Serverless computing outsources management of tasks associated with programming. That frees retailers from responsibility for issues like scalability and security, which are the same across every retailer, and allows them to focus on projects that enhance the brand experience.

Drew Lau, vice president of product, Mobify

Drew Lau, vice president of product, Mobify

Serverless computing is a model where digital organizations shift their responsibility and ownership of hidden activities that go along with programming to another party for the sake of minimizing complexity.

When you think of software development, the actual activity that typically comes to mind is the programming—a talented team of software engineers is furiously coding at their laptops. However, there are a lot of hidden complexities beyond the visible programming activities. In serverless computing, the complexities that are being hidden are the need to manage (as the name implies) the actual servers.

There’s a clear progression in retailers and brands moving more of the responsibility model outside of their domains.

Managing servers adds the overhead of updating operating systems and application servers, managing networking, configuring load balancing, and figuring out how to make it all work when traffic demands fluctuate. Serverless computing removes the need to think about such additional complexities.

A recent Forrester State of DX research report noted that digital experience professionals are looking to move more front-end development in-house, while moving both operations and tech infrastructure/support to outsourced solutions.

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This is in line with what Amazon CTO Werner Vogels separates as the activities “that are part of a company’s secret sauce” and activities we refer to as “undifferentiated heavy lifting, which are tasks that must get done but don’t provide competitive advantage.”

Having a strong grasp of this separation is the key to innovating in a highly competitive retail environment. Resources and time spent on undifferentiated activities should be highly scrutinized. The latest technology trend aligned with this philosophy is the shift to serverless.

Evolving Retail’s Operational Responsibility Model

Operational responsibility models in commerce have evolved over the years, and each evolution has enabled those organizations that adapt to go faster and optimize outputs from their technical team (or partner). Keeping up with these evolutions is imperative to survive. With each transition, we see the demise of businesses that weren’t able to move quickly enough to keep up.

There’s a clear progression in retailers and brands moving more of the responsibility model outside of their domains. Simultaneously, they’re doubling down on owning the core customer-facing applications, such as the front-end, as a way to control their destiny in driving efficiency.

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Rather than focusing on commonalities like scalability and security, which are the same across every retailer, teams can spend their time on projects that enhance the brand experience.

Serverless computing on the back end helps make way on the front end for the truly new, for example:

  • Quickly creating pop-up microsites for limited edition products
  • Better enabling regional or brand teams to own and improve their unique localized experiences
  • Experimenting with the impact of emerging front-end technologies like AMP and visual search
  • Running more multi-variate tests and experiments
  • Reworking how rich content is displayed and how content workflows are operationalized
  • Doubling down on front-end performance optimizations

Retail’s Serverless Adoption Curve

In Google Cloud and DORA’s recent State of DevOps 2019 Report, researchers highlight how the retail industry show benefits in speed and stability of software delivery best practices in the last year. Of note: “When we consider the crushing competitive environment of the retail industry—termed the retail apocalypse following a decade of steady closures—this should come as no surprise.” To stay alive and competitive, retailers and brands were naturally driven to “excel at delivering profitability, productivity, and customer satisfaction.”

This inherent drive in retail is why brands tend to embrace the latest technology trends and competitive advantages ahead of other markets. Retail, for example, was a strong early adopter of the “lift and shift” to move on-premise systems to containers and public cloud, as well as an early mover to SaaS ecommerce solutions and the multitude of marketing technologies. This helped mitigate the barriers to success around hiring highly skilled operational staff, and fighting to appropriately budget for their ongoing expenses at a lower economy of scale.

The result of embracing such changes was higher agility and better time to market. Similarly, we can expect that retailers who adopt the emerging popularity of a serverless will continue to lead the pack.

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Mobify provides mobile commerce technology and services to 11 of the retailers In the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000.

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