Right-Time Retail Part 2

This is part two of the three-part series.  If you missed part 1, you can find it here.

Right-Time Integration

Of course these real-time enabling technologies are only as good as the systems that utilize them, and it only takes one bottleneck to slow everyone else down. What good is an immediate stock-out notification if the supply chain can’t react until tomorrow? Since being formed in 2006, Oracle Retail has been not only adding more integrations between systems, but also modernizing integrations for appropriate speed.

Notice I tossed in the word “appropriate.” Not everything needs to be real-time – again, we’re talking about Right-Time Retail. The speed of data capture, analysis, and execution must be synchronized or you’re wasting effort. Unfortunately, there isn’t an enterprise-wide dial that you can crank-up for your estate. You’ll need to improve things piecemeal, with people and processes as limiting factors while choosing the appropriate types of integrations.

There are three integration styles we see in the retail industry. First is batch. I know, the word “batch” just sounds slow, but this pattern is less about velocity and more about volume. When there are large amounts of data to be moved, you’ll want to use batch processes. Our technology of choice here is Oracle Data Integrator (ODI), which provides a fast version of Extract-Transform-Load (ETL). Instead of the three-step process, the load and transform steps are combined to save time. ODI is a key technology for moving data into Retail Analytics where we can apply science. Performing analytics on each sale as it occurs doesn’t make any sense, so we batch up a statistically significant amount and submit all at once.

The second style is fire-and-forget. For some types of data, we want the data to arrive ASAP but immediacy is not necessary. Speed is less important than guaranteed delivery, so we use message-oriented middleware available in both Weblogic and the Oracle database. For example, Point-of-Service transactions are queued for delivery to Central Office at corporate. If the network is offline, those transactions remain in the queue and will be delivered when the network returns. Transactions cannot be lost and they must be delivered in order. (Ever tried processing a return before the sale?) To enhance the standard queues, we offer the Retail Integration Bus (RIB) to help the management and monitoring of fire-and-forget messaging in the enterprise.

The third style is request-response and is most commonly implemented as Web services. This is a synchronous message where the sender waits for a response. In this situation, the volume of data is small, guaranteed delivery is not necessary, but speed is very important. Examples include the website checking inventory, a price lookup, or processing a credit card authorization. The Oracle Service Bus (OSB) typically handles the routing of such messages, and we’ve enhanced its abilities with the Retail Service Backbone (RSB).

To better understand these integration patterns and where they apply within the retail enterprise, we’re providing the Retail Reference Library (RRL) at no charge to Oracle Retail customers. The library is composed of a large number of industry business processes, including those necessary to support Commerce Anywhere, as well as detailed architectural diagrams. These diagrams allow implementers to understand the systems involved in integrations and the specific data payloads.

Furthermore, with our upcoming release we’ll be providing a new tool called the Retail Integration Console (RIC) that allows IT to monitor and manage integrations from a single point. Using RIC, retailers can quickly discern where integration activity is occurring, volume statistics, average response times, and errors. The dashboards provide the ability to dive down into the architecture documentation to gather information all the way down to the specific payload. Retailers that want real-time integrations will also need real-time monitoring of those integrations to ensure service-level agreements are maintained.

Part 3 looks at marketing.


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