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Retailers see cloud computing as silver lining

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Retailers are among the businesses leading the way when it comes to incorporating cloud-based computing into their IT systems, according to a European technology expert.

Along with media businesses, companies operating in the retail industry are ensuring that this fledgling technology is fast becoming a mainstream back-office tool for companies across the UK and Europe, says Google’s Robert Whiteside.

The Head of Enterprise for UK, Ireland and Benelux territories explained to Retail Gazette that this technology, which sees IT services managed remotely and then delivered to customers through a web browser, presents companies with the opportunity to cut costs and improve communication between members of staff.

“Fundamentally it’s about improving communication and collaboration within a business,” he remarked.

“The benefits of cloud-computing technology include its capacity to significantly reduce costs and - as we continue through uncertain economic times - moving towards a more predictable cost base is attractive to retailers.”

Cloud computing tools such as Google Apps, which was first launched in 2007, and the Apple iCloud, which was unveiled earlier this year, can be used by businesses for back office functions such as developing strategic plans and aligning employee calendars that can be accessed by multiple employees in real time.

In a retail environment where many tough decisions are being taken and complicated business plans initiated, a situation accentuated by the difficult economic conditions traders are now contending with, cloud systems can offer various advantages to the traditional server system and could also benefit a number of different types of retailer.

Whiteside said that grab-and-go food business Eat has been using Google Apps for around 12 months to help plan the growth of its store portfolio, but, equally, there is no reason why tech services of this type can not be used to map out firms’ plans for downsizing, which might be more apt in the current retail landscape.

Cloud computing facilitates a new way of working which is really hard to do on traditional desktops,” he added.

“Eat found that by creating a shared spreadsheet it allowed them to list tasks and responsibilities for teams of people, improving the efficiency of setting up new stores quite dramatically.

“It allows users to see what needs to be done and at which time things need to be completed when historically it would have taken a lot of chasing and involved a lot of separate information being handled.”

Online grocer Ocado and optical products specialist Specsavers are among the list of companies using cloud computing to aid their businesses, but as with the implementation of any new technology, worries about security will persist.

There is a theory that storing information in one place makes it vulnerable to cyber attacks and hacking, but the CEO of another cloud provider Venda, Eric Abensur, told this publication earlier in the year that expertise at companies running cloud-based systems means businesses should not be concerned.

He explained: “Through the cloud, retailers can benefit from the expertise, focus and investment into security at a level they may not be able to attain on their own.”

A growing number of firms are converting to the cloud and this figure could rise in the year ahead as more businesses reassess their IT budgets and priorities. Whiteside argues that the benefits are already being seen by a number of early adopters.

“There are lots of companies moving into the cloud now, embracing this technology,” he notes.

“It is aimed at empowering employees within an organisation to communicate in more advanced ways – improving communication with each other and suppliers.”

Published on Thursday 13 October by Editorial Assistant

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