech-enabled lives. A work Zoom call from an automated vehicle on-route to an intelligent transport hub is a highly probable vision of our future. But it requires incredible amounts of compute and seamless data transfers to make it possible. These glossy snapshots need super servers to come to life, making that IT plumbing glisten with next-gen innovation essential. Without exemplary server architecture, we risk future tech advances and the human progression that it enables.