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18 Mar

Solving Retail Pain Points – Connecting Old to New – Part I

Liverpool, UK - December 23, 2015: A busy pedestrianised outdoor shopping street in Liverpool's city centre, with people walking between shops on multiple levels.

Author: Tim Linsell

It’s every retail CIO’s worst nightmare – updating complex, mission-critical systems that are poorly understood or fragile. Yet technology marches on requiring retailers to deliver increasingly demanding technical solutions with aging infrastructure.

In the face of this catch-22, retailers are increasingly turning to technical experts to meld old systems with new using advanced technology. This is the first article in a two part series which explores:

  • Typical technology scenarios that slow retailers down
  • The problems caused by old tech
  • How advanced solutions forge a new path forwards

A Terrifying Technology Landscape

Retailers have many of the same needs and an entire retail offering has sprung up to meet these needs. From POS to CRM systems, there’s an off-the-shelf solution available for every retail requirement. While ready-made tech saves retailers time and money and provides best of breed solutions, it often needs to be:

  1. Configured to suit the retailer’s unique needs
  2. Integrated with existing legacy systems like ERP, finance, supply chain and/or CRM systems

To add to the challenge, legacy technology has been linked to other systems forming a spaghetti-like landscape that new platforms must be integrated into.

Reflecting on his integration project experience, Tim Linsell, REPL’s integration partner, says: “there are often lots of different systems wired in at multiple points and not always applying best practice enterprise architecture.

“The worst cases are usually modules that have been built in-house where queries directly access other systems and databases at store procedure level. Unless the person who built them is still with the organisation, it’s extremely difficult to be certain how they’re interacting.”

In most cases, these systems have been built for good reason and were initially well understood, but as retailers grow organically and staff leave common problems occur, including:

  • Difficulty in tracing data flows
  • Slow data transfer between systems
  • Not being able to identify the master or golden source of data
  • Business logic being spread between multiple systems
  • Outsourcing / insourcing cycles that reduce in-house knowledge and result in poor documentation

These problems culminate in a major problem: no-one has an overview of the retailer’s complete system infrastructure to be able to make changes with confidence. This results in a situation where trying to plug systems in or replace old for new becomes extremely complex and terrifyingly uncertain.

When Tech Becomes Problematic

With the rush to meet the demand for omnichannel retail, retailers’ technical infrastructure is being placed under increasing stress and time to market is being put at risk by old infrastructure.

App developmentTake app development. Consumers increasingly expect major brands to make life and shopping easier and app creation has been a major part of retailers’ solutions. With each app taking just two to three months to develop, it’s a different story for legacy systems: it can take up to a year to negotiate bottlenecks and find ways to safely integrate apps.

Ditching legacy systems and re-platforming with, for example, a brand new ERP or CRM system, is not really an option. As Tim explains: “It takes multiple years of work and tens of millions of pounds to bring new platforms safely online. By the time the system goes live, it’s common for retailers to find that the world has moved on. This results in businesses with huge amounts of value locked in and questionable payback when projects don’t land in the shape that’s needed.”

With technology advancing faster than ever, retailers want to get more from the technology they’ve already got. And they’re turning to specialist tech consultancies to help them.

Connecting Old to New for Seamless Integration

To keep up with the pace of change, retailers are connecting old systems with new so they can innovate on top of legacy systems faster and more cost effectively. One advance that’s key in allowing retailers to adapt is Application Programming Interface (API) technology.

“API technology is used to create a connecting web that’s built on top of the legacy system and acts as a point of interaction between new and old”, Tim says. “Information exchange then takes place via the API and provides retailers with the functionality to plug in new tech too.”

Not only does this approach connect old systems with new but it provides a reusable system supporting the health of the business in the short and long term. This extends the life of existing retail technology and enables businesses to continue to develop or buy in new tech to keep up with the pace of change.

The retail world is continuously changing and technology is the fuel to enable retailers to match the tempo. Worrying about legacy systems and how to integrate them with new tech is no longer a concern. Simply work with the right team to create IT infrastructure that delivers now and provides you with stable foundations for future growth.

Find out more about how API helped a major UK retailer by reading the second article in this series here.

Take the fear out of legacy system development by getting in touch with REPL by clicking here or on +44 (0) 808 200 7375.

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