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DevOps and Retail: The New Digital Transformation Duo?

The online retail industry today is in flux, characterized by the emergence of a customer base that is highly tech savvy, aspirational, impatient, and experience-driven. This study found that 88% of the Gen Zers desire omnichannel branded experience, and 85% use social media as a tool for making purchase decisions. Consequently, retailers looking to score a business win in this highly competitive space must be technologically positioned to meet customer expectations consistently.

However, keeping up with this blistering pace of retail technology that is constantly shaping the expectation of millennials and Gen Zers is easier said than done. To thrive, online marketers and retailers must manifest an almost obsessive attachment to experience, putting customer satisfaction at the core of the online retail delivery strategy.

Digital Transformation: An Imperative for the Online Retailers

The sheer variety of factors that customer experience architects must address to finetune retail play and make this happen is mind-numbing! For instance, Hubspot found that millennials and Gen Zers use three devices on average to get online and purchase. The platforms are highly diversified in screen size, display resolutions, and system configurations. Nevertheless, users expect to consume retail experiences homogeneously across all the platforms.

Further, while frequently switching devices, users expect to check stocks, compare prices and read customer reviews. Implementing these in real-time calls for highly integrated systems and data processing at the speed of business. Additionally, the onset of augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) are adding completely new dimensions to the online retail experience allowing customers to virtually try, customize and preview their purchases. For instance, in APAC and worldwide, China seems to be leading this trend, with 84% of shoppers believing that AR/VR is the future of retail, and 92% demanding a greater integration of AR/VR capabilities into retail applications.

In short, online retailers today must use technology to position their pitch, matching the 8-seconds attention span of the present generation of customers and making a favorable impression within that brief interaction. For developers, this sets the imperative of constantly reinventing the retail application stack to improve the speed and relevance of the outcomes. As customer expectations and demand for a better experience continues to evolve, the code needs to be continuously upgraded and updated to tune the quality of the releases.

What is DevOps?

In response, DevOps brings the development and the operational teams within a single framework bridging communication and cultural gaps. The DevOps philosophy delivers on the need for seamless and fast releases in alignment with customer expectations by improving collaboration, communication, and performance. DevOps also incorporates continuous testing using tools like TestNG, Selenium, Python Robot Framework, and Appium and deployment using Puppet, Chef, Docker, and Ansible. Successfully executing a DevOps culture allows an online retailer to elevate its processes and go to market faster with new online features and capabilities to the delight of its customers. Simultaneously continuous development and release with integrated testing and security ensure that the possibilities of application failures and service outages are kept to a minimum. No wonder, across markets, online retail and DevOps are being considered the new Digital Transformation duo.

Dimensions of DevOps

Contrary to popular belief, embracing DevOps is not just implementing a process but a shift in culture in how various teams work to achieve common goals. To maximize its dividends, online retailers should start by understanding its multiple dimensions like:

Human aspects: A successful DevOps pipeline runs on trust, using the willingness of individuals and teams to adapt to changes. It is important to understand how employees see the organization in terms of accountability, alignment, empowerment and whether they feel supported within the new, dynamic ways of work. How can the management foster more constructive collaboration?

Process aspects: It is essential to understand how the teams are scaling their activities and how they can be empowered further in unlocking higher performance states with complete compliance, incorporating governance and risk management.

Functional aspects: How are the teams collaborating, and how are the ideas nurtured, refined, and shaped into outcomes? It is essential to continuously rate the team’s capabilities on test, validation, deploy and release. Other areas include operations, support, and cybersecurity.

Technology aspects: It is vital to help the teams understand how the induction of new tools and infrastructure can help them to work faster and provide better results. It involves promoting the understanding of cloud, serverless, elasticity microservices, and containerization and how they contribute to delivering the experience retail customers seek.

Scope of DevOps in Retail

What is the scope of DevOps implementation in retail? Let’s look at some of the pathways through which DevOps, incorporation of continuous testing, and security aspects can help online retail to transform digitally:

Iterative development: To sustain the customers’ attention, the online retail storefronts or websites need to be continuously reinvented and upgraded, calling for frequent code deployments. A robust DevOps pipeline can automate new releases with minimum human supervision and optimized cost, ensuring that new features, attributes, and services can be pushed at the consumer’s end without lag.

Automated testing: It is critical to ensure that the new releases are functioning as intended and are not in conflict with the existing landscape. Automated testing and consistent feedback are pivotal in maintaining a stable online retail platform that can deliver great shopping experiences at scale.

