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Powering the retail experience with zero servers

Spend any amount of time working in the retail or the hospitality industry and you will soon build up a stack of mantras that encapsulate these businesses’ customer-centric ethos.

For restaurants and retailers, the digital era has offered up new opportunities to improve the way they serve their increasingly tech-savvy (and demanding) customers.

Applications that offer a seamless experience of, for instance, booking a table, ordering from the menu and paying while en-route are easy enough to think up. But creating and delivering these experiences in a way that is genuinely seamless is less straightforward if you’re not willing to change the way you build and consume next generation applications.

One way I encourage customers to think differently about how they deliver their applications is with a mantra of my own: ‘zero servers, 100% uptime.’

This too is a customer-centric refrain, but it perhaps warrants a little extra explanation. So, allow me.

Customers are important, but so are solid applications

On any journey towards digital transformation, applications are first class citizens.

The application is where smart innovations – such as AR experiences that let you try on clothes in a virtual wardrobe; an app from which you can order an extra boat of gravy or jug of water without having to flag down a busy waiter – come to life.

But these ideas can’t and won’t thrive if they’re dependent on dated platforms that use traditional application architecture. With release cycles taking months not hours, it’s impossible to keep pace with the expectations of an always-on, always-updated world.

My job is to put in place ecosystems & platforms that allow developers to bring their ideas to fruition, without constraint or restriction – they should be able to focus on creating their next-generation applications, rather than managing the platforms underneath.

Hence my seemingly paradoxical mantra.

Zero servers, 100% uptime

It should go without saying that when you introduce a new digital offering, it has to work as the customer expects it to – if not better. That’s just user experience 101.

This means that if you’re introducing a smart new table booking service in a restaurant, for instance, then it needs not only to join up with how the front-of-house staff are managing bookings but also that it should be able to scale to meet the demands of multiple customers wanting to use the service at the same time.

For me, it’s simply not possible to offer these kind of fluid experiences with heritage platforms – at least not in a manner that’s efficient or scalable enough for long-term commercial benefit and user satisfaction.

What’s important is being able to provide an application execution environment that is abstracted from the underlying platform and allows developers to deliver in an agile, flexible manner using tools they like to use and not forced to. In addition, it needs to be elastically scalable and have application-level fault tolerance.

To achieve this, developers are increasingly opting to consume platform-as-a-service offerings from global cloud providers whilst gluing services together with APIs. This allows them to focus on developing, giving them the sense of ‘zero servers whilst allowing the platform and application architecture to deliver 100% uptime’.

For the retail outlet or restaurant, the result is an efficient, effective, elastic service that allows them to deliver innovations directly to their own, all-important customers. With updates happening by the minute, not the month and with developers feeling empowered to deliver change on demand day or night.

But that’s not all.

Maintaining the pace of change

Digital isn’t any longer a ‘nice to have’ – it’s already proven a death knell for any number of iconic brands. Note – when was the last time you left your home to rent a movie!?

And part of the reason why so many business leaders view digital as just as much a threat as an opportunity is the pace at which disruption can occur.

Digital disruption doesn’t work nine-to-five, it doesn’t care where you are in the world, and it’s not going to wait for a year-long consultation process to wrap up.

This is why we aim to work quickly and intuitively – gaining the trust of our customers by showing them the possibilities of a more agile, collaborative and cloud-based model (Vs just talking about it).

Solutions can’t be delivered in isolation; they take a huge amount of cooperation and co-creation from each party involved in the planning, delivery, and ongoing support.

So for me, this isn’t just pitching smart ideas and soundbites, it’s a collaborative experience that depends on everybody’s participation. It’s important that the customer is engaged and active throughout the whole co-creation process.

The customer, after all, should always come first.

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