Get your house in order for cloud says DFS CTO
Pooling data from silos across the organisation and creating machine learning-powered applications that improve operational efficiency have been central in DFS’s cloud journey, according to its chief technology officer, Russell Harte.
Speaking at a recent CIO Cloud Transformation event, Harte revealed that the British furniture retailer has been on its cloud journey “for the last three or four years”.
But what has brought it all together, he explained to Netpremacy customer success manager Martin Russell, is data.
“We spent a reasonable amount of the last four or five years brining lots of data from across the organisation together,” he explained.
This, he added, allowed DFS to use the cloud to boost efficiency. “We’ve built applications and used machine learning as a way of bringing contrasting functions to really become more efficient. For example, we’ve spent quite a bit of time on what we call internally ‘The Growth Engine’.”
This engine leverages datasets from across the company to the cloud to help understand performance of certain stores or catchment areas.
“That helps us understand how are we actually doing in that catchment area of stores from an online/offline perspective. It helps us understand our competitors, and what’s happening in the area demographics-wise – most of the stuff that people love, such as mosaic data.”
But to make this work, Harte says, DFS had to build a “powerful” portfolio of applications to support teams, from marketing to operations to sales.
He added: “Quite a lot of the applications are built off our client-side infrastructure, particularly on the data side of things, which have been based around the driving efficiency, whether it’s marketing standard workforce optimization, or ways of increasing sales market share. [There’s been] a lot of work with our commercial teams on products, which products are selling best in which phase and stores, and efforts to try to automate as much of that as possible.”
So not having to look for the information and making the insights readily available, has been key to DFS’s approach.
Harte acknowledged that, although DFS is several years into its cloud adoption journey, the retailer still has a long way to go, saying it is “never ending” as the project evolves all the time. However, he did discuss key lessons that his team had learned during those first few years.
One key realisation, he said, was recognising the importance of partnerships.
“Somewhere along the road we realised we can’t do it all on our own,” he said. “So we don’t necessarily try to. When we are doing something we haven’t tried to do before, we will look to use some of our existing partners who we have long term relationships with to try and help us.”
This, he says, has several benefits, including pre-established trust in the skillsets those partners bring as well as experience of working collaboratively with the team at DFS.
Secondly, he said the firm makes a deliberate effort to avoid pitfalls in the first stages of development which helped DFS to move more quickly later.
“There’s nothing quite as frustrating as setting up something or doing something and then having to revisit it in six months’ time because you realise you didn’t quite get it right,” he adds.
“And we’ve taken a reasonably cautiously approach when we’ve been trying to move some of our legacy elements to the cloud to try to make sure that the Target Operating Model is actually right before we step in.”
But, he added, the journey to the cloud is one that will continue. What is important, Harte explained, is to not just focus on the technology itself but on what purpose or outcome it is being adopted to achieve.
“We’ve got to get our mindset aligned as to what was the right thing for the right reason. And how do we make best of exploiting technology or that opportunity to really make a difference? Sometimes you get lost a little bit in the technology and when really, we should be focused on what problems we’re trying to solve – that’s probably the biggest thing.”
But first – according to Harte – organisations need to get a full understanding of where they are along their own technological revolution, and what infrastructure they have in place, before embarking on a cloud overhaul.
“Whether your journey to the cloud is to move, modernise, or devise some things you’ve need today in that new world you really, really must understand what you have got today.
“I’m massively keen that we take the opportunity to modernise as much as we can as quickly as is possible. But we also must be super clear about what we’re trying to achieve.
“So, the best advice I can give is to be super clinical about what you have running in your existing state if you’re going to make that shift to the cloud.”
Subscribe to our Editor's weekly newsletter