Modernization, Integration Create Better Customer Experience for Retailer

Pam Roman

About our client, an International Retailer

This International Retailer (IR) has been a Prolifics client for a decade. The company’s brand names in apparel and accessories are well-known globally, and over the years IR has become a complete fashion lifestyle for its customers.

Challenge

Retail in General

Retail is changing – fast – due to the demands of tech-savvy customers who expect the “omnichannel experience” – a high level, seamless interaction whether they’re shopping online, in-store, through mobile or calling in. Any disconnect in the flow can make for a disappointing experience, leading to less loyal customers and ultimately lower revenue. COVID-19 accelerated this already ongoing change as retailers had to ratchet up their online presence and create new supply chains and delivery options.

To meet these higher customer expectations, retailers need more data for more information and analysis so they can react to their customers’ needs. Older, on-premise legacy systems that silo data are not up to this task. Integration/modernization is the key first step toward providing the omnichannel experience.

Our Client, an International Retailer – Pre-COVID-19

This International Retailer (IR) had a series of legacy systems: ERP, invoicing, inventory, marketing, manufacturing, supply chain and more. These were on-premise, homegrown systems and databases, or purchased third-party systems and applications. Some systems were running on older machines and mainframes, some were running on distributed systems, but mostly all were in-house.

These systems did not communicate well with each other, if at all, so the ability to be flexible, pivot, change and scale wasn’t there. IR wanted to interact better with its customers, to get more information and to get it faster, so they could fulfill customer needs in real time (versus batched processing) and do it remotely. The company knew that customers are now more and more demanding across all platforms.

Thus, IR began its digital transformation, albeit in a slower, “someday” manner. The process was underway – IR was modernizing and upgrading their environment, looking to migrate certain things to the cloud, and take advantage of software as a service (SaaS) options.

In-Store Coupon Misses the Mark

The marketing department for IR implemented a real-time, in-store coupon. The customers could scan a QR or barcode with their phones while shopping. The scan sent customers to a site where they’d have to fill out a form (name, email, phone number, etc.) to sign up at IR and get the digital coupon. But, when the customer went to the register to check-out, the point-of-sale (POS) system was not real-time integrated with the coupon system. For the POS system to honor the coupon, the salesclerk had to enter in all the customer’s info again. Customer experience: “I literally just typed all this in to get the coupon and now the cashier has to ask me all of those same questions again.”

The COVID-19 Environment

For IR, COVID-19 simply made everything more urgent. The great majority of the company’s sales came from in-store shoppers who physically picked out and bought merchandise. Millions of dollars of revenue flowed through the stores, and those stores were now shut down.

IR certainly had an online presence and did online sales, but it was a much smaller volume compared to the in-store sales. Because of COVID-19, the only revenue they would realize for a then unknown time would come through the website. They needed to ensure scalability, responsiveness, and real time integration of inventory and shipping.

For example, the company immediately experienced issues with customers buying something online, only to find out the next day (after inventory batch processing) that the item was out of stock. This made for a poor customer experience during a time when everyone was turning to online purchasing.

For IR, the “someday” for digital transformation became “yesterday.”

Action

To the cloud

Among the first actions Prolifics took was helping IR move a large set of legacy, on-premise systems and databases to the cloud. With our assistance, IR took a “best-of-breed” approach to these cloud environments, based on its systems and the strengths of the providers. As examples, the order management system went to IBM’s Cloud; the data warehouse to AWS (Amazon); and the product information management (PIM) to Azure (Microsoft). The company also brought aboard dozens of new SaaS applications. Some other systems did remain on-prem.

Talking to each other

Another piece of the digital transformation process was Prolifics making sure of the integration between the clouds, between the clouds and on-premise, and in all the configurations. Any system A, cloud or on-prem, had to be able to talk to any system B, whether cloud or on-prem. So, while IR was in the process of transforming its business by building out these new cloud and SaaS capabilities, we needed to connect all the “pipes” among the components. This gave rise to a new Prolifics solution, discussed in the Technology section below.

Moving toward DaaS

The next level of transformation, which we’ve started with IR, is data as a service (DaaS). In these instances, when an IR application needs data from another application, they’ll use Prolifics-built microservices for the particular request at hand to get the specific data.

Result

Let the data flow

The major result of our work is that more data is flowing in real time. Timely and accurate data can be in multiple places at once, or can go where the company needs it, when they need it. This movement to real-time integration gives IR more information and the ability to analyze that information more quickly.

This gives IR the flexibility to pivot and change as their customers pivot and change. That’s the ultimate benefit they’re achieving – the ability to drive their business in the right direction, with greater confidence, to meet the needs and demands of their customers.

In-Store Coupon Corrected

Prolifics ensured that the point-of-sale system received an instant update from the third-party vendor that handled the scan and coupon capability for IR. Our fix basically made the information flow live – making the problem of the double ask for information and the related customer dissatisfaction go away.

Technology

  • A new solution resulted from the IR work and is now an offering we’re finalizing through the Prolifics Innovation Center. IR had already been using Prolifics’ Global Transaction Manager (GTM) to monitor and manage data within their on-premise environment, including IBM MQ. The company asked us if there was a way that we could connect their on-premise queuing capabilities to the data-streaming capabilities of Azure (Event Hub) or AWS (Amazon Kinesis), which are two Kafka-based capabilities for streaming data to and from those clouds. In response, as an upgrade to GTM, we built two custom adapters: a bridge between their on-premise message queue (MQ) environment and the Azure Event Hub; and a bridge between the MQ environment and Amazon Kinesis. This allowed IR to stream data bi-directionally from their on-premise integration enterprise service bus (ESB) environment to both Azure and AWS.
  • IR’s new e-commerce system is Sterling Commerce Order Management System from IBM, running in IBM’s cloud as a SaaS offering.
  • The data warehouse that previously had been on-premise moved to Redshift in AWS (Amazon’s cloud).
  • The new product information management (PIM) is Riversand, running in Azure (Microsoft’s cloud).

Next Steps

Prolifics has been talking with IR about migrating their existing IBM ESB-based infrastructure to IBM’s Cloud Pak for Integration. This Cloud Pak can be deployed in multiple locations to talk across multiple clouds. The Prolifics GTM “bridges” described above were a first step in that direction. With IBM Cloud Pak for Integration, IR will have this type of multi-cloud integration enterprise service across all capabilities.

About Prolifics

Prolifics is a global digital transformation leader with expertise in cloud, data and analytics, DevOps, digital business, and quality assurance across multiple industries. We provide consulting, engineering and managed services for all our practice areas at any point our clients need them – giving them fast, complete solution delivery experiences that they find nowhere else. Whether it’s initial advising and strategy; design and implementation; or ongoing analysis and guidance, Prolifics helps companies take charge of their digital future. Vision to Value. Faster. It’s not just the Prolifics’ tagline, it’s what drives us. Email solutions@prolifics.com or visit us at www.prolifics.com.