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The power of DevOps in retail

Devops
(Image credit: Image Credit: Profit_Image / Shutterstock)

Customer experience often trumps both price and product when it comes to consumers choosing which retailer to buy from. Indeed, in some parts of the industry it has been the defining USP, with reputations made — and occasionally broken — on the perception of its quality. 

This has remained a constant factor affecting buying decisions as retail has increasingly moved online. While the interactions have become virtual and less interpersonal and have often scaled to the point where providing individual attention is a challenge. 

Additionally, in today’s globalized marketplace competition is not just located in the geographic vicinity. Retailers are therefore measured constantly against an increasing number of agile competitors and new entrants.

Set against that context, understanding customer needs and providing them with a frictionless, personalized experience is becoming progressively more important. In increasingly crowded marketplaces, organizations looking to differentiate and create customer loyalty are focusing on the user experience and working out how to utilize technology to enable small teams to provide individualized service that can scale to meet demand.

Online acceleration

The movement away from bricks and mortar retail models towards online strategies has rapidly accelerated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Consumer behavior was already moving towards the convenience of online, and a combination of lockdown restrictions on the demand side of the equation, and low footfall and high business costs (distribution chains, property maintenance etc) on the supply side, have only locked in this momentum.

The response has also seen accelerated innovation when it comes to the customer experience. New technologies deployed by those at the forefront of driving the online customer experience forward include the use of AI-driven chatbots to perform triage on customer queries, dealing with routine inquiries themselves and only passing ones that need human intervention up the chain; and an increasing amount of one-on-one video interactions from so-called dark stores. 

These innovations, and others like them, represent a new frontier in the way that retail structures deal with customers, and the need for new internal processes to drive them forward at all levels of an organization. 

The advantages of DevOps for retail

Although these investments make a marked impact on customer experience quickly, digital transformation is not an overnight process and requires a phased shift from traditional approaches without disturbing business continuity. Even in small companies the challenges are significant, as every aspect of a business is interrogated from quality of service to supply chain management and more. The process involves setting up backup systems, network configurations, and application developments, as well as creating internal teams to develop, test, monitor and execute processes.

This is where DevOps can play a critical role. By fusing Development and Operations together, DevOps enables formerly siloed roles—development, IT operations, quality engineering, and security—to coordinate and collaborate. The result is better, more reliable products and services, that are quicker to market, agile in development, and responsive to needs.

The benefits cascade through an organization. For example, continuous integration/continuous delivery, known as CI/CD, is a key part of the DevOps approach and defines a set of processes that help software development teams deliver code changes more frequently and reliably. Rather than follow a development process where software development follows staged development with an innumerable amount of milestones and lockdown periods, CI/CD make the whole process increasingly iterative enough to be effectively constant. CI automates, integrates, and validates code changes and updates from team members during software development; CD allows those to push new software into production multiple times per day, automating the delivery of applications to infrastructure environments.

Not only can DevOps teams constantly update applications, but they are also able to reduce bugs, improving the frictionless nature of customer interactions, meaning less resources are needed to be focused on downstream support issues. Applications also have a dramatically improved time-to-market as a result, allowing organizations to respond swiftly to market opportunities or competitor features.

Why outsourcing DevOps works

Given its noted advantages, it’s always surprising to see how DevOps implementations have stalled in business. While 83 percent of organizations have implemented DevOps practices, most of them (78 percent) are in the middle-stages of DevOps evolution where progress has stagnated due to a range of prohibitive business cultures. These cover everything from a lack of executive buy-in to discouraging risk, a lack of clear responsibilities, and legacy antagonism between the merging departments. That figure has remained constant over the past four years, suggesting that obstacles to implementing DevOps remain stubbornly persistent.

This is why retail organizations are looking to implement DevOps to maximize their advantages in a rapidly pivoting market should consider outsourcing. Rather than becoming mired in internal struggles to implement DevOps methodologies, they can use external experience to help implement their own roadmaps and pipelines for digital transformation, or even run DevOps as a fully managed service to support their project and product needs.

Outsourcing DevOps as a managed service enables them to effectively establish CI/CD without having to go through the trauma of big bang digital transformation and gives retail brands a choice of ongoing support or eventually taking ownership of the pipeline themselves and accelerating their own internal DevOps evolution.

Keeping up with accelerated change

The pace of digital transformation is accelerating in all industries, and in retail this is also accompanied by a rapid pivot away from the traditional B2C approach in physical environments to a D2C one that does away with many of the boundaries, geographical and otherwise, that used to limit companies. The opportunities have never been greater, but the need to constantly iterate and improve offerings, keep up with global competition, and be able to scale to meet demand while maintaining excellence in customer service presents significant barriers.

DevOps presents a way of meeting these new challenges head-on, but the change process can be difficult to manage. With the growth of outsourcing and in particular DevOps as a service, retailers have a way of squaring this particular circle and optimizing their current and future user experiences both swiftly and cost-effectively.

Calum Fitzgerald, Founder, Dae.mn

Calum Fitzgerald, Founder, Dae.mn