Why retailers need to get their heads in the cloud

By Alex MacPherson
Alex MacPherson of Manhattan Associates, shares his insights into the need for retailers to engage with the industry-wide journey to 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to be agile, pragmatic and fleet-of-foot, and yet many retailers are still using rigid legacy systems that are already outdated at the point of installation and often lack the resilience needed to operate within the industry today.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.

Encourage innovation

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. 


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