Why the Retail Industry Needs to be Thinking Differently about IT
The Rise of the Software Age
As Marc Andreessen says, “Software is eating the world.” Indeed, between the rise and rise of mobility, the advancement of the Internet of Things, and the ever-expanding cloud, there are very few areas of our lives not touched by code.
Today, software represents a ubiquitous and mission-critical component to almost any company from any industry. The veritable explosion code over the past few years has lead to solutions tailored to every imaginable line of work. From finance and banking to biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, there is hardly a sector that comes to mind that doesn’t benefit from the efficiencies and improvements afforded by software.
This has become especially true for the retail industry. Customers nowadays have a plethora of channels available to them — online, offline, and a combination of both — and this raises the pressure of competition tremendously. Companies large and small, old and new cannot afford to be complacent about the harsh realities of the digital age, and must take advantage of every opportunity to remain competitive. It’s no longer sufficient to “stay afloat” — businesses must aim to thrive in this new environment, or risk being eaten alive.
How Retailers Can Leverage Software To Stay Competitive
So how do retailers accomplish this? For one, by leveraging software to help them focus on the basic principles of customer service to build lasting relationships with their clientele. In order to retain a loyal customer base, retailers need to ensure that they are able to deliver what is promised, when it is promised. And to really stay on top of the game, businesses must find additional ways to go above and beyond their competition.
Perhaps fewer companies embody this vision as well as Amazon when it comes to above-and-beyond service. Over the past few of years, we’ve witnessed Amazon aggressively shrink online order delivery speeds from multiple days to under a single hour in select cities for its Prime Now service. The company’s fierce approach to delivering fast service across the globe has elevated its reputation among consumers and made Amazon.com their first and foremost shopping destination — including for products they wouldn’t typically buy online, such as groceries and household supplies.
It should come as no surprise that Amazon leverages some pretty nifty technology to promise its customers such insane delivery times. Using powerful proprietary algorithms from its normal fulfillment centers, Amazon is able to supercharge its Prime Now warehouses — such as the one in midtown Manhattan — to help its employees select all the products they need using the fastest path possible. Even with unpredictable New York City traffic and public transit delays, the fusing of human and technological efficiency makes it possible for Amazon to deliver your goods within that seemingly impossible 60 minute window.
Prime Now is currently available in 30 cities across five countries, but Amazon’s plans to leverage drone technology for delivery would drastically enable the company to expand the reach of this superfast service. This wouldn’t just make Amazon superior to other online retailers, but would threaten the very existence of brick-and-mortar stores as well, as Amazon would be able to provide a competitive near-instant gratification via drone delivery.
Redefining the Role of Retailer
However, the story doesn’t end there. As essential as such systems are to a business’s success, you still need to optimize and maintain the software itself. And therein lies the there’s a critical problem in our reliance on software: the people who use it often have little understanding of the complex lines of code that drive their enterprise technology.
Software is not a rigid, final product; it is a living, breathing entity. It requires constant monitoring and modification to ensure it’s serving its purpose to the fullest. In addition, it must be treated like any other resource: you need to make sure you are utilizing it as efficiently as possible, and reduce the potential for waste. But how do you do this?
It’s certainly not as easy as assessing a hardware resource. For instance, perhaps you are a retailer that manufactures garments. You can imagine how straightforward it would be to inspect your factory equipment, and quickly identify the quality and efficiency of these apparatuses. There is no such equivalent visibility for the millions and millions of lines of code that drive software, distributed across perhaps hundreds of thousands of files.
In order for retailers to remain competitive in this new software-driven world, they must tackle the software problem head-on. Without spending a ton of additional time and resources, they must adapt to include software among the resources they manage. Essentially, they must rise to fulfill the role of software specialist.
The Path to Software Specialist
This may seem a daunting undertaking, but in fact the concept is quite simple. If you want your company to become faster, better, and more efficient, you need to better understand, analyze, and maintain your software assets. This starts first and foremost with clear visibility of your IT infrastructure and activities. Greater transparency means you can more fully and accurately evaluate your existing foundation, and recognize what your company needs to grow and change for the better. For instance, you can target specific points of inefficiency and allocate the right resources to improve these problem areas. When changes are made, you’ll be able to verify that they really have improved upon a previous situation.
One of the biggest advantages of increased transparency is that it empowers you to align goals and priorities across your company. By establishing a common ground and mutual understanding of software assets, you can get everyone from developers to management on the same page. A cohesive organizational approach to software development means that everybody will be driving momentum towards the same objectives. This kind of collaboration is what helps you deliver projects faster and more efficiently, and open up more time and resources to innovate on further initiatives.
The other big benefit of transparency is that it will make you more conscientious of resource utilization and budgeting. If you have a clear understanding of how resources and manpower are actually being utilized, you can better connect your efforts and progress to budgetary cycles, as well as calculate a more accurate ROI on your investments. Which activities are creating the biggest impact, and which are becoming a drain? Where do I need to get leaner in order to invest this capacity in innovation, speed and time to market? Setting and tracking key performance indicators for both short- and long-term milestones will help you in identifying ineffective or inefficient activities early on, and minimize losses accordingly.
So even without advanced technical proficiency, you can develop a strategy to stay on top of your software assets. You can ensure a path to success by having clear visibility into the applications that directly affect your business, revenue and customers. In order to remain viable in the ever accelerating world of retail, retailers need to expand their roles to leverage the power of analytics to proactively drive digital transformation. This means not only integrating the right software, but ensuring that software is being optimized to its fullest potential in order to advance change. Only then will companies be able to truly maximize their business opportunities by setting benchmarks, streamlining resources, identifying and realizing efficiencies, and ultimately creating a superior customer experience that engenders loyalty and increased sales.
About the Author
Oliver Muhr oversees strategic vision and business execution at Seerene, an advanced analytics company that lights up the black box of mission-critical software by visualizing code, applications and teams as 3-D cityscapes.
Seerene’s mission is to provide its customers with revolutionary new insights and analytics into software, code and teams so that they can actively drive IT change, balance productivity and innovation, all while massively reducing risk and increasing transparency. https://www.seerene.com/
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