Whether it’s retail or e-tail, the quickest way to lose customers is to keep them waiting. Unless you happen to be lucky enough to be selling products and/or services that are so desirable and exclusive that your customers just have to wait until you are ready to sell to them. In reality, if you can’t supply the right (e)book, tin of soup, shirt, pair of shoes, necklace, cutlery etc. when the customer wants it, then you’ve just lost a sale. Similarly, if the actual ordering and/or payment process takes too long, you might make that sale, but the chances of the customer returning? And then we move on to the real disaster scenario – your IT fails and your website crashes or your IT fails and your points of sale stop working. Not only do you miss out on a load of sales, you’ve also lost a load of customers, some of whom you may have spent a fair amount of time and money cultivating.
The above maybe a long-winded way of telling you what you already know – that IT is vitally important to your retail operation. But you’d be surprised just how many folks, whether in retail or many other industry sectors, operate on little more than a wing or a prayer. So long as the IT is working, then no need to worry about it, no need to check that there’s enough compute, or bandwidth, or data storage. And it’s only when something does go wrong (maybe in that run up to Christmas where seemingly everybody does want to buy what you offer), that you discover that your IT and/or the data centre in which it resides is not able to cope with the tasks required of it.
Rather than endure this, why not take some time out to understand just a little bit more about your IT and data centre resources right now, or in the near future?
Of course, you could just hand over the whole IT function to a Cloud provider. The applications and the infrastructure on which they run can be rented for a monthly bill, and you can rest easy that all is well…except, depending on the Cloud provider you have chosen, you may experience similar problems to those above – your infrastructure reaches, then exceeds capacity, without you knowing it, and the IT function starts to misbehave or, worse still, enters meltdown.
Plenty of Cloud providers would not let the scenarios outlined above come to pass, but, at the end of the day, not everyone wants to hand over control of their complete IT function to a third party?
In most retail operations, there will be crucial applications, websites and other IT functions that are the lifeblood of the business, and you might feel reluctant in handing over control of these.
What if you could keep control of your IT ‘crown jewels’, but get rid of the requirement of owning and running the underlying infrastructure? In other words, trust a colocation provider to give you the required mechanical and electrical foundations (power and cooling etc.), and a physical location in which to house your storage and servers, leaving you only your critical applications to manage (and worry about!)?
So, the cost and complications of owning and running your own computer room, data centre or similar IT environment, is managed by an outside expert colo. The good news is that the colo’s infrastructure will be used by all of their customers, so you’ll be benefiting from a significant economy of scale when it comes to paying for this kit.
And, if anything does go wrong in the data centre, chances are you’ll never know as the provider will manage the problem while maintaining their service to you or, in the worst case scenario, ask yourself would you prefer to have your in-house IT individual trying to sort the issue or a team of professional data centre professionals doing the detective and repair work?
The idea that downtime is particularly bad, if not catastrophic, for retailers, is not a controversial one. How to ensure against it is a little less clear cut. There’s the in-house approach – potentially expensive, but at least you feel everything is under your control; the Cloud approach – outsource everything, but then that might feel just a little too frightening; or the hybrid approach – let someone look after the plumbing, while you keep control of the things that add most value to your business. As I like to put it, not too in-house, not too outsourced, but just the right amount of control - the Goldilocks approach!