Continuous integration: With DevOps, it is possible to test and integrate new codes incrementally to the existing landscape. It ensures continuity in development and release, leading to smooth system performance.

Collaborative approach: DevOps promotes a collaborative culture within the organizations where Development, Operations, and Quality Assurance teams participate towards the shared goal of minimizing exceptions and accelerating release cycles with quality.

DevOps Methods for Retail

Retailers can adopt some standard DevOps methods to tune and pace the development and release pipeline. The most popular ones are as under:

Scrum: It defines how the teams work together within the DevOps culture to accelerate development, test, and deploy new releases. Scrum provides a framework including the key workflows, the best practices like maintaining sprints and time boxes, and designated positions like the Scrum Master and the Product Owner.

Kanban: It is a proven method that boosted manufacturing efficiency for Toyota. Work in progress on new features and services in online retail are continuously tracked using a Kanban board.

Agile: Contrary to the linear and sequential flow of the Waterfall model, where each phase depends on the deliverables of the previous one, the Agile method promotes greater flexibility and responsiveness to changing needs. It involves documenting user stories, performing daily standups, and dynamically incorporating customer feedback into the development cycles.

Benefits of a DevOps Approach to Retail

Embracing a DevOps culture can bring much value for online retailers seeking to transform digitally and keep pace with the changing business realities and customer expectations. A few of them can be as follows:

Transformation at speed: With DevOps, all processes, from development to deployment, become sequential, allowing online retail businesses to deploy innovations faster and get differentiated. The tight collaboration between teams ensures that complex dependencies do not drag on the pace and quality of the new releases.

Optimized cost: DevOps is a flexible and efficient approach that radically reduces retail IT projects’ costs. The agile model allows teams to avoid massive reworks through continuous integrations and deployment, ensuring that new features can be brought to market at optimized expenses.

Improved customer satisfaction: DevOps allows teams to handle a high volume of enhancements conveniently. It enables retailers to deliver such enhancement at speed, meeting the expectations of the customers looking to consume an exceptional shopping experience with minimum delay.

Process automation: DevOps automation takes a load of repetitive tasks like continuous testing and deployment away from the teams. The decrease in manual effort allows engineers to focus on new ideas and areas of strategic interests like security and quality assurance.

Reduced implementation failures: The Agile method for DevOps involves a shorter development cycle, allowing teams to quickly pinpoint code defects and counter implementation failures. Also, as DevOps involves multiple teams and viewpoints within a collaborative framework, resolving errors and complexities becomes much easier.

How to Ensure a Successful DevOps Culture?

As it might be apparent by now, DevOps can dramatically improve the capabilities of online retailers. But how can a business looking to embrace DevOps can commence its journey? The following roadmap may help:

1. Operating with clarity: It’s not easy to switch and adapt to a new delivery culture. Therefore, there is a compelling need to introspect and discover the reasons for a switch to DevOps. Merely joining the bandwagon may not help in fully unlocking its benefits.

2. Bringing everyone on the same page: Fostering stakeholdership and common purpose between teams is crucial to ensure that a DevOps culture is adopted across the retail organization.

3. Measuring the KPIs: It is essential to have clear visibility into the KPIs before and after implementation, to assess the actual value of DevOps.

4. Managing the implementation budget: Like all projects, DevOps implementation in retail is not free from the possibilities of scope creep and budget outruns. It is critical to keep a tab on the expenses of building the new culture vs. the benefits incurred therein.

5. Starting small and scaling gradually: Rather than plugging all departments into the DevOps framework simultaneously, it is advisable to start with a pilot group and scale progressively to limit the impact of failure.

Why Outsource DevOps?

Despite being essential to delivering as per the needs of the business, establishing an efficient DevOps culture, in house can often be tricky for organizations. In fact, Gartner predicts that through 2022 75% of the DevOps initiatives across sectors will come short in meeting expectations due to complexities around organizational learning and change management. Other significant reasons include failing to balance staff workloads and setting unrealistic goals. Online retail is not an exception.

It is not surprising as while a decision to go the DevOps way might be easy, steering it to derive transformational values for the organization may call for knowledge and expertise, generally unavailable in a retailer’s in-house IT outfit. Here, outsourcing the project to a reliable DevOps specialist brings in the skills, experience, and perspective that might otherwise take years to develop from scratch. A managed services provider for DevOps can help online retail businesses readily realize its benefits while steering clear of the implementation complexities.

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