Tackling the festive rush; a Christmas present for the retail industry

Christmas is the highlight of the UK retail calendar. As the public look to open their purses during the festive period, retailers place much emphasis and energy into maximising their sales at the busiest shopping time of the year. For all the opportunity that Christmas creates, it does bring the challenge of fulfilling swelling customer demand. Although it may seem like a nice problem to have, in reality the scenario of supply outweighing demand could leave retailers with reams of untapped sales revenue and dissatisfied customers.

Why identifying the single point of failure could save your retail business

As multi-store chains look to provide a seamless customer experience across numerous channels and locations, retailers are increasingly turning to technology to deliver a connected, consistent service that gives the customer choice in their shopping preferences.

Solutions such as ERP, CRM and cloud hosting have been integrated into the systems of a series of nationwide retailers to collect point of sale data, show inventory availability, and solicit online purchasing patterns from remote locations on mobile devices. This all helps retailers to understand their customers, and utilise these insights to provide the products, promotions and services they want.

Due to the ever-increasing functionality that multi-chain retail-specific solutions provide, organisations rely heavily upon technology for the majority of business tasks, from enhancing supply-chain operations to taking payment for goods. Which raises the alarming question of “what if it all goes wrong?”

The iBeacon: changing the face of the UK retail market

Do you know what an iBeacon is? If not, you’re sure to soon, as this new technology could be set to change how retailers go to market, and revolutionise the way you shop. So what’s it all about?

Interacting with smartphones via Bluetooth technology, an iBeacon alerts retailers to customers in nearby locations and sends them tailored messages and promotional collateral as they shop. Sending out marketing material relating to your products when customers are just round the corner has a much higher success rate than automated emails received at all times of day.

Due to the interaction between iBeacons and smartphones, retailers can create bespoke messages for individual customers. To illustrate, if you recognise a customer nearby has downloaded your businesses app, and has a loyalty account, they could be sent an offer as a means of rewarding their loyalty and retaining their custom.

With such a high percentage of the population owning a smartphone, this technology has the potential to take off and shape the retail industry. Although the iBeacon is very much in its infancy and few retailers are yet to utilise it, let alone harness it efficiently, there are possibilities for sellers to alter prices in real-time, dependant on a host of variables. A multi-store retailer could capitalise on sunny weather in a certain region of the country and distribute offers on summer-related products direct to the phones of customers local to their stores in this area. Popularity of certain goods could even promote real-time price changes to related merchandise, creating an in-store market.

The retail industry's application challenge

The appearance of the retail industry is near unrecognisable from only a few short years ago. There is far more emphasis placed on the use of technology; not only for improving operational efficiency, but also in order to offer consumers greater value as a means of generating competitive advantage. For all the functionality modern technologies such as the cloud and ERP provide, many retailers are still struggling to keep up with the speed of change across the industry and to deliver the omni-channel experience that customers demand.

Retail challenges: the story of fluctuating demand

Despite being regularly categorised as a single industry, the challenges facing businesses in differing retail sectors vary considerably. The immediate issues occupying the high-end fashion boutiques are likely to be significantly different to those of a multi-store supermarket chain, for example. However, one constant battle that retailers must face is fluctuating demand.

As much as retailers review past sales figures and factor in market conditions, it’s very difficult to anticipate customer requirements. Aside from having a lack of clarity over generated revenue, businesses face a logistical nightmare around resource allocation, stock distribution and the possibility of being unable to process increasing customer orders.

By migrating to the cloud, retailers can function safe in the knowledge that their IT infrastructure has the scalability to store and process information as their operations grow. With hosting platforms paid for on a ‘pay as you go’ tariff, organisations can scale up and down as demand dictates. This is of particular benefit to retailers who expect significant fluctuations in the call for their goods due to the seasonality of their products such as summer clothing or Christmas decorations. These businesses can operate in a cost-effective manner and only pay for the storage capacity they use.

Mitigating risk in the retail industry with hosting platforms

In many businesses, the loss of IT systems can cause a logistical nightmare. People are unable to access email, save documents or utilise applications. This sounds troublesome enough, but the loss of IT in a retail environment is more than a mere inconvenience, it can bring the whole operation to a grinding halt.

The migration to an omni-channel business model that features prominent digital elements has further increased retailers’ reliance upon technology. This means that system failure could leave a company incapable of processing orders; therefore, missing out on large amounts of data collection and crucially, losing revenue. If the impact of lost sales during system downtime isn’t bad enough, the episode can leave customers with a negative impression of that organisation and cause near irreparable brand damage.

With the ramifications of technology downtime clear, taking disaster recovery measures to enable a resilient, always on IT infrastructure is becoming an increasing priority for retailers. This desire for security and reliability is seen as one of the main market drivers behind cloud migration.

