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Technical Debt Skeletons: How Retail and CPG CIOs Can Prevent Their Own Southwest Meltdown

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How to Act

No matter your seat in the IT organization, there’s a role in taking action. Good-for-now isn’t a viable plan, particularly in a constrained economic environment, and consumer expectations are only getting loftier.    

“It’s imperative that brands think about IT infrastructure strategies further out to ensure that they are up to date with the latest trends,” said Lafontaine. “Investing now, even during challenging economic headwinds and less consumer demand, ensures that brands can meet consumer expectations and deliver against those in the future.” 

Get visibility: Getting started includes inventorying and prioritizing the most pressing matters you’re facing. Companies should conduct a technical debt assessment to identify shortcomings, and then rank the most serious issues and the resources required to fix them. 

In scoring priority, it’s important to determine the risk associated with failing to act, said Dodd, whether that’s compliance, revenue loss, partner alienation, broken service agreements, or poor customer service. 

Determining probability that the risk will manifest is also a factor, but “if that item floats into my top 10, I have to make time for it,” he added. “Because I cannot predict when that event shows up or not.” 

Make it repeatable: Importantly, this process must be updated on a regular basis. “This can’t be a snapshot,” said Dodd. “You have to do it every six to 12 months, because technology is changing, your customers are changing, and the business environment is changing.” 

Think like a product owner: Companies developing innovations that rely upon technology must reevaluate the way these innovations are supported. It’s a switch for many firms rooted in historical methods that only required periodic tech refreshes, as this now means the underlying technologies supporting these innovations must in turn be treated like products. 

Product technologies have teams that continuously invest in supporting those technologies, noted Brian Hopkins, VP of emerging technology at Forrester, a trend that’s gaining steam.  

“If new cloud native technologies, new scalability and distributed apps, and [other] new technologies are not continuously baked into that product, that innovation is not going to be sustainable,” he said. 

Expand perspective (and context): Retailers and CPGs are also wise to monitor other industries (like transportation), so they can anticipate beyond the traditional POS system failures or supply chain-related out-of-stocks. 

“By looking at other brand challenges in outside industries, retailers can mitigate risks in the future,” advised Lafontaine. “Ultimately, the same consumer might fly Southwest who shops your products or stores, and the lasting feelings from that experience may lead them to engage differently with brands in the future.” 

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