Kimberly Berneck, Senior Vice President, Delivery Management, BTM Global
The retail industry has been talking about the cloud for years, and much of the conversation has focused on the benefits of moving core systems and data off premise and to the cloud. Many, many organizations have moved to the cloud; in fact, Forbes has reported that the typical enterprise (across all industries) uses an average of six cloud computing services.
But the cloud isn’t a panacea, and there are some interesting conversations happening among retailers and industry tech leaders about the drawbacks of it, especially for organizations that want to get very creative and nimble with their data. While retailers are certainly and rightly not moving away from the cloud completely, they are taking a more thoughtful approach as they question exactly how the cloud will impact their operations now and in the years to come.
The benefits are big
To be sure, the benefits of moving to the cloud can gave a big impact on an organization’s bottom line. Moving retail systems to the cloud can generally result in lower costs with regards to data handling and management; stable headcounts because extra resources aren’t needed to maintain systems; the assurance that security measures are always up to date; and the ability to let IT teams focus on larger, big-picture business objectives rather than system management or maintenance.
The cloud can also empower an organization to move faster because their data is always current and can be easily shared across systems and departments. Every team knows that the data they’re accessing is in real or near-real time, and the speed with which data can be shared and acted upon can result in huge productivity gains. From a security standpoint, many retailers rest easier knowing that their cloud vendor is the expert in data security and is managing those measures with the most modern tools available.
The question of flexibility
There’s no question that moving operational and store systems to the cloud can be a game-changer for retailers, and that’s a good thing. But the inherent characteristics of the cloud – those that have usually been regarded as beneficial – are starting to give some organizations pause.
While cloud data can be easily accessed and quickly shared throughout an organization, you may not always be able to get at whatever information you need, when you need it. Because the cloud isn’t maintained by humans, you don’t have unlimited access to your data; and this may limit your efforts to do something very unique or custom.
In addition, the cloud is based on the “greater good.” In other words, it’s built to offer the broadest benefits for the largest number of users. In practice, this means that routine maintenance and outages may impact your specific organization during peak operations. How can you be sure to get access to the data in the timeframe that you need it? Can you manipulate it how you need to for other business systems? What other constraints could this “greater good” condition have on your business?
Is it all or nothing?
Most retailers have some systems in the cloud and some on premise. But what’s your end goal? Should all of your systems move to the cloud? Retailers are grappling with this question and whether they can really do what’s best for business and customers with all of their data in the cloud.
On the other hand, you may be hampered by having systems that are housed differently and that require additional work effort or cost because of the hybrid cloud deployment model. Think about the information you have that gives you a competitive or speed-to-market advantage, and consider whether this information should be within the cloud or whether it better serves you on premise.
A look ahead
A retailer’s approach to using the cloud will shape up differently based on its resources and business objectives. The current questions of what the cloud means for speed and creativeness, as well as how it may empower or hamper future efforts, is a valuable and interesting discussion that our industry is having. While there are no right answers that apply to every organization, each should take the time to consider its strategic plan and its business objectives in light of what the cloud can – and can’t – provide.
About BTM Global
BTM Global provides retail system integration and development services for clients ranging from small regional chains to the world’s most recognized brands. Through strategy, development, implementation and support, BTM Global approaches each project as a partnership that helps clients become more seamless, efficient and profitable. Its teams are made up of strategic advisors, problem solvers and proactive partners who examine a project from many angles and perspectives to offer the best solution to a client’s challenges. For more information, visit www.btmglobal.com.