This week, we turn to the topic of information technology in the retail industry. What trends is our UDig consultant, Anthony, witnessing as he builds his career as a business systems analyst at a Fortune 500 company?

As a business systems analyst you witness and implement a lot of change in a company. What trends are emerging in the retail industry?

Service-based solutions have become more common for a lot of companies. This includes companies that do not produce software as a product. Many companies struggle with duplicate data and duplicate calculations, and aggregating those processes allows them to more easily manage software solutions that have multiple channels, such as offline support system and online point-of-sale systems.

Why is your job so critical to business operations?

I can communicate with both the business operations and IT teams and assist them with estimating and budgeting and ensure that the proper design is there for both entities. Controlling scope and ensuring that the project was estimated properly is critical, as resourcing issues can delay or derail a project. These estimates assist Project Managers because it allows them to more closely integrate their oversight of the project with actual technical tasks that need to be completed.

And on the business side?
In terms of design, many business users don’t know how to conceptualize an IT solution. Furthermore, many technical resources create designs for software systems that are “functional.” This creates a product that is clunky and more difficult to train business users on.

Look ahead five years. What technologies/hardware/software components will be essential?
Service-based architectures will provide powerful corporate solutions. Also, mobile devices will become more commonplace in corporate solutions.

In what way?
Service-based architecture and mobile devices are creating a smarter and more flexible technical environment. I see a lot of companies eyeballing Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) solutions, but many are just tapping into its potential. A true SOA environment can be powerful because it requires less development overhead to manage and provides some control to the users.

And as for mobile, this trend is only going to grow.

Right. Mobile devices such as the iPad are becoming more desirable solutions that can assist business users – sales reps, marketing personnel, etc. Companies can easily create apps that will be tailored to their businesses for specific functions, which can then be tied into corporate systems, potentially that SOA.

What are some of the minimum technology requirements that a Fortune 500 company of this size must have?
A rapidly growing Fortune 500 company must have scalable systems with a strong service-based architecture. Many Fortune 500 companies start by having a great product and a great business model. This comes first, but the rapid success comes as a quick second. Having systems that can be scaled for more stores or more countries is essential.

How is the cloud impacting retail?
Cloud computing is impacting anyone who has enterprise systems and complex processing. It opens more doors for design. Many companies are learning that they don’t have to be the best at everything, because they can use the Internet to interface with someone who does specialize in some of those areas. Cloud computing is a new concept for many companies, and I don’t see a lot of it in practice yet. However, it is considered and discussed more commonly today than it was last year. I suspect it will be growing phenomenon in the trade, and the more companies that adopt it, the more other companies will feel comfortable with it.

Seems like where credit card payments over the Internet were a few years ago.
Correct. The more commonplace a technology is, the more accessible and accepted it becomes.

What types of skills do you recommend candidates have before going into retail IT?
Be detailed-oriented and understand more about IT and the business than what’s in the job description. You can only be so good if you don’t understand a company’s budget or if you’ve never even looked at code. Being a Business Analyst allows you to make sure that the right IT decisions and the right business decisions are being made. Many times the good choices require you to understand and dig down into the details of both sides. Without this diverse understanding, you will feel less comfortable when approaching a new company or project.

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To read our past UDig Brain Digs, check out Adam and Matt, both of whom work in the insurance IT industry. You can also read our post from David, who works in IT for the logistics industry (Note: we do not list our consultants’ full names for competitive reasons, and we do not release the names of clients, which are private. However, these are all actual interviews conducted by our marketing department with consultants in the field.)

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