IT leaders across the retail space are encountering internal and external pressures to do more with less. An industry-wide decline in profit margins coupled with increased customer expectations leave technology leaders stuck between a rock and a hardplace. The time and cost that come with completely replacing a legacy stack can be prohibitive. At the same time, consumers are being conditioned to expect more, as omnichannel approaches are raising the bar on customer experience.
There are a few approaches that enable a retailer to get more out of their existing technology stack. One is called in-memory computing (IMC). A brief primer: data in a computer is typically stored in a database, and accessed by the the computer’s memory layer when it is needed. Querying a database, which is akin to asking your colleagues a question, creates latency. This is true of databases housed on-premise or in the cloud. However, when data is housed in a computer’s memory, it is more readily available. IMC allows companies to combine the memory of their servers, speeding data and increasing computing power across a smart data grid (more info can be found here: https://www.gigaspaces.com/E-Commerce-XAP-for-High-Availability)
Said differently, adding IMC allows companies to get more out of their existing infrastructure. It can reduce the total cost of ownership for existing infrastructure and improve efficiencies. Here are three results that retailers have generated by incorporating IMC into their technology approaches.
The promise of omnichannel- There is little agreement when it comes to the definition of ‘omnichannel’ in the retail space. The ability to seamlessly follow customers between online and offline channels is very different than using sensors to understand where, exactly, consumers are roaming in each retail location. Nonetheless, the basic tenet of omnichannel approaches is the same: retailers should meet their consumers in the venue of the customer’s choice, and not the other way around.
To meet this standard, retailers must process and analyze a tremendous volume of data in real time. If a goal is to provide a personalized experience, even basics like knowing a customer’s name the moment they log onto a website or enter a store are critical. Imagine a customer service representative asking someone to wait a few second before offering a greeting because he or she is waiting for extra information… it doesn’t work. IMC approaches alleviate latency, and enable the data necessary for omnichannel experiences to be readily available.
Elasticity– Everyone in the retail space has heard the horror stories of downtime. Each year, hundreds of articles are written about retailers whose websites failed on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Public companies must explain just how much money the outage cost in their annual shareholder meeting. It doesn’t seem enjoyable. Using IMC, retailers can easily expand their online capabilities, mitigating the risk of downtime by adding redundancy (a server crash will not eliminate the transactions being processed across a data grid) and reducing latency to process more transactions, more rapidly.
Inventory management– The retail supply chain has grown in complexity as organizations strive to offer customers a more rapid turnaround and get the product they want into their hands.. This could mean free delivery/expedited shipping from online orders, or a determination to never be out of a product when a customer has come to a physical store.. Thomas Friedman said that world was flat, but he never accounted for all of the twists and turns along the roads that connect distribution centers with websites and brick and mortar locations.
Using IMC and the right application software, retailers can better ride herd on their supply chain, from accessing real time analytics that provide updated ETA, through being able to make accurate predictions of when product SKUs will run out of stock. They can go beyond variables such as “seasonality” to understand how each day’s (or each hour’s) weather impacts sales of certain items, and plan accordingly.
Retailers of all sizes are facing tremendous pressure from market forces and shareholders alike to increase performance, garner efficiency and deliver a superior customer experience, all without meaningfully increasing their CapEx. For IT leaders, in-memory computing is a way to ease these pressures, while leveraging the technology in their existing stacks. In the coming years, IMC won’t be an option for retailers, it will be a lifeline; those who are slow to adopt the technology will be left behind in terms of top line, and bottom line revenues.