The latest Retail Systems Research Omnichannel Benchmark Report shows retailers know that they need to take action when it comes to sharing data and working to become truly omnichannel. 51 percent believe that their greatest challenge lies in the fact that a good experience in one channel is no longer enough to maintain customer loyalty, with around a third acknowledging that they are struggling to integrate new processes driven by cross-channel strategies into their physical stores.

It’s clear that retailers have accepted why they must integrate data, systems and processes across the business to ensure they’re giving their customers what they need. The issue facing them now is how to achieve this without getting involved in an expensive, time- and resource-consuming restructuring project.

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The answer lies in application/service orchestration: bringing a variety of applications together to synchronise data and automate processes without having to deal with tricky application dependencies which often happen when businesses try to make one system have a meaningful conversation with another.

How application orchestration works

Like the different parts of an orchestra, each system/process/API can be separated into its own entity, divided into relevant subsections.

Each part has its own data set, for example:

  • Customer details
  • Product specs
  • Stock information/levels
  • EPoS, either the retailer’s own or a third party platform
  • Orders
  • Twitter, Facebook and other social networks/messaging platforms

Any business system - legacy, third party or specifically developed – can be broken down in this way so that its data sits in its own space.

The orchestration part involves joining these sections together in a way which connects systems and touchpoints into a single, unified flow of information which can be used by anyone (customer, sales staff, head office) on any device. Any one section can be connected to any other to create a model journey.

It’s a simple, practical approach which can be applied to any data set:

  • Advances in flow-based architecture and visual editing mean that anyone can understand and build customer journeys, from marketing to fulfilment – they don’t need to be developers or translate their ideas into technical language. They can just drag and drop the parts they need, add and move them as they wish to create new experiences.
  • Once the sections of data are set up, they can easily be integrated into any process – it’s possible to quickly and easily build a library which can be drawn on whenever there’s a new journey to be built.
  • Because the data is already in a useable format, the perceived headaches involved in retail innovation no longer exist – it’s possible to build experiences and processes, try them out and make changes as you go for relatively little cost, with turnaround reduced to a matter of weeks.
  • Collection and integration of a wealth of data from each section means that analysis is much easier and very accurate – real-time dashboards can pinpoint the most popular products, what customers are saying on social networks, how many people have redeemed vouchers, speed of service, value of sales – everything can be measured for more effective business planning.

Application orchestration is what will drive retail evolution – making difficult processes simple, making the inaccessible accessible, and opening the door to innovation in a way which makes all things not only possible but achievable.