Connecting Platforms: just the next hype or an essential part in finding the right retail IT architecture?

December 20 2021

Digitization is one of the most important topics for a successful future in retail. Certainly, no one will disagree with me. With the ever-growing choice of digital tools, online services, and the sheer volume of data, it becomes a true challenge to manage complexity. Moreover, in this world of connected platforms, the shift to real-time data requirements reshapes data architectures fundamentally. As a result, cloud readiness and cloud adoption have been introduced into enterprise architectures on a greater scale over the last few years. 

In this context, I have been inspired to write this blog post by Gartner's recent announcement of the top strategic technology trends for 20221 Their imperatives form three themes of next year's trends: 

  1. Engineering trust  
  1. Sculpting change 
  1. Accelerating growth 

In addition, the trends include topics like hyper-automation of business processes, integrations via data fabrics, and cloud-native platforms. So let us look a bit closer into them. 

The 2020s' retail data architecture 

Obviously, the role of enterprise architecture is to connect business and IT. A modern data architecture needs the flexibility to work with a large amount of data and take advantage of cloud-native services, including machine learning or artificial intelligence. Data architectures that support distributed data management and analytics in real-time are proving most responsive to business needs. In this context, the MACH Alliance presents an interesting approach and advocates for an open and best-of-breed enterprise technology ecosystem, including these four guiding principles: 

  1. Microservices based,  
  1. API-first,  
  1. Cloud-native SaaS and  
  1. Headless, which means separating the UI (frontend) from the business logic (backend). 

APIs unlock best-of-breed

 There is a lot of talk about APIs, specifically in omnichannel retail, and the endless opportunities they offer. But what is an API, and why should retailers embrace them? First, an API (short for application programming interface) enables the easy integration of two software components. More specifically, an API provides access to data in a standardized way and makes it incredibly easy to develop new features by combining data streams. 

APIs are the key to integrated omnichannel services and strong security networks because they easily connect devices and combine data streams. 

In that way, and contrast to inflexible monoliths, APIs unlock a "best-of-breed" technology stack. Best-in-breed means mixing and matching the best applications, solutions, or services to perform specific tasks or functions. This requires distributed data architectures for integration, management, and analytics. In addition, the combination of data streams enables new applications and deep insights. 

Some examples

For brands and retailers, the main objective is to enhance the shopping experience and achieve omnichannel customer engagement. As a result, many retailers build dedicated applications based on APIs to connect with customers and streamline store operations. Examples of integrating real-time, RFID-based inventory data and stock information (e.g., via the iD Cloud platform) with third party applications include: 

Industry standards help to connect data reliably 

Global standards and open formats reduce lock-in on every level to maximize an organization's ability to future-proof today's decisions. E.g. EPCIS (the Electronic Product Code Information Service) is an enabling standard to create and share visibility on stock positions in the supply chain or a value network. 

In simple words, it provides a common language to capture and share so-called EPCIS events telling you the WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of products traversing through supply chain processes. That enables knowing what a product is, where it came from, who made it and what happened to it over time.  

Interesting to know is that GS1 - the organization behind that standard – has pre-released the newest version of "EPCIS 2.0" for public review3. This new release includes new core business vocabulary, new dimensions, and new dispositions and will support moving data captured by RFID readers into the cloud.  

Conclusion: make it simple and be ready to scale 

Customers expect great shopping experiences. To provide new, inspiring and comfortable services, it needs data platforms that can grow and scale over time. Connecting data over standardized APIs allows brands and retailers to select the best solutions with low risk and easy deployment from industry leaders. This illustrates that APIs are, in fact, quickly becoming a critical aspect of how retailers keep up with the digital shift in their industry. However, retailers should definitely not stop there because there is so much more to gain. In the end, simplicity, scalability, and openness will win. 

Tom Vieweger
RFID business expert
Tom Vieweger