Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Retail Reference Architecture

The concept of “reference architecture” is often misunderstood and gets associated with IT. While the implementation may very well be IT, the reference architecture essentially is a business and operational artefact. As RUP defines, “the reference architecture in essence, is a predefined set of architectural patterns, instantiated, designed, and proven for use in particular business and technical contexts”. The reference architectures dedicated or developed for industry verticals are most useful because it links the operational, technology aspects associated with a set of vertical industry business processes. As IBM retail industry framework suggests, “Such an approach helps organisations migrate to a more strategic and flexible technology architecture that is aligned with the needs of its business, one project at a time.”

Based on my Air Travel Transport industry experience, I can validate that standard industry reference model goes a long way in driving standards, efficiencies, cost savings for not just an organisation but entire ecosystem of the industry players. My brief research of similar reference architectures and frameworks for the retail industry resulted in some interesting findings. Purpose of this post is to share them along with references, hopefully getting towards a common understanding of retail reference architecture.

The IBM Retail Industry Framework includes best practices and documented implementation approaches based on successful projects in the retail industry. It essentially takes a broad view of domains which make retail industry work. It models domains such as, Merchandising, Supply Chain, Business Admin, IT Systems and Ops, Marketing and Customer Mngt and Store and Channels. With a framework approach, retailers can develop a sensible plan for achieving a more agile and efficient IT infrastructure that is aligned with the changing needs of the business.

Cisco has an interesting take on this matter. Cisco's Lean Retail Store Inventory Management solution is based on Cisco's Connected Retail Framework
Cisco Connected Retail Framework
This model depicts the relationships between applications such as Oracle SIM application and the network infrastructure. The solution framework is divided into three functional layers:
  • Application Business and collaboration applications connect users and business process to the infrastructure
  • Integrated Network Services, Application Networking Services (ANS), Unified Communications, Identity, and Security services extend and virtualize from the network to the applications. 
  • Network Systems, Connected Retail Store architectures serve as the adaptable, secure platform. 
Microsoft Retail Reference Architecture
The presentation tier is critical as that is where information worker interaction happens with the systems, and that is where decisions are made. The business-services layer and the business process layers help create a seamless rich user experience across many channels, ranging from Web-based portals to smart clients. Service wrappers in the technology enabler layer provide coarse-grained interfaces for user application consumption, creation of mash-ups, human workflow initiation, creation of composite applications, personalized interfaces, portals, business intelligence dashboards, reporting and other forms of content aggregation. 

Microsoft thinks that, once the technology providers are service-enabled (business services layer), retailers can create dynamic business processes using these services. These flexible and agile business processes can include both internal and external services. The steps of services enablement and business process creation lead to what is known as the four-tier architecture with the last tier being the presentation tier.

This is by no means comprehensive review of such frameworks but probably a cross-section view of what leading IT vendors are doing in this space. I am also not going to judge if one of the above framework is better than others because they are serving different purposes and are fairly successful in their objectives. But nonetheless this is hopefully a good reference blog or starting point for in-depth research in choice of retail specialisation.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting piece Amitabh, I did a couple of pieces on what I called the Multi-channel Retail Ref Architecture a couple of years back - http://multichannel-musings.blogspot.com/2009/01/multichannel-retailing-reference.html

    and

    http://multichannel-musings.blogspot.com/2009/02/multichannel-retailing-reference.html

    I've refined it a little bit since then with some specifics on eCommerce Platforms within the context of architecture, but the fundamentals presented in those postings remain.

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  2. Thanks Stuart, I will certainly take a look at your blog. In particular I am keen to explore what Cloud and Dynamic Infrastructure mean for Retail and Multichannel systems. Any views?

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