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Retailers urged to optimise back office IT

Saturday December 17 2011

The back office is an area ripe for optimisation in today's tough retailing environment according to the retail IT suppliers that Retail Technology canvassed

Karmesh Vaswani, Infosys industry vice president and head in Europe, said: "In a climate of economic frugality, keeping a close eye on unnecessary costs and eliminating the duplication of processes in the often forgotten back office, is paramount.”

Andrew Peddie, managing director of NetSuite software-as-a-service (SaaS) UK partner First Hosted, told Retail Technology the next 12 months would see a significant increase in opportunities for the retail sector to move at least some operations to the cloud. "After all, there is so much to offer, whether it be standard back office operations such as accounting and inventory control or more complex retail operations like e-commerce and electronic point of sale (EPoS)," he suggested.

Systems must be fit for purpose 

“Most of today's back office systems were invented before the internet, outsourcing and globalisation became commonplace," argued Andy Stinnes, managing director of supply chain IT company GT Nexus Europe. "For retailers' back office IT systems, this means that customer demand for a specific product can be fulfilled more efficiently by linking directly to a cloud platform that communicates with the relevant partners in the value chain.” 

Russell Dorset, sales and marketing director at retail software firm Maginus, added: “Our customers, such as French Connection, are using the Maginus Cloud to host their websites and/or back office systems. Retailers will be able to call on resources from the cloud as they are needed as well as rapidly deploy new infrastructure and services – which is ideal for better managing bandwidth issues during busy calendar periods, such as Christmas.”

Despite the apparent advantages, Ashley Gatehouse, marketing director of IT equipment and services supplier Insight UK, pointed out: “Some of the key benefits of cloud computing such as cost savings, scalability and increased mobility are yet to be realised by many retail organisations. In respect to understanding the cloud concept, it’s advantages and how it can tackle the concerns it raises, it seems that there is a need for more in-depth education required by the market.”

But Andy Taylor, Fujitsu UK & Ireland head of retail strategy, said the ability to pay-per-use with cloud services was compelling. "Imagine provisioning year-round IT services, which are sized for the huge peaks in trading around Christmas and New Year," he said. "These exploitations are starting to open executives’ eyes to the merits of cloud computing, despite the distracting hype generated by the industry."

Overlook security at your peril

David Howorth, regional vice president of cloud and IT services at Verizon Business, warned security and compliance with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) mean the protection of consumer information is absolutely critical when deploying new back office technology. "Also, dealing with the availability of the hosted services and solutions on the cloud, and managing limited and restricted customisation options for hosted services and solutions are issues to consider," he said.

Motti Tal, co-founder of IT performance management provider OpTier, advised: “By integrating business processes, applications and third party services with the right performance management SLAs [service levels agreements], retailers can achieve far greater visibility into what is working to make better decisions on investments and which campaigns will positively impact their bottom line.”

This story first ran as the introduction to the 'Back Office' feature of the November/December 2011 issue of Retail Technology magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition or register for the free e-version.

Tagged as: Retail Technology magazine | November/December 2011 | back office | cloud | SaaS | NetSuite | First Hosted | GT Nexus | Maginus | Insight UK | Fujitsu | Verizon | OpTier