This is how retail CIOs are using DevOps and RAD to go omnichannel

Profile picture for user Natalie Kouzeleas By Natalie Kouzeleas February 25, 2020
Summary:
For traditional retailers it can be tough to think holistically about digital. Neptune's Natalie Kouzeleas sets outs three ingredients of success for retail CIOs

Man using mobile payments online shopping and icons showing omnichannel © PopTika - Shutterstock

Retail consumers today demand personalized services and delivery, from online, to mobile, to in-store – a joined-up, omnichannel experience delivered in a cycle of swipes, clicks, chat and in-stores contact. These behaviors reflect just how much shoppers are today ‘in charge’ of their purchases and demand interactions that are responsive to their personal preferences. For many retailers, it’s a challenge to keep pace with these demands.

In its 2018 B2C Innovation Survey, IDC asserted that retailers have just “two to three years of competitive advantage, or be a laggard.” This illustrates how short is the window of opportunity – action is needed now. There is an increasing polarization between good and poor retail performance based on a host of different metrics. Retailers can end up as zero or hero very quickly.

For traditional retailers with a plethora of legacy systems, a large asset portfolio and significant human capital, it can be tough to think holistically about digital. The e-commerce channel is often siloed, consigned to a completely different division with different operations. CIOs must work out how to unify digital and traditional retail to truly deliver omnichannel in a profitable way. This is what is keeping most retail CEOs up at night and the CIO will play a critical role in supporting the success of the business, working hand in hand with the CEO, and supported by key staff and employees.

Based on our work with customers in the retail industry, we believe there are three ingredients for success in the quest to adapt to an omnichannel world:

  • Organization – in particular adoption of DevOps
  • Technology – specifically a suitable Rapid Application Development (RAD) platform with support for cloud and API-based integration
  • Process – adopting agile and lean methodologies to support experimentation, curiosity, collaboration and courageous learning.

Product-centric DevOps

We are finding many companies, large and small, embracing the product-centric approach. Instead of planning projects to make changes to their applications, they are constantly evolving their software in the same way as an Independent Software Vendor (ISV), regardless of whether the “customer” is the enterprise’s paying customer or an internal user of the application. Product roadmaps chart the course of new capabilities to be added and their priority, replacing project management skills with the sprints and scrums of continuous agile development. This is the approach taken at Johnson & Johnson, as Aravinda Boyapati, Senior Manager and UX and Advanced Tech Incubation Leader, explains:

You don't have a year-long time to deploy a project. Our approach is to do it in an agile way. You come up with those minimum viable products which you can put into production in less than ten weeks ... You can actually improve it on top, building more capabilities and then help your business to evolve them in a faster pace.

In this product-centric world, CIOs are challenged every day to deliver new solutions, products and services either to enable operational improvements or customer experience improvements. Hence, having a single, adaptable and fast-moving development platform is an essential capability.

Choosing a RAD platform

Using a Rapid Application Development (RAD) platform supports the speed, agility and rapid delivery of a DevOps approach. It helps CIOs to simplify their development landscape, reduces the need for long development cycles, and underpins the DevOps organization with a tool to support continuous development, rapid testing and industrialization. The right platform for innovation is essential, says Geir Nøstdahl, Head of IT Digital Services at consumer retail group Elkjop Nordic AS:

By having microservices and utilizing the cloud technologies … we were able to do a lot of things and to help the customer have a more seamless experience than what we would have been able to do if we didn't have this capability internally.

Choose a RAD platform that can align with your cloud strategy and harness API integration. It should bring together low-cost software development and emerging technologies utilizing microservices, continuous integration and continuous deployment tools.

Agile processes

This should be combined with agile development methodologies and cross-LOB teams who input throughout the development process.

Many organizations are claiming to adopt agile working, but this is often still consigned to project thinking rather than being product-centric. Often, new products or services are launched without deep consultation with users, without a continuous development cycle of product improvement over time, and without a deep understanding of how the products or services are actually being used. It’s important to change the culture, says Nøstdahl:

We needed to embrace a culture of change, a culture of ‘fail fast’ - because you need to dare to change. You need to challenge yourself into learning a lot of new technologies. It's scary, but we work in technology. No customers of ours would ever shop with pen and paper. We always need to be on alert of the new changing customer expectations, so we have a pressure of constantly innovating.

Following Jeff Bezos’ two pizza rule, ‘If a team couldn’t be fed with two pizza’s it was too big,’ we recommend forming small teams drawn from across line-of-business (LOB) functions to deliver an agile process within the DevOps environment. These small teams should include representation from both users and IT. As described above, it is essential for the IT participants to be armed with not only the right process methodologies but the right tools which allow them to keep pace with the thinking and development of the business.

Elkjop’s Geir Nøstdahl and Johnson & Johnson’s Aravinda Boyapati were speaking in a panel discussion on How to Drive Business Innovation at Neptune Festival 2019.