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IT Infrastructure Engineering in Retail – The Now, Next, and Beyond!

Introduction:

The retail ecosystem is expanding globally, becoming more demanding. Technology systems are no longer just serving the customers locally or in the same geography; they have expanded their global footprints. Customers around the globe are now accessing these systems in one part of the world for searching & shopping for products while getting them delivered anywhere else in the world. While this is an excellent trend for businesses, this puts a tremendous amount of stress on the technology systems on their availability, reliability, performance (faster access), and providing a safe & secure environment for customers to surf and shop.

Thus, retailers need to continuously transform their infrastructure platforms and security controls to keep pace with new technological transformations and customer preferences. These need to be at the core of business processes and infrastructure strategy for an organization to offer highly reliable and secure systems, available 24×7, and that is being monitored around the clock for seamless operations.

Challenges Galore:

Regular system maintenance and system reliability are some of the top challenges staring at all. On top of it, the flow of information between various upstream and downstream systems – some of which are internal and some 3rd party vendor systems – add additional reliability-specific complexity in providing a seamless omnichannel experience to customers. One cannot undermine the importance of system reliability; there are multiple things to balance, including new functionality and features for the customers. An additional consideration for technology platforms would be to enhance the overall speed of development.

While the applications are constantly going through a transformation, infrastructure is probably transforming faster than that. Along with OnPrem infrastructure in data centers, organizations are making themselves more and more resilient by moving into a Hybrid (mix of OnPrem and Cloud) and multi-cloud strategy across many cloud vendors to avoid a single point of failure and over-dependence on one platform.

Experts have laid some key considerations for designing highly reliable, available, scalable, and secure IT infrastructure systems, including:

  • High availability,
  • Continuous monitoring – eyes on the glass,
  • Automation,
  • Recovery and business continuity plans – while building & testing those recovery plans regularly,
  • And the flexibility – to adopt new application enhancements

But these complexities become multifold as the system needs to adapt to the latest innovations while preparing the workforce to manage these – i.e., upskilling the engineers –and tackling other fundamental requirements on TCO around systems management and upgrade. Put simply: how much workload to keep it on-prem, how much on clouds, and how to transform applications to work in multiple infrastructure ecosystems?

The Silver Lining:

Amidst the vast complexities, organizations, especially Indian GCCs, have a stupendous opportunity to step forward and provide 24×7 resource availability to manage many aspects of this infrastructure landscape from an operations point of view with a few key considerations.

  1. Tapping into talent: There is a need to attract good talent in infrastructure and operations roles in a decentralized, remote setup. India is slowly becoming a hub of tremendous talent availability across the latest infrastructure engineering platforms, helping provide more capacity and capability.
  2. Making right investments: There is a definite need to make initial investments to build tools and add skills. Importantly, GCC offers the appetite and experience to move from task-based work to skill-based functional ownership, thereby reducing the payback period for that initial investment, if investments are done in the right areas.
  3. Bringing cultural shifts: Traditionally, infrastructure teams get engaged very late in the game plan in the life cycle of a new product. But to design appropriate infrastructure with the right capacity and performance metrics, infrastructure teams need to be engaged early enough to provide technical guidance that is easy to be commissioned, sufficient for future needs of applications, and cost effective in the end. This partnership needs to be nurtured continuously and requires a mindset and cultural shift to the business/tech team to consider infrastructure teams as their trusted partners.
  4. Leveraging ‘Infrastructure as Code’ (IaC): IaaS, PaaS, DBaaS, etc., have already become commodity elements in the infrastructure world. However, the speed at which application teams need new environments to develop, test and deploy their codes is not sustainable to commission infrastructure components manually. Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is the only way to provision infrastructure and keep pace in a world where applications need to be developed at breakneck speeds.

Conclusion:

With the cutting-edge transformations in the world of infrastructure and the evolution of tools to manage the same, the ecosystem of application and infrastructure is growing in parallel while supporting each other reasonably well. But still, there is always an upspoken stress that exists in the system. Evolving skill sets and engineering mindsets in GCCs have provided significant support to this continuous transformation and kept the pressure manageable amid the ongoing pandemic and the hybrid workplace.

But to address this stress & expectations beyond ‘manageable levels,’ GCCs need to continuously reevaluate their approach towards upskilling talent and build capabilities in this space for creating auto-healing and auto-scaling kind of infrastructures to add value to businesses of their parent organizations.

This blog is authored by Rajesh Puneyani, Senior Director – Technology Operations, Lowe’s India

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