Retail IT horrors: Outdated systems and 1 hour to get a SIM card

Published: Thursday, June 9 2016

We've all been there: it is Christmas, a child’s birthday, mother’s day, an anniversary... and you need to get a present. Pushed for time, you get to a shopping centre and get ready to do a quick transaction, only to be confronted with a long, drawn-out shopping experience.

This was my experience recently when I bought my son an iPhone. I had purchased the phone online and then took it into my local network service provider to get a SIM card. In my estimation, it should have been a quick 10 minute shopping experience and then I’d be “father of the year”. A great idea, right up until I got into the store....

Me: I need a SIM
Manager: Okay, I need your name, address, occupation…
Me: I only want a £10 SIM, why do you need all this?
Manager: It’s the system

At this point that I couldn't suppress the urge to check out the software and was confronted with a 12 inch blue screen. Remember those screens? Yes, they still exist!

Then it was my turn to ask the questions: Is that XP? Is that DOS? How old is that? Must be about 20 years old?

Whilst I won’t name the chain, this experience isn’t untypical. Why? Because many retailers are running a business application that was custom-written for the company years ago. Because of the cost and risk involved in bringing the application up to date, it’s still in use across all customer stores operated by a company earning £151 million in revenues (from their last annual report).

The Retail Store Software Reality 

The reality is that many retailers have a huge sunk investment in bespoke store software applications that are so essential to their business that they cannot migrate to Windows 10 or Azure cloud. While Microsoft has moved on a lot, the retailers are struggling to move forward.

Latest Windows looks good, the user interface has caught up and there has been 14 years between the release of Windows XP (October 2001) to Windows 10 (July 2015). Think about how many security upgrades and operating systems bugs have been addressed since support ended for Windows XP.

The retailers are simply stuck between balancing the need to keep a business-critical app running with the risk associated with operating it on an unsupported version of Windows.

The experience is poor for the employee and for the customers, there are obvious risks of using outdated systems and nobody is using the modern, mobile computer systems that we’ve all come to expect with the consumerization of IT.

Why Retail IT is struggling

The problem exists because money and effort have been spent over many years to develop or implement these systems, but consumers are more discerning than ever before – we are all used to “click try buy” when shopping online, and struggle to understand why this experience doesn’t always translate when shopping in-store. It’s even more frustrating for me as I spend my days working with companies to resolve these issues. 

When you move existing software to Azure, or to newer versions of Windows, you can modernize existing environments and spend less time firefighting and more time focusing on things that will transform your business. Simple, isn't it?

Author: Martin Kirkby, Chief Evangelist, Cloudhouse Technologies

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Tags: Microsoft


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