The New Era of Retailing: Are Your Systems Ready?


I just returned from the National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention and Expo (NRF). At the event, it was obvious that retail is undergoing a once in a generation transformation. Driven by savvy consumers and technology, these shifts are forcing retailers to push harder and offer more consumer choices and channels than ever before. Everything from personalized shopping and campaign offers to custom product design is available now.

At NRF, two key themes emerged:

  • Omnichannel shopping. Retailers are working to provide a seamless shopping experience across all channels:  e-commerce, mobile, social and bricks and mortar stores.
  • Big data. Retailers also are moving quickly to capitalize on the promise of big data, so they can tailor customer shopping experiences in real-time with relevant offers and promotions.

However, for many retailers, both trends require serious changes to their existing infrastructure. For many retailers, the older systems they are using are simply not designed to deliver today’s personalized, omnichannel shopping experiences. Often systems and data are isolated, not interconnected, so retailers can’t get a single view of a customer or know what happened on their shopping trip.

Today’s retail systems need to be capable of handling the most demanding shopping traffic spikes or a campaign that goes viral because of its popularity on social media. The architecture must be flexible, so retailers can quickly deploy new applications, capture customer insights from structured or unstructured data and protect sensitive information across multiple shopping channels.

As retailers revamp and update their systems to meet new demands, they need to look at three key areas:

  • Cloud computing. Incorporating cloud into the architecture means retailers can deploy applications faster and support multiple services, ranging from security as a service to software as a service to platform as a service. Retailers deploying applications in the cloud are discovering multiple benefits: less downtime, lower total cost of ownership, reduced maintenance costs, faster time to market for new applications and improved customer satisfaction. Moving to the cloud also offers tangible savings in terms of software license costs, floor space, networking, power and human labor.
  • Security. Retailers now can encrypt customer information at the disk level, so if a disk drive is stolen, the resident data remains encrypted. This level of encryption allows the retailer to achieve Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance and safeguard sensitive information. Retailers can offer customers services and access to data confident that the interactions are secure and compliant. IBM servers with cryptographic cards like the Crypto Express3 or Trusted Key Entry (TKE) also provide Security-Ready foundations that deliver the highest level of security for financial transactions and related data as it moves beyond cloud services.
  • Big data management. Retailers need to access and analyze petabytes or even zettabytes of data, much of which comes from unstructured sources such as social and mobile commerce. For data-intensive queries or large workloads, tiered storage that incorporates solid-state device technology (SSD) along with real-time data compression and in-memory storage helps retailers efficiently process, store and manage massive volumes data. Stream processing, which uses multiple processors and memory capacity, is able to rapidly integrate, analyze and store data streamed across many sources to analyze data in real time.

The good news is that IT professionals have a vast array of infrastructure configurations at their disposal. IBM has solutions that can help retailers take advantage of cloud, data and security technologies. Virtual systems, storage applications and analytics solutions can help retailers deliver new applications faster. Predictive failure analysis, alternate processor recovery, light path diagnostics and integrated security failsafe procedures help ensure ongoing service, availability, reliability, security and protection against unplanned system outages. By taking advantage of innovative solutions such as these, retailers can replace out-of-date, isolated systems with secure, flexible, reliable systems capable of handling the most demanding requirements.

Visit the IBM Smarter Computing page to learn more about IBM’s extensive systems and infrastructure offerings and how retailers can achieve their goals.

Karl Cama is the CTO for IBM’s Retail Industry in Systems and Technology Group. With over 25 years of software development experience and a strong background in web analytics, he is focused on delivering optimized solutions designed to address the ever changing needs of the Retail industry. You can reach him on Twitter: @KarlCama.

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