SaaS and Retail Innovation: A Software Development Perspective on Managing Change

It’s a fact that many retailers have struggled to embrace innovations in technology, especially the move to cloud-based or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions for day-to-day operations. Even so, retailers know that moving to the cloud gives them greater agility and faster speed to market. According to a new survey from JDA and KPMG, over the past five years adoption of cloud solutions by retailers has been growing at 15 percent year-over-year. Retailers no longer view cloud-based solutions as inferior or less secure than on-premise software.

The agility advantage that comes with cloud-based software is vital in today’s market, where your customers not only want to buy things right away, but they insist on knowing they’re getting the best possible price. Unless you deliver transparent pricing, you may lose the chance to deliver an experience they might love and keep them coming back time and again.

However, a major challenge of adopting new innovations is that doing so can be long, difficult and frightening to consider, especially when those changes force you to rethink ways of doing things. This is the story of a team at JDA that can relate to these challenges – and to the retailers we serve – because we, too, had to embrace new ways of looking at the work we do day-to-day. Our innovation journey taught us about meeting the same sorts of transformational challenges retailers are facing – rethinking roles and solutions to come out not just more agile, but better prepared to think about business challenges and innovation in retail the way you do.

We hope that sharing the intricacies of our development journey inspires your team to take a page or two from our book, and realize that these journeys don’t have to be daunting. Adopting an innovative mindset can help your company realize opportunities you might not have noticed otherwise.

Planting the Seed of Cultural Change

Let’s go back in time to 2011. It was a year since JDA Software had acquired i2 Technologies. Omni-channel retail was still an emerging concept, and JDA was working in the retail order management space to help stores deliver a true omni-channel experience.

One of the solutions we were working with was JDA Web Commerce, a product with robust price execution capabilities that also provided configurator and e-commerce workflows. Now known as JDA Pricer, this product has been in existence for over two decades and is one of the tried-and-true, core JDA solutions.

Our goal was to achieve full DevOps capabilities with JDA Pricer. At this point, those of you who aren’t software developers may be trying to figure out what “DevOps” means. It’s a combination of “Development” and “Operations,” and describes a philosophy and culture that are focused on creating shorter development cycles, faster updates and higher quality software for the end user.

For software development teams, DevOps is an innovation – a process that can be difficult and frightening to consider. But we knew we had to embrace it, because everything we were learning about the market pointed to the innovations and drastic changes now taking place. Over time, we have realized that agile development and a pivot to cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions are key elements of how JDA will help retailers stay competitive in a fast-evolving marketplace.

Today, those predictions have come true. Retailers are facing stiff competition from fast-changing innovators, as Amazon, Alibaba and other e-commerce giants transform into marketplaces that seek to own the whole customer experience – from shopping to buying, payment to fulfillment. The only way to compete is by giving customers what they desire, fast. That means keeping up with shorter product lifecycles, as well as new shopping and buying methods. Perhaps most importantly of all, it means being flexible and transparent in your pricing.

As our customers started facing these challenges early this decade, it became clear that we, too, wouold have to innovate to support the fast pace of change in retail. This meant adapting to meet our customers’ needs, just as retailers were changing to embrace innovation.

Meeting Challenges Head-On

However, meeting the challenges of becoming more innovative and agile is not always easy. Software development traditionally includes many specific roles, and the journey towards a new DevOps mindset wasn’t a straightforward one. Agility is good, but simply trying complete a process faster can lead to other problems.

Knowing this, our JDA team challenged itself to avoid the problem of bad code getting into a release build. In addition to developing and reviewing code and using tools for continuous integration and testing, we had to change the way we thought about our roles as part of a team.

This meant understanding that we couldn’t just say, “Doing this is a tester’s responsibility!” or ask, “Why am I doing Quality Assurance work? Isn’t that what are the QA team members are there for?” Or, for members of the QA team: “If developers are doing the testing, what will we do? Are we going to be irrelevant?”

I imagine retailers are asking themselves similar questions: “Why do we need technology to assist us with pricing and promotions? Or assortments? We know our markets and we have all the data we need on past performance. We know our customers.”  Or, “Why should we trust artificial intelligence to help us understand buying patterns? How can software help us find those answers better than people?”

Change can be difficult and scary. The realization that companies are making in today’s world – from software companies to retailers – is that change is a fact of the technology-driven world in which we’re living. The only way to survive is to evolve.

Learning from Those Who’ve Made the Journey

Within JDA, the team working on what is now JDA Pricer embraced that journey. We saw the headlines in retail, and in other industries, and decided to pursue the path that leads to greater agility, greater teamwork and higher accountability. For us, those aren’t just platitudes. We genuinely love the work we do, and we want to create software that makes it easier for people to understand the data they’re collecting, make smarter decisions more quickly and – at the end of the day – make their customers happy.

With this in mind, our testers and developers began working in tandem and embraced a different perspective on the development process. Within a few months, the fruits of that extra effort had started to realize: The occurrence of regression issues reduced almost to zero. Developers became much more confident with the features they were creating. And in the development team as a whole, we took on a more forward-looking outlook that motivated us not just to be creative, but to relish the whole process.

And, with fully-fledged Continuous Integration now in place, JDA Pricer is positioned to continue the journey toward complete DevOps enablement. We now have a tested process to build, deploy and test the software, with the goal that any build coming out of this process will be free of regression issues and ready for release.

As more solutions like JDA Pricer are ready to move into the cloud, retailers will benefit from having new features and enhancements available on a continuous basis – making it easier, in turn, for you to keep pace with shifts in customer demand and changes in the competitive landscape.

But in addition to this, the journey toward a DevOps culture at JDA has taught us what it means to go through a pivotal transformation of business and culture. It’s easier for those of us who are creating the software solutions of the future to understand the process of managing change – because we’ve lived it, and learned from it, ourselves.

For those of you in retail (and other industries) who may be struggling to see the “light at the end of the tunnel” when it comes to the pivot to SaaS: We understand. And know that as we’re working to create better software for you, we’re doing so with knowledge of your challenges and confidence that we’re helping you complete that journey successfully.

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