Retail Innovation at the Speed of Cloud
Few industries have seen more dramatic disruption with the advent of the internet and cloud computing than retail and consumer goods: so much so that today's consumers have come to expect every retailer to deliver an omnichannel experience that blends the physical nature of walking through a store with the ease of transacting digitally. Those expectations existed even before COVID-19 utterly shook the retail industry, causing stores to close entirely or open with new restrictions such as curbside pickup, contactless purchases, and reduced hours.
Recently, former Procter and Gamble IT executive Andy Walter and I had an excellent opportunity to invite senior leaders from some of the world's largest consumer goods companies to exchange ideas and experiences of their digital transformations. Here are some of the insights shared during this discussion:
Miha: Andy, what were the key themes you heard coming out of our conversation?
Andy: First, everybody we spoke to during the session is already in the cloud. They have made significant investments in cloud computing and agreed that the cloud today has evolved significantly since the early days—really just a decade ago. The cloud was initially viewed as a means to cut IT costs by using it as a virtual data center. Now, most view cloud computing as a vehicle by which they can achieve not only cost savings, but also new levels of agility, as well as faster and more secure innovation.
M: Yes, cloud today brings new opportunities, but that doesn't mean it is easy to implement. Three key challenges consistently emerged during our conversation:
- Wrangling complexity. To say modern enterprise computing is complex—with hundreds or thousands of applications, petabytes of data, and security and compliance challenges, to name a few—would be an understatement. Adding to this complexity, not all clouds are created equal: The initial promise of cloud agnosticism, meaning that any service in one cloud has a perfect equivalent in another, has changed.
- Measuring and tracking the value of cloud investments. With a portfolio in the cloud that evolves rapidly, it can be hard to quantify the value you're getting from these investments. Knowing the uplift and the extracted savings is essential to guide the ongoing cloud strategy and perhaps accelerate where the return is the greatest.
- Attracting and retaining the right talent. Finding and keeping valuable engineering talent with cutting-edge skills is very difficult in an ever-changing technology landscape, but it is imperative to stay competitive and agile.
A: With those in mind, I think we all agreed that refining cloud strategy is critical for every enterprise.
As companies develop a long-term cloud strategy, they have to consider their IT roadmap: their current state, their ideal future state, and the steps along the way to reach where they want to go. Remember, a cloud strategy needs to include more than just app modernization and migration. These are specific activities that are required but not sufficient to form a complete cloud strategy.
Instead, companies should plan how they might leverage all the capabilities of the cloud—highly scalable applications, vast amounts of data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, to help forecast future trends, serverless applications ("the right way to do cloud," as one of our attendees pointed out), and new forms of remote (edge) processing.
M: Let us not forget that once companies have defined a cloud strategy, they need to think about what success looks like.
A: Correct. Well-defined success criteria ensure that all cloud scorecard metrics are achieved—measures like applications and data migrated, security audits completed or ongoing cost monitoring (FinOps) savings.
It's also important to note that every cloud journey is unique, as are the goals tied to it. For one company, it may be about value realization; for another, about using the full innovative breadth of cloud services; for yet another, standardized architectures or maximized automation.
But perhaps another way is to step back and see the amount to which an organization has transformed. Has the cloud created new business opportunities or channels? Has company implemented new C-level roles, such as a Chief Digital Officer, to manage all online initiatives? Is company exploring new capabilities, such as omnichannel or personalized in-store offers?
A: Once companies have strategy and success metrics defined, the next question is, how are they going to find the right talent?
M: This is a challenge facing every industry these days. Another client, a CIO for a large European retailer, noted that one of the greatest benefits of the cloud is DevOps enablement—creating automated pipelines for predictable, secure development, deployment and operations of applications. Yet, in his view, "how to get the right talent and enable them to build and use the right cloud providers," remains a vital issue.
In response, Elaina Shekhter, EPAM's Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, suggested that creating an "extensible, fungible workforce" is the ideal goal. At EPAM, "our historical challenge has been to create a platform for continuous upskilling of clients, helping them to build teams that are constantly in motion. We bring a truckload of thinking, ideas [about] training, and change management to the table."
And, she is right: With unparalleled expertise and experience, we can help organizations meet the complexity of enterprise computing in the cloud, from managing the fine details of technology to helping organizations grow, evolve, and stay current in the new world.