How IT could prevent a disappointing Black Friday

There is enough white stuff already on the ground (in Toronto, at least) that we probably don’t have to dream about a white Christmas. It’s the idea of Black Friday that seems the stuff of fantasy.

In the past, Black Friday was the day that was supposed to cripple retailers deluged with interest from consumers, just as Boxing Day tends to see a major surge in interest here. With recession-talk becoming ever louder in all regions of the globe, it’s hard to imagine that purchases will reach anywhere near historic levels.

This puts IT departments in an interesting position, because in some firms a great deal of investment has been made to optimize applications, infrastructure and processes so that nothing goes down amid the shopping sprees. The whole premise of on-demand, software-as-a-service and now cloud computing has been premised in part on the idea that companies need to be more flexible in the compute power they reserve for these major spikes in demand. If the demand’s not there, what happens? A data centre, e-commerce site or point-of-sale system that gets an early holiday break, I guess. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This is, in fact, when a number of other enterprise information systems should be used to gain competitive advantage among frugal buyers. Analytic tools should be tapping into data warehouses to see what the most popular products are, and sales and marketing should be developing strategies to maximize whatever opportunities to reach customers is left during the financial gloom. Customer relationship management (CRM) systems, meanwhile, should prove their worthy by identifying the best cross-sell strategies and the most profitable customers to be reached. Provisioning tools should ensure that only the necessarily server power is being used, and save energy and equipment costs everywhere else. There’s no point in acting like it’s Black Friday when the activity level is stalled at grey.

Most of what is spent on IT is focused on how to grow revenues, which is how it should be. But a great deal of this investment assumes that demand is either constantly growing or just waiting to grow. We talk about peaks far less often than we talk about compute “valleys.” In these periods IT should be configured to either help the company grow business despite the economic conditions or to reduce the kind of costs that are typically incurred during more healthy spending climates.

We talk about using IT to do more with less, but that usually refers to productivity. It should also refer to helping the business do more when market situations are offering companies far less. The flexibility, the agility that IT departments are supposed to be focused on – that was always about being able to keep up with the brisk pace at which an organization performed. When that pace slows, IT doesn’t just have to slow down with it. Technology should be what gets things moving again.

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