Over the last five years the proliferation of smart devices has driven more and more consumers to be connected to the internet which keeps them in constant contact with brands online. But the software community has struggled to keep up with the demand caused by consumers living in an omnichannel world, flicking between mobile, website and in-store communications.

Traditionally, a software update would take six months to be created, tested and released. But in a world dominated by the latest technologies – whether the update is a back-end infrastructure improvement or the latest digital consumer-facing enhancement – this is just not quick enough.

"This is where eCommerce has changed things," says Ritu Mahandru, vice president solution sales, application delivery at CA Technologies. "You can't wait six to nine months for an update, you have to do it in hours or minutes."

Mahandru says getting ahead in an omnichannel world is driven by how fast retailers can get an idea out to implementation.

"If marketing has a new innovative idea and takes it to IT, they might say it will take six months to get that out. But you want to release 12-15 updates a month, the production line has to get faster and for that to happen you have to remove the manual processes.

"And it is the retailers which are at the forefront of this challenge because consumers are confidently on all of their devices, looking, sharing and comparing products 24/7 and the competition is really tough, so retailers are under a lot of pressure."

Agile working

Mahandru explains that development and operations teams used to be very siloed in organisations, but she is seeing more and more retail clients combine the two to work on specific projects in order to speed up processes. Additionally, businesses who want to be at the forefront of application innovation have moved away from the 'waterfall' method of developing apps in sequence, to an agile mentality. "You get releases out faster by getting the team working together," she says.

"Agile is transforming the way people develop apps, the development lifecycle and the way you develop and release software."

CA Technologies works with a number of large high street retailers and it works with the businesses to help them balance speed of delivery with quality of applications.

One such client is Tesco, which adopted CA's Release Automation tool enabling the retailer to deploy 95% of applications within two weeks, and 67% within one week.

As well as speed, CA Technologies also helps to virtualise the testing of applications. Mahandru explains that when organisations work in an agile way, developers cannot wait until the app is almost ready to release before testing, they must be testing all the way through production. But she says this is particularly difficult to do if all the code is not yet developed. Another CA Technologies product is a service virtualisation tool which allows businesses to take an early version of the app and virtualise the missing bits of code in order to test and speed up the development.

"This allows you to test early in the cycle to avoid problems later on and make things faster," she explains, pointing to the vendor's work with Nordstrom in the US which also needed to bring new applications to market quickly, without sacrificing on quality. By optimising application development and deployment, Nordstrom was able to save $800,000 in productivity waiting time, while progressing with its omnichannel strategy.

In-house development

Mahandru also says that a lot of the big retailers have created in-house development teams who are working using the agile method, but she says there are still some off-the-shelf tools which can be used to help automate development and speed things up further.

"Retailers should be more open to looking at other technologies that can help them," she says. "And the results are very measurable – you can tell if you're getting a release out in three days as opposed to three months."

Mahandru, as a shopper herself, says she would love to have better personalisation from retailers. "I like the idea of the sales assistant knowing what I've browsed online and having visibility of my past purchases so they can recommend things like colours I like," she describes. "It would be great if all retailers could capture the fact people have taken a lot of time looking at your site."

And while there still isn't a clear-cut solution to solve the omnichannel conundrum retailers are facing, Mahandru says this will only become clear through innovation and testing out lots of different technologies.

CA Technologies encourages its retail clients to develop their own applications to be innovative and bespoke and not to outsource all of their technologies to a third party: "It means we're giving them the tools to do that creatively themselves."

"Retailers have to invest in evaluating and trying things out," she says. "There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. They need to have a vision, make decisions and evaluate different ways of getting to it."

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