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Addressing innovation by stepping into the cloud

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(Image credit: Unsplash)

If the pandemic-induced disruption of 2020 taught retailers anything, it’s that the need to be flexible is crucial not only to business continuity, but to business survival.

The uncertainty caused by repeated lockdowns, social distancing and working from home – not to mention Brexit grey areas – has had an enormous effect on society as a whole. That said, the closure of non-essential shops and the rise of ecommerce has had just as big an impact on retail as an industry too.

With the need for retailers to be agile, pragmatic and fleet-of-foot clear, many retailers are still using rigid legacy systems that are outdated from the very point of installation and often lack the resilience needed to operate within the industry today.

At the start of the pandemic this challenge was only exacerbated. With the steep flux of ecommerce, retailers had to adapt quickly to an efficient and agile online presence, so that the customer could still have as similar experience as possible to shopping in store.

Against a backdrop of disruption, we discuss three reasons retailers should be looking to adopt cloud technology - whether it be the best cloud storage, or the best cloud hosting - right now, as they begin rebuilding for what comes next.

Encourage innovation

Implementing a cloud-based system promotes business innovation and improves efficiency. Why? Well, with legacy on-premise solutions, organizations are stuck facing numerous time-consuming upgrades in order to get to the newest version of the technology.

The only innovation coming into the business will be when the system gets upgraded and even then, companies will have to wait until the next upgrade - which could be years - in order to introduce the newest developments, meaning that companies miss out on improvements which benefit the entire organization.

At this point, any chance of innovation is lost, leaving retailers behind the pace and a crowd of fed-up customers in their wake. Working in the cloud and with microservices specifically, however, enables retail organizations to continuously innovate, without the roadblocks or impediments of constant hardware upgrades, so that new ideas, systems and processes can be implemented rapidly to stay ahead of the curve.

By freeing up internal IT capacity – which let’s face it, comes at a premium in most organizations – working in the cloud means that more time can be spent on performing value-add services and IT teams will have capacity to focus on elements such as customer service by leaning on the cloud more and more. 

Consequently, innovation will flourish, rather than just focusing attention on business-as-usual activities and maintaining vital systems.

Respond quickly to changes and demand

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the rate of change is even more rapid than we may had previously thought. Being able to adapt and respond to changes in an instant is now no longer a ‘nice to have’ competitive advantage, it’s essential. 

Organizations that choose to move to the cloud will have the capacity and ability to respond to changing consumer demand and behavior, rather than becoming settled and stagnant.

When shops shut their doors for the first time in March 2020, the retailers that were able to respond to these changes by adapting their Click and Collect networks, offering curbside pickup, turning their stores into mini distribution centers and collaborating with other local businesses were able to do so because their systems were flexible enough to handle the rapid changes.

Additionally, having the ability to quickly react to trends or seasonality changes; such as fashion retailers who could immediately offer loungewear on a larger scale, instead of office wear, when people were working from home, meant that less stock was being left to face large-scale discounts when stores were able to reopen.

From Order Management Systems (OMS), to Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), retailers with a cloud-based approach were able to add new processes in a matter of hours, meeting customer demand  and customer expectations as a result, allowing them to thrive in turbulent times and keep ecommerce challenges at bay.

Smart cloud-based WMS solutions that allow systems to auto scale in a tight timeframe are vital in today's omnichannel world. Allowing systems to react, scale and meet the demands of this new surge of customers has been a lifeline for so many retailers.

Supporting business continuity

For many, the pandemic saw a halt to normal business practice and the realization that a high-level of agility was needed in order to respond to industry developments at a supply chain level. Having a system that maintained business continuity was essential at a time when retailers were frantically working like mad behind the scenes to maintain ‘normal’ levels of customer service.

Being able to upgrade seamlessly, without having to worry about every upgrade cycle or new IT deployment required enables this level of continuity and agility. At a time when so many other challenges and changes are being faced on a near-daily basis, being able to rely on this level of business continuity is something every retailer can take advantage of.

The drastic changes in the retail industry of the last twelve months have demonstrated how vitally important it is to have a level of flexibility, agility and pragmatism in order to adapt, evolve and survive.

In our daily lives we don’t care or even think about what version of an app we use on our smartphones and this consumerization has certainly filtered into enterprise thinking over the last few years too.

In an increasingly digital-first world that is constantly advancing, innovation and business continuity are two of the key pillars for all industries - not just retail - and the best way to achieve these goals is to turn to the cloud.

Alex MacPherson
Director of Solution Consultancy and Account Management at Manhattan Associates

Alex is a seasoned supply chain expert and has been with Manhattan Associates for the past 20 years. In his role, Alex advises clients on the best supply chain and omnichannel commerce technology solutions to use. Clients that Alex and Manhattan Associates work with include Co-op, ASDA and Wilko.