Fast fashion – can retail technology keep up?

Fast fashion – can retail technology keep up?

By Martyn Davies, Director, Product Management, Rocket Software 

What do miniskirts, skater pants, flannel shirts, scrunchies and shoulder pads all have in common? Once upon a time, they were the height of fashion. But life is a progression, yesterday’s must have is next year’s vintage, or is it? 

Nostalgia is a strong feeling, seemingly passed down generations, who revive trends that generations before them have worn – but with a modern twist. Can the same be applied to legacy systems? 

Old vs new

What is classed as old in the tech world? Depends on who you ask. According to boohoo.com, one year old systems can be classed as “legacy” due to the pace of the industry. Founded in 2006, Boohoo uses less legacy systems than older retailers, makes a point to choose technologies based on how quickly they can be swapped in order to remain agile. For example, their Java team spent a year building a cloud-based integration platform using open source software. 

This non-committal approach helps to keep costs down and allows for an easy switch of systems when they come to the end of their lifetime. Boohoo’s Head of IT Operations Steve Roberts explained last year that “back 25 years ago it was harder to take my approach, but now there is no excuse to put in place systems and not be stuck with stuff that is hard to get rid of.” 

Cue legacy systems. Most retailers that have been around for several years will have systems that classify as ‘legacy’. But does this mean that they all have to replace them to stay agile? Or is there a way for us to ‘put a modern twist’ on them?

Head in the clouds

Across all verticals, not just in retail, many large organisations run on powerful mainframe and midrange computer systems. In fact, last year, a Forrester Consulting study predicted that by 2019, 64% of organisations worldwide (up from 57% in 2018) will be running more than half their business-critical workloads on the mainframe, supporting analytics, blockchain and web and mobile activity. 

Yet the technology industry might just be the only arena in which ‘legacy’ seems to be perceived as something everyone wants to leave behind asap. And we get it (to a degree). Many of these on-premise IT systems were conceived specifically to meet a particular business need, and they were designed to perform tasks in isolation and not to communicate with other systems. So, where’s the agility and connectivity cloud-based technologies have to offer? I’m glad you asked. 

Most businesses running on older systems need to modernise, embracing web, mobile and cloud-based technology, but this can be a daunting task. A new study reveals that 57% of IT decision makers across multiple organisations cite legacy software as one of the biggest challenges they face, especially when trying to make cloud-based and on-premise solutions work together. 

It appears that many businesses assume modernising technology means a complete rip and replace of existing IT infrastructure, substituting all legacy systems with the latest cloud-based applications. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Feet on the ground

It is worth pointing out that a lot of TLC goes into mainframe and midrange systems. Instead of undoing the many man-hours invested in building these systems by undergoing an expensive, disruptive and potentially risky systems replacement, businesses can use application programming interfaces (APIs) to unlock the value of their legacy systems.  

APIs can expose core functions as web services, allowing existing tech to work with mobile or web browser-based user interfaces that enable anywhere, anytime access to information. This integration is possible even when the source code of existing systems is unavailable, by creating services from screen interactions and capturing screen logic. And to top it all off, APIs actually give ‘older’ retailers the edge over their younger competitors. 

Modernising and making data and apps available through APIs provides more agility by removing the time and expense that is necessary when having to constantly update and replace apps and hardware. There are no two ways about it, mainframe and midrange technology remains an intrinsic element of retail business, central to the landscape of modern IT solutions, including cloud and mobile applications. 

Companies will continue to rely on older, yet reliable systems for critical processes and operations, using modern technology to further enhance mainframe capabilities. And as it turns out, albeit mainly deploying technology platforms that are less than three years old, Boohoo still uses legacy systems. We rest our case.  

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