Why independent software vendors should consider a SaaS model managed by a managed services provider

Software-as-a-service, the process of delivering and accessing applications through the web has become the defacto method of software deployment.

End users want to access software on any device, anytime and anywhere. Independent software vendors want to be able to move toward a cloud based service model to meet customer demand, stay competitive and introduce recurring revenue streams.

The problem then is working out who should support the delivery of your software. At the outset there appears to be two options: either manage it in-house – requiring extra resource and expertise you may not possess– or work with a hosting or managed services provider.

In reality there may however be three options. Hosting providers only cover one part of the picture, the end platform, what they are not able to do is manage the application experience from the data centre to the end user’s device. This leads to a grey area where nobody is taking overall control for the application’s successful delivery. If there is an issue where performance is impacted or downtime occurs, this can turn into a finger pointing exercise between the host, the network provider, end users, and the software provider, as they seek to apportion blame on each other.

Managed services providers can provide the end-to-end infrastructure and management expertise to most effectively deliver your application. However, not all managed services providers are equal, and working with less evolved providers who don’t take the time to understand your business goals can lead to damage to your brand and revenue.

Microsoft, Google and Amazon are all chomping at the cloud market - problem or opportunity for MSPs?

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a favourite book in the Saunders household. My two eldest sons used to love it, and more recently my two year old son now demands I read it every evening. He corrects me on most of the items the caterpillar eats ("No daddy it's not a gherkin it's a cucumber!"), but I'm fine with that. When you read a book so many times, you can't help thinking about it in other contexts, and it's occurred to me recently that most service providers involved with Internet technology (call them ISP, MSP, whatever) are going through the same evolution that the caterpillar did.

Most businesses have to deal with change, but as I've written before in From ISP to MSP, the MSP industry leads the field when it comes to the pace of change. Much of this is down to the rate of development of technology and the insatiable demand our customers have to consume this technology, but much of this is the MSPs own desire to broaden its portfolio and capture more of the potential spend of its customer's IT budget.

Like the newly hatched caterpillar, most service providers start with something simple and grow by doing more of it (one strawberry, two apples), but growing is expensive, and once outside investors get involved, the hungry caterpillar develops a real appetite. This is the stage I think most of the service provider market is in right now, the innocence of the early days has gone, and the urge to grow faster and faster has resulted in many service providers branching out into non-core areas of business like building huge assets of data centres. Some MSPs will argue that building data centres is a necessary, core area, but I disagree. The clue is in the name, service is what a service provider is all about, not assets (well not of the financial/physical kind).

From ISP to MSP: a brief history of Claranet

Working in the Internet industry is never dull. The rapid pace of change is relentless, with new technologies, new competitors and new customers appearing on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. Every so often though, it's good to stop and think about where you've come from and how much progress you've made over the years.

Last week Claranet won 'Managed Services Provider of the Year' at the Data Centre Solutions Awards. Winning awards is always nice, but this one was particularly good because it was based on independent votes from the industry, our customers and other people and organisations. I've also just started my 9th year working for Claranet, so these two things combined made me stop and think about the Claranet I joined compared with the Claranet I continue to enjoy working for today.

When I joined in 2006, Claranet was well known in the industry as a pioneering Internet Service Provider (ISP), particularly for Claranet's flat rate dial up Internet access. Sometimes I speak with people who still have the perception that Claranet is solely a provider of internet access for individuals and small businesses. In reality we offer much more, but this traditional customer group of individuals and small businesses, who take connectivity (and some other small scale services), are still catered for, though this arm of the business operates under the name of Claranet SOHO (Small Office & Home Office).

Informed consumers: how IT decision makers best leverage MSPs to optimise their IT strategy

In order to optimise their IT strategy, IT decision makers need to learn three things: firstly, generally they can’t accomplish everything they’d like using only in-house resource, secondly, they need to understand what services an MSP (Managed Services Provider) can offer, and thirdly they need to view their chosen MSP as a trusted partner for the relationship to be as fruitful as possible. If you manage to do all of these things, you become an informed consumer, and your organisation will benefit because the IT strategy supporting it will be stable, flexible, future proof and cost efficient.

By leveraging the expertise of an MSP, IT decision makers not only have access to an extended operational IT team who can take away some of the rigmarole of ‘keeping the lights on’, but also, they gain access to a consultative partner who can guide their business through the process of cloud adoption, migration, and work with them to develop technology roadmaps for the future.

The great thing about becoming an informed consumer is that you begin to understand the benefits of working with an MSP, by getting to see the processes which underpin their results. This in turn allows you to contextualise the monitoring data provided by an MSP and take these insights back to other areas of your business. It is of utmost importance that an MSP helps you in this process, by guiding and transparently showcasing its inner workings, keeping you in control.


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