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.

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.

Consolidating Claranet’s data centre estate

Service providers are continually reviewing their data centre estate so they can offer the best possible service to their customers. This may lead to the expansion, migration or closure of certain data centres.

With the acquisition of Star Technology in late 2012, Claranet more-or-less doubled the number of its data centres. While this certainly enhanced our ability to offer leading edge services the rethink meant it was also right to close down two of our older data centres.

Closing or moving a data centre or IT room is a significant undertaking. Making sure it is carried out effectively is vital as the impact of downtime for many customers can have a massive impact on their business and any of their customers who rely on them.

One of the two data centres we recently closed was a 180 rack suite that Claranet occupied for the last 15 years and which serviced a significant number of customers.

Due to the broad array of services we offered from this facility, relocating represented a significant challenge. Services taken varied from co-location to Ethernet connectivity, from internal cross-connects, to fully outsourced and managed IT solutions so tailored approaches were vital.

Developer? Is managed application hosting right for you?

Claranet has offered managed application hosting for many years, but when you look out into the hosting market I am constantly surprised by other hosting companies running for the hills at the very thought of taking over the control and ownership of a customer’s live environment, and offering an SLA based on anything above the OS.

Why are most hosting companies scared of taking control above the OS?

It's clearly no mean feat, you simply can't take over a customer’s application and not expect issues. You have to learn how the customers application works, the issues it faces, and devise a contingency plan just in case something goes wrong. Organisations need to invest in processes such as ITIL which is a best practice framework for the provision of quality IT services, build the processes and documentation, and ensure they have sufficient qualified engineers to be able to support an application and all the infrastructure around it 24/7/365.

Why should developers care about managed application hosting?

It's simple, the developer’s core focus is usually based around delivering great code. However, we typically find that they somehow manage to also get burdened with having to run the hosting environment as a side-line. This generally happens because they possess the technical ability and understand their app, but running infrastructure is not what they have studied for years and trained for, and when problems happen this diverts their attention from core business projects.

By letting Claranet manage the application, developers can concentrate on spending more time delivering code, meeting deadlines, and adding more value to the strategic projects their organisation demands.

Cloud adoption through the prism

Whether you label it cloud, or managed, or hosted, or as-a-service, or something else – its lexicon is growing with its ubiquity – it is clear that more businesses in the mid-market are beginning to take advantage of the many benefits ‘it’ entails.

According to findings from the 2013 Claranet Research Programme 73 per cent of businesses were using some form of cloud service compared with 62 per cent the year before.

The benefits from utilising cloud - scalability, resiliency, efficiency and sustainability - are beginning to outweigh the concerns businesses previously had in terms of adoption.

Particularly for SMBs where the IT function of organisations is often not that developed, the pressure to succeed with less internal resource is more pronounced. Therefore the need to outsource day-to-day responsibility, while retaining executive control, is a particularly attractive option, as it allows stretched IT teams to concentrate on making a noticeable difference on a more strategic level.

Why Virtual Data Centre may be less expensive than on-premise servers

I am an Infrastructure-as-a -Service (IaaS) evangelist and having had the pleasure to work with Virtual Data Centre (VDC) during my time at Claranet, I can comprehensively say it is the future of hosting.

I often work with customers to build an ROI model, taking into account all the business benefits gained and all the costs saved.

Often they still turn to me and say:

‘For the same internal resource considered over a 3 year contract your VDC comes out twice as expensive as my on premise servers. I am not convinced all the other benefits are worth that much’

Why you should consider an integrated cloud and network provider

If you lack control over the performance and reliability of the network that connects you to the cloud capability, then no amount of resilience and technical wizardry on the part of your cloud provider will be of any value at all.

Typically, cloud providers do not own or provide the network connection. Net neutrality on the public internet backbone means that neither you nor your cloud provider will have any control over how your data packets are handled. If someone or something suddenly uses more bandwidth than expected, you may see a significant degradation of your application performance. If the application in question is mission-critical this could have a serious impact on the business. The importance of the network to cloud services means that a strong Service Level Agreement (SLA) and appropriate monitoring are vital in order to maintain optimal business continuity.

Reliance upon the network for access and application performance makes it essential to find a cloud infrastructure provider that understands and has expertise in networking and IT security. An Integrated Cloud Provider can deliver both the cloud resources and a fully controlled network. This means that you can set priorities on your traffic, as the link is direct from your in-house network fabric straight to the cloud provider, with no reliance on the public internet or an intermediate ISP. So as part of your cloud agreement, you can reserve a certain minimum network capacity for each of your mission critical applications.


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