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During the last 12 – 18 months the uptake of cloud technology and applications skyrocketed. But, it’s taken a solid 20 years for ‘cloud computing, and the benefits it brings, to achieve the recognised status that it currently deserves. However, as with all technology, it moves on, and the next part of the cloud evolution centres on the idea of ‘cloud native’ computing.  

But, what exactly is cloud-native computing? 

The key principle that elevates cloud-native above traditional cloud solutions is that instead of being vertically deployed into systems, cloud-native applications are developed with loosely joined together parts. These components, cleverly enable each part to select the correct technology stack and infrastructure to deal with a particular task. What is more, these component parts can be developed, quality checked, and released one by independently. 

The benefit of this is that it reduces some of the hard-coded dependencies that many have been stung within the past. This is great because it means modifications are now simpler to make and that deployment can take place more swiftly. In addition to this, what comes with the idea of going ‘cloud native’ is that for some it offers both technical and cultural connotations. 

Although the pandemic sparked an immediate need and rush to use cloud computing to enable organizational productivity within enterprises and SMEs, it also highlighted how fragile our supply chain networks are. Moreover, it emphasized how crucial it is for these networks to be digital, agile and robust. This is where cloud computing excels as it enables all of this, making it important for supply chain directors to evaluate their technology infrastructure, if they haven’t done so already, and to review how cloud computing, especially the next iteration – cloud-native – can benefit their organization and supply chain systems. With that in mind, there are three key factors for teams to consider as they transition to cloud-native computing.

Scalable, flexible and robust technology is key  

One of the main benefits of cloud-native solutions is to reduce the time between forming a business idea and delivering it into production. Additionally, cloud-native architecture works best when workloads are highly unpredictable or temporary.

This makes cloud-native apps ideal for adapting to the huge changes in consumer behaviour and habits observed over the last 12 – 18 months. For instance, the eCommerce booms and increased popularity of modern purchasing methods like buying ‘click and collect’ and curbside pickup. In these scenarios, cloud-native apps provide organisations the flexibility to select which components of the application to abstract – which ultimately means that these apps are better designed to handle higher frequencies of changes.

This ‘flexibility also lets companies develop a supportive culture that’s more prone and able to implement fresh ideas and innovation. And not just within IT, but across the whole organization too. This concept of flexibility and agility is also something that became crucial for many retail and supply chain organisations to embrace over the last year – of which ‘cloud’ has truly helped to enable many firms to achieve, as they adapted and/or pivoted. 

Equally, at a time where customer behaviour and consumer trends are changing rapidly, ensuring that your entire supply chain network has the flexibility and agility to adapt and pivot to meet the fast-paced, shifting expectations of customers is a must for all brands moving forward, regardless of pandemics or not.

The impact of robotics and automation

Today, a wide range of factories, laboratories, warehouses, energy plants, hospitals and other industries are increasingly dependent on robotics and automation. However, what the pandemic pointed out is some more of the deficiencies in current businesses and retail models –areas where robots can certainly help. So, as brands start to introduce automation and robotics into their supply chains, the only practical way to ensure the continuity and security of these networks is through an effective cloud-first approach to the software and platforms that allow for robots to integrate with their environments and co-workers seamlessly.

Further, with digital twin technology becoming increasingly popular too, retailers can also replicate different fulfilment models and determine the most efficient and profitable way to handle orders, enabling deliveries to reach their final destinations in the quickest, most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way. Again, this is where cloud-native computing is excelling, as a lot of these modern systems are built-in and for cloud-native environments.

IoT is connecting the supply chain dots

The Internet of Things (IoT), continues to grow at a steady pace and the number of devices connected to the Internet, including machines, sensors, and cameras continues to explode. Industry analyst, IDC reckons there will be 41.6 billion connected devices creating as much as 79.4 zettabytes of data by 2025. That’s a lot of connected devices and a lot of data to manage.

Clearly, IoT offers clear benefits to organisations and their supply chains. Whether it’s sensors in warehouses or RFID tags in retail stores; through to streamlined delivery networks or even individual products, the IoT has the potential to make every element of the supply chain smarter, more efficient, transparent, profitable and ultimately, more sustainable too.

However, the sheer size of the data that it creates; the distributed edge networks in which this data is created; the platforms required to manage the devices, and the continual cycles of DevOps style software upgrades required (to ensure the data integrity and safety of the network) means that without an effective cloud-native approach to the whole IoT technical environment, the benefits cannot truly be embraced. 

Conclusion

Across many organisations – especially retail and supply chain scenarios – how they build their technology stacks depends on what they sell to customers and how their customers want to be engaged with. With that in mind, it is crucial for IT teams within retail to work with their line of business partners to develop the technology stack that will support them through the future. 

In today’s evolving cloud computing/cloud-native world, this means they need to evaluate consumer behavior and match it with their product and sales offer; it means they need to consider how they can use automation and robots to drive productivity and support humans; and it means developing an IoT strategy that enables digital twin development. The future of retail and supply chain management is exciting. 

Thankfully we have the right technology available to help enable that exciting future – thank goodness for cloud-native computing and the new benefits that it offers.

By Alex MacPherson

Alex MacPherson, Director of Solution Consultancy and Account Management of Manhattan Associates

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