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Transitioning to Unified Commerce with Cloud Technology

By Nortal cloud team, April 30, 2020

As cloud-based technologies continue to dominate how we all work and interact, the retail industry is undergoing significant transformation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and a potential recession on the horizon.

While retailers are shifting gears and deploying new strategies, the retail cloud market has experienced exponential growth. In fact, experts forecast the retail cloud market to hit $28.53 billion by 2021. Many retailers are currently trying to make the switch to analytics-based merchandising along with predictive and prescriptive models reliant on big data.

One of the biggest obstacles in switching to analytics-based merchandising are the tools. Tech-savvy consumers want more tech-driven capabilities fueling the push for retailers to accelerate their digital transformations. From this, many retail leaders have recognized the significance of using cloud-enabled technologies.

The cloud is simply transformative in areas such as data storage, reliability, disaster recovery, and cost savings. Cloud technology enables the ability to support a global array of customers and the deployment of multi-region locations.

How do unified commerce and cloud technology work together?

The cloud allows a business to scale when and where needed. The retailer of the future won’t label customers based on the channels or devices they’ve used to shop. Instead, they will be defined as segments of the overall customer experience within cloud-based unified commerce.

With the cloud, you can pay for what you use. In addition, you don’t have to understand the intricacies and training involved with managing hardware and servers. Scaling up, or down, for special sales such as Black Friday can be executed much more quickly with a cloud-based solution as opposed to an on-premise datacenter.

By using a cloud-based unified commerce solution, retailers can merge disparate systems and silos onto a single platform meshing smoothly with your business goals. Now, you have a flexible system which can easily manage every aspect of your business from the storefronts, to operational management and the back office.

Long-term benefits of a cloud strategy

It’s important to note that shoppers also expect personalization across every channel. They can quickly determine which retailer is worth their time and money. Based on an Epsilon study, 80% of consumers are more willing to make a purchase when they receive a uniquely personalized experience. Unified commerce consolidates all customer data so that the retailer can deliver relevant services that convert browsing to purchases.

When your business scales, so does your platform. Teams don’t have to know how to configure everything on the platform, so you can get flexibility along with real-time enterprise supply chain visibility, resiliency, and redundancy. Consider the time and cost savings for overhead training.

A cloud-based unified commerce strategy can connect your supply chain from beginning to end with a complete view of inventory across warehouses, locations, and distribution centers to properly align your products with demand. When you can analyze stock levels across all your channels, you can then understand your inventory trends. This can help your organization ensure your customers are happy and satisfied with product availability.

The magic also happens when the cloud-based unified commerce platform integrates Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions, and Business Process Management (BPM) systems. This enables your organization to deliver all your customer experiences from one platform which minimizes the need for various vendors, technologies, and training. Not to mention, you can fulfill orders in the most cost-effective and expeditious way.

The roadblocks ahead 

When migrating to the cloud, there is the common assumption that a retailer only uses legacy systems and applications. The more accurate scenario is the retailer probably has a disparate software landscape with non-cloud and cloud-based technologies. The challenge comes in understanding how your existing infrastructure can integrate and its varying dependencies.

Another challenge companies face is visibility to application upgrade schedules or staying version current. In contrast, modern cloud platforms usually only support the latest versions of their popular operating systems. So then it takes more work for the retailer to move to the cloud by updating their operating system first.

Security can be another challenge. You are changing the attack surface which is the sum of points where an unauthorized user can attempt to grab data from the environment, so this requires thoughtful preparation and effective communication between your security teams and lines of business.

So, where do you start? 

It’s vital to pick a package that supports scaling to the cloud, otherwise you won’t get full optimization of all the benefits your retail business needs. Two fundamentals to consider: horizontal and vertical scaling. Horizontal scaling is the ability to add multiple servers into your pool of resources, where vertical scaling is about increasing capacity such as adding more RAM. For example, you might need more compute power during the holidays to support an influx of customer website traffic. To remain competitive, retailers must be flexible and have scalable cloud computing.

Think about all the factors that affect total costs and the advantages that come with competitive performance. You can then get any of the cloud service providers to work on your cloud platform of choice, where Nortal has expertise in all three.

Then you will want to take a digital commerce assessment, which can help determine the following:

  • How a cloud-based unified commerce platform will work within your current infrastructure since it can be difficult to figure out how much of a transformation your current environment will need without one.
  • Locate any weak points and then suggest a roadmap detailing a business case with ROI.
  • The necessary capabilities needed to implement the available opportunity size across your channels, a maturity assessment, a target state, investment plan, and a timeline.

How to decide on the right tools and technologies

Decisions on tools and technologies are often relational to your current tech stack, available tools, IT development, delivery maturity, and digital strategy. In fact, the right technology stack can determine your product’s success. The tech stack infers your current combination of available frameworks, programming languages, and tools used to develop apps from the client-side to the server-side. IT development and maturity refers to how much your company has prioritized innovation and advanced technology adoption to ensure quick adaptation to changing customer needs.

In terms of enterprise tooling, Terraform is used to manage the infrastructure of both private and public cloud services while also having the ability to manage Kubernetes pods. Using an extensible ecosystem of plugins, Terraform can provision infrastructure and its resources. It uses the same declarative syntax to provision computing, storage, networking, and scheduling. It can also automatically model every relationship between every dependency in your infrastructure. With Kubernetes, Terraform offers comprehensive lifecycle management from creation to deletion of pods, services, and even replication controllers.

As an open-source automation platform, Ansible can simplify various tasks within a complex IT environment such as application deployment, intraservice orchestration, configuration management, and provisioning. It also helps to improve any obstacles surrounding automation processes. To illustrate, Ansible will automate the provisioning of the infrastructure including servers, network devices, and virtualized hosts to ensure automation of the application life cycle.

Nortal was an early adopter of the cloud and as a certified cloud partner with software engineering roots, we have a long history of helping companies leverage the power of the cloud to easily build, automate, and manage applications. We also have expertise in building continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipelines to improve the speed and quality of application delivery.

Whether you run a B2B, B2C, or hybrid retail organization, a cloud-based unified commerce strategy can create a singular experience from the first impression to purchase. Unifying your processes simplifies your efforts to provide a personalized customer experience that generates more loyalty. Read our last blog to learn how unified commerce is changing the retail industry and stay tuned for an in-depth look at other tools and technologies for implementing unified commerce.