The Cloud: new energy for Retail

 

Customers are already and in growing mass on the Internet with their smartphones, tablets and PCs. All the business information are traveling on the Internet, even when produced and consumed by traditional software applications designed to look more inside than outside of the company.

Moving Information Technology (IT) to the Cloud, in addition to simplicity, savings, and greater focus on the business, it is a choice similar to move a logistics center near a node of roads, railways and airports. The increased efficiency is converted into a competitive advantage and, sometimes, even in new business models.

In Retail, closeness to customers means to be reachable at all times and communicate in a personalized and consistent way through any contact point as smartphones, eCommerce, digital marketing, social networks, etc.: a consumer experience defined as Omnichannel. Being close to suppliers means instead exchanging documents in electronic form, reducing time and costs in the logistics chain.

Cloud Computing is nonetheless complex and still mysterious because it is at the same time the terminus of traditional IT and the starting station of a completely new IT. Between the evolutionary and the radically innovative view, there is a discontinuity, deep but invisible to most people. This is due to vision changes inertia, quite normal considering that even T.A. Edison, a century ago, didn’t seize the discontinuity between direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). The second industrial revolution took off only when AC allowed to distribute the energy produced by large and efficient plants over long-distance networks, while the first DC dynamo powered factories were forced to invest in their own power plant. That was a major step forward compared to steam, but not enough to transform the factories and the society.

A discontinuity of IT in the Cloud is, for example, designing the software as a set of factores and "Lego blocks" that can be easily combined together through messages similar to email, regardless of operating system, hardware and place, and APIs based on Web Services open standards.

Another discontinuity is an ecosystem of Cloud services sharing the same HW and SW resources among different users (in technical jargon multi-tenancy) allows agile integration of high quality services, constantly evolving and at competitive costs. This is also possible thanks to rapid elasticity, which allows automatic acquisition of new resources when workload increase (scalability) and releasing them to other public Cloud users as they become unneeded, reducing costs and environmental impact.

Multi-tenancy and rapid elasticity are 2 of the 5 essential characteristics of Cloud Computing, but require a radical software redesign.

Due to lack of resources and vision, the engine behind most of the services currently provided via the Internet is still traditional software and this should be defined Hosting, even when based on public infrastructure. It's clear that traditional software is not capable to exploit the scalability, elasticity and SLA of modern Cloud Computing platforms and can’t change its inherently closed nature, just for being moved out of the company.

The world is changing quickly and the software has to adapt, but sometimes we should stop adding new pieces and decide to start from scratch with new concepts. Continue adaptation of systems created for a past world is expensive and produces poor results. Instead Retail IT, to be a development energy now and for the coming years, must be designed specifically for the Cloud as, for example, aKite.