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How did the mainframe transform retail as we know it?
Amy Bennett 060000GQRQ firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  system upc z erp mainframe db2 mainframe50 cics zdoop ibm retail | 3,022 Visits
Anna W. Topol
Distribution Sector Chief Technology Officer
Systems and Technology Group, IBM
Yesterday, I called a home goods retailer for an additional store charge card and much to my surprise he not only immediately fulfilled my request for a new card, but he also provided me with several additional offers. Without me saying a word, he rattled off a few items that I was looking for and finally he hit on one that I was about to go out and buy from another store that very afternoon. He knew that I wanted new green patio cushion covers and that my local store did not have them in stock. He offered to deliver them to my local store by the same afternoon with a 15% discounted price. I smiled satisfied with the service he provided and remembered that all of the technology and data at his finger tips, which helped him serve me so effectively, did not exist 50 years ago.
So how did the mainframe transform work of the retail store call center operator? In 1968, IBM launched its initial version of a mainframe-based Customer Information Control System (CICS). CICS enabled the on-screen display of a customer’s telephone records while the representative was talking to the customer on the phone. Ben Riggins, an IBM systems engineer, came up with the idea for online transaction management system (a general online customer service application) and invented the technology. This solution was enhanced with an idea from Ted Codd, an IBM researcher, who in 1970 published a paper titled “A Relational Model of Data for Large Shared Data Banks,” which not only gave birth to an entire relational database software industry, but also led to a new way of storing, organizing and analyzing massive amounts of data.
That’s not all. In 1972 SAP was established to produce standard software for integrated business solutions running on IBM’s System/360 family - the grandfathers of today’s mainframe. It was followed by raise of other major software Companies that would later become key, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) vendors. For the first time, companies were able to place orders and track inventory in real time, helping to improve inventory control, delivery time and customer relations. That is how my customer service rep was able to know which stores had my green cushion covers in stock. And when IBM introduced the Universal Product Code (UPC), also known as the bar code, followed by scanner using optics and lasers in 1973 and then by holographic scanner technology in 1980 the retail industry started its revolution supported by mainframe data processing technology running customer transactions and inventory tracking databases.
So the “back” of the store operations (supply, inventory or call center) have been strongly impacted by mainframe innovation, but has the “front” of the store benefited from the mainframe beyond a casher’s ability to process bar code info? Absolutely - Yes! Consider the fact that this afternoon, when I scan my card to pick up my patio cushions, the retail kiosk machine will process my order by reading a magnetic strip on the card (credit card technology initiated in 1969 by work of IBM engineer Forrest Parry and progressed by mainframe-based banking transaction advances). But if you prefer a mobile payment for your shopping, know that 92 of the world’s top 100 banks rely on IBM’s System/z and IBM mainframes to power the transactions, whether they come in from smart phones, tablets or laptops. And yes while I am at the store the associate can advise me on what light bulbs I bought last time since she can on a spot pull my shopping history (transaction data) from the mainframe system.
What’s next in the world of mainframe-supported retail life? No doubt focus on enhancing customer satisfaction based on competitive and comprehensive knowledge of each client. And considering my aforementioned exchange with Retail Call Center Operator, the analysis of data processed via next generation System z enterprise machines with special purpose accelerators and engines, like IBM DB2 Analytics Accelerator, can dramatically speed response time for complex analytics queries (from hours to seconds) deriving real-time customer insight from retail operational data. Also let’s not forget about Industries first commercial Hadoop for Linux on System z implementation which allows for analytics of large volumes of structured and unstructured data on mainframe without that data ever leaving the security zone of the mainframe, hence offering data analytics with built-in client’s data security, right out of the box, making me - the customer - feel better about my data protection.
And as I, the customer embrace new mobile technologies and social standards, and start expecting new service offerings, Retail Industry needs to further embrace Cloud, Analytics, Mobile and Social Media (CAMS) technology. The advanced mainframe capabilities, like ability to deliver a pre-integrated customizable cloud solution based on OpenStack and Linux standards, security with SAF or RACF features, or use of Flash Technology (with IBM High Performance Flash Enclosure), will help retailers achieve their IT transformation in support of this transformation in the future.
Hey so next time you shop think how much our life has changed in the last 50 years powered by mainframe innovation and how much it will change in the next 50 years. Follow the champions of this transformation and check out how Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, leverages innovative mainframe technology to help 250 million people per week save money and live better.