Using a data first strategy to stay ahead of the retail competition

In retail, perhaps more than any other market, technology innovation along with the consumer shift to online is disrupting and completely reshaping the industry. This has intensified competition, meaning the time available to get new services to market (or simply play catch-up) is getting smaller and smaller. Consumers have little patience. If there isn’t consistency across multiple channels, or if the user experience is poor, they can switch suppliers and sign up on their phone in minutes using Facebook or Google auto registration.

For some more advanced retailers this is driving a move to continuous improvement, the idea of incremental improvement over time, which places innovation and creativity into their DNA. This requires a cultural shift within the business as well as transforming and updating the underlying technology platforms to cope with the new digital world. Clearly this is easier for retailers founded post-millennia as they don’t have the legacy infrastructure to untangle which older retailers can struggle with.

For all, however, the end goal for IT is to be able to run multiple projects simultaneously and with extremely fast delivery. A data first strategy is essential to enable this. Data sits at the heart of every retailer.

Whether used to aid better decisions via business intelligence, customer/ supplier data, or to rapidly test the next great feature or application, the underlying data is absolutely key. IT methodologies designed to increase the efficiency of software development such as Agile, DevOps and Continuous Delivery are helping retailers speed up the development process, but getting the right data into the right hands at the right time is a major bottleneck to agility and speed, and of course innovation. This is because what should be a simple task of copying data into environments is arduous, taking days, weeks or even months. As data is so difficult to copy and move, environments are shared between large teams both inside and outside the company. This kills productivity as projects often can’t be worked on in parallel. Instead one team is forced to wait for another to finish before they can even begin. Alternatively, subsets of data are used, directly affecting quality and creating management overhead to keep data updated. Whether refreshing, rewinding or aligning different data sources for integration testing this data management takes forever - choking the project cycle and causing delays.

Those retailers moving services or environments to the cloud will fully understand the constraints of data. Migrating applications to the cloud requires copying data from on-premise data centres to third party hosting providers. This is a costly, worryingly insecure and complex exercise. The need for speed often means IT has to make a tough call on a project between security and delays. Scrambling or masking the data adds more days or weeks to a project. Policy may even mean unmasked copies are not allowed, especially in cloud instances. With such complexity and constraints, retailers need to take a data first approach to their IT transformation.

In the same way that Software as a Service transformed how software is provisioned, Data as a Service (or DaaS) does the same for data. DaaS centralises and takes control of non-production data, which can then be offered on-demand via a self-service portal or through automation tools. Once synchronised with production databases, DaaS allows you to make unlimited near-live virtual copies of data, masked with barely any storage footprint. Instead of taking days or weeks to get hold of data, it takes minutes. DaaS can sit in your data centre, in the cloud or both, and integrated secure masking means the recipient of the data, wherever they are, can never work out the original information. On average DaaS halves project times and reduces storage requirements by 90 per cent and at the same time enables continuous delivery, impacting the bottom line immediately Data can be either a hindrance to or enabler of innovation and agility. Unless your organisation takes a data first approach to IT transformation you may well struggle to stay ahead or even keep up with the competition.

Jes Breslaw, EMEA Director of Strategy, Delphix