Controlling Complexity


One of the key goals for retail IT departments is streamlining. You see it in just about every CIO presentation. Of course, it is never going to happen. Still, it is such a compelling vision I am certain CIOs dream about it at night. Fantasies about platform standardization, database rationalization, application integration and seamless interoperability are about as sweet as it gets in IT circles. And as elusive as the Holy Grail.

This was demonstrated recently at the Microsoft Executive Briefing Center in New York, where a store operations executive for a Tier 1 retailer stated that simplicity was at the top of his department's agenda. Then, for the rest of his presentation, he described a new initiative that included custom software, custom hardware (yes, custom hardware) and real-time systems at the store level. Impressive stuff. But moving toward simplicity? Definitely not.

The problem for this executive and all retailers is they are waging a fierce, two-front war that promotes rather than reduces increasing complexity. On one front, retailers are fighting to beat competitors, and on the other they are struggling to meet or beat rising customer expectations.

The escalating battle forces retailers to add applications and devices at a rapid rate. This is especially true at the store level, where new tools are increasingly deployed, such as advanced loyalty programs, loss prevention, real-time inventory look up, kiosks, self-service units and digital signage, to name a few.

To complicate matters further, the store is where business-critical technology is located, tools that need to be operational 24/7/365. And yet, according to an exclusive RIS/Microsoft study, retailers have a long way to go to deploy enterprise-class, proactive network management systems that monitor and report on the health of systems.

According to the study, which I presented at the Briefing Center, nearly a third (32%) of responding retailers report below average levels of confidence in network management systems, with only a quarter (24%) reporting high levels of confidence. Other findings include: nearly half (47%) use internally built solutions for network management; the majority (62%) manage these systems at the store level as opposed to centralizing at the corporate level (28%); and nearly one fifth (19%) have no automated alert system in place.

Deploying enterprise-class network management systems may not prevent CIOs from recurring dreams of simplification, but they may lead to deeper sleep at night.

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