Retail Back Office: Like Sunshine on a Cloud-y Day

It's often heard in meetings with customers: What do I put in the cloud? How can I ensure that what I put there is right for my organization's changing needs? Is the cloud only for customer-facing operations?
While back office systems often take a backseat to customer-facing systems, the cloud can be a great equalizer. Modernizing the financial back office via the cloud can serve as a catalyst for innovation and market responsiveness, let alone more efficient and cost-effective management of the retailer's IT operations. Here's why:
Managing business change: Retailers of all sizes have one thing in common: the need to manage change. From fluctuations in market demand to response to a competitor's actions, the retailer's financial system serves as the backbone for capturing and analyzing the data of the business. With a financials cloud deployment, retailers can scale users and applications very simply, allowing existing IT staff to focus on the analysis and other needs underway rather than invest significant time and money in updating an on-premise system. But buyers beware: some vendors offer bite-size, light versions of systems, short on features and overall usefulness. When business change rains down, as we all know it often does, retailers need the deep functionality of their finance system to quickly adapt, respond to a crisis, or leverage a market opportunity. Retailers should evaluate cloud systems that offer the full-size, robust capabilities of on-premise offerings.
Working the way you work: Due to the increasingly competitive market, the years of troubling economic conditions, and the emergence of technological advances, today's users have higher expectations. Table stakes today is the expectation of making better financial decisions faster and having the right tools to do the job. Users want financial data and information presented more visually, want to make tweaks to reports without involving the IT department or even costly consultants, and need the flexibility to choose where their applications reside. Many retailers have already migrated out of ERP to choose leading operational systems, customized applications and other best-of-class software. The financial back office is the next logical step in that transition, and the cloud is often the fastest route to do so.
Enhancing bottom line performance: The more seamlessly the financial system integrates with the operational system and any custom or industry leading applications, the better. This is especially true in the cloud, as the applications will be accessed more frequently, across a cloud from multiple device types. "Bring your own device" is becoming more commonplace. As users access operational, application and financial data on an increasingly wide array of devices, integration and interoperability need to be transparent, automatic and just as ubiquitous as they are with the best on-premise solutions. Financial data in the cloud that can be examined in real-time and mesh seamlessly with operational data makes great business sense. For example, it enables retailers to examine profitability and determine the true costs of running their business across multiple channels. Retailers can employ a dynamic pricing strategy as needed or deploy staff and other resources to reflect the changing state of their business. That can lead to an enhanced bottom line for retailers large and small.
Peter Witham is director and retail lead for UNIT4 Business Software, the North American subsidiary of UNIT4, a business software and services company. For more information, please contact: [email protected].
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