Web 2.0 Shapes the Next Generation of Enterprise Retail Software

By : David Dorf, director of technology strategy, Oracle Retail — November 20, 2008

In the age of iPhones and Vista, people have a whole new set of expectations for technology at home and work. Enterprise applications are no exception. For an application to gain traction, it must be 'easy on the eyes' and interactive, allowing users to easily make changes, see results, and generally be responsive. And it must be obvious how to use it. Web 2.0 applications such as Facebook, Flickr, and Zillow are intuitive and useful, and the user-friendly nature of the interfaces has helped facilitate their success. They make it easy to personalize and configure the tool, and they foster great collaboration.

These same words - intuitive, useful, and responsive - describe the next generation of enterprise retail software now being implemented by retailers. You know these applications when you see them because they are remarkably more visual than their predecessors. They borrow heavily from Web 2.0 technologies. The result is an approach that facilitates the user experience across workflows and increases user productivity.

The application of Web 2.0 technologies and concepts to enterprise software interface design and business processes has been referred to as Enterprise 2.0. As the next generation gains more widespread use, here are some of the ways that Web 2.0 concepts are coming to life in today's enterprise retail software.

Collaborating Without Creating Delays
The typical merchant, planner, or supply chain specialist relies on others to provide raw data, suggestions, approvals, and confirmations. Often, too much time is spent waiting. Software should bring people together to more efficiently collaborate by using the appropriate mode of communication.

Phone, email, and instant messaging all are converging and now available at the user's fingertips. Internet tools help people exchange information faster, thus accelerating the time it takes to make decisions, and ultimately enabling processes to move along more quickly.

Allowing Processes to Replace Stand-Alone Applications
Traditionally, retailers have considered functionality in terms of applications. If you'd like to create an item, you use the merchandising application; if you want to create a promotion, you use the pricing application. Applications are a convenient way to package software, but they are not the way people think. People, on the other hand, think about the series of steps they must follow in order to complete a task. This concept was captured in software as the wizard and was a popular method for configuring applications.

For example - retailers often want to work in steps, completing the 'item induction' workflow or the 'create promotion' workflow. These tasks likely involve several applications and include many people. Merchandising by itself doesn't get work done, but doing the item induction workflow does. The next generation of enterprise retail software is focused less on the individual merchandising or pricing application and more on integrated business processes, emphasizing collaborative features that make it easier to benefit from the group's perspective.

Displaying a More Complete View of Reality
Real estate site Zillow is a great example of how a company is enhancing the user experience by relying on a Web 2.0 technology called a 'mashup'. A mashup is the mixing of data from different sources. It combines neighborhood maps with tax assessments, real-estate listings, and historical home sales in order to provide homeowners with an estimate for the value of their home. By graphically depicting all this information together on a map, Zillow provides homeowners the context necessary to understand the estimate and tweak it if necessary.

This is the direction retail software is heading as well. Data from different sources is being integrated together and graphically represented on dashboards to help merchants, planners, store management, and executives better understand the state of the business.

For example, a particular promotion might be exceeding expectations in Texas but underperforming in Virginia. Overlaying calendar data might show that it's a back-to-school tax-free weekend in Texas, which accounts for the additional activity. Weather information might show that a tropical storm is nearing Virginia and keeping shoppers home. This information has always existed; the difference is being able to convey the information in a meaningful and fast way.

Leading enterprise software developers are bringing this approach to retailers through innovative new products and an SOA-approach to application integration. The result is a new, more visual workspace that makes it easier to get help from colleagues and adapt to changes in the marketplace. For merchants, planners and others throughout the retail enterprise, it's a welcome improvement in the user experience.

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