Northgate Market implements open source for innovation

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As consumer trends and technology disrupt the retail industry, retailers constantly update and innovate to keep pace. But just as they deploy the latest app update or website functionality, there’s another right behind it. In an environment like this, legacy systems can be a liability — retailers need a flexible digital infrastructure that allows them to quickly innovate.

Northgate Market was founded in 1980 as a full-service supermarket that carries a sizeable selection of goods from Latin America. The company now has 40 stores in California and offers buy online, pick up in store and same-day grocery deliveries through Shipt.

Like many retailers, Northgate expanded its digital capabilities over the years as they came to market, adding new systems and applications on a project-by-project basis. The problem was, it often encountered “too many prerequisites” to innovate in a sustainable way, says Harrison Lewis, CIO of Northgate Gonzales LLC.

“We were just cobbling things together and it was problematic,” Lewis says. “While there may be some short-term gain in doing so, it really prohibited us from being able to grow sustainably and efficiently.”

Poor and slow performance often caused frustration among visitors; on the back end, it was cumbersome for web managers to add new food items on a timely basis and challenging to offer new services or scale into new markets. In addition, the limited capabilities of juggling multiple data systems made it almost impossible to create the truly seamless ordering experience Northgate was striving for.

The company wanted an infrastructure that could simultaneously manage data across all channels in a simpler and more efficient way. For example, digital assets and images were often truncated internally but needed directions, categorizations and departments for external, customer-facing applications. As the grocer had to rely on web vendors for even small changes, updating the website was a time-consuming and tedious task. The system also lacked robust analytics, which put Northgate at a disadvantage in trying to understand and optimize its web performance.

“We really needed an infrastructure to support our digital efforts, whether that was directed at the customer, our associates or our vendors,” Lewis says. “That all came down to management of our information and data.”

CONSOLIDATED PLATFORM

Many grocers are trying to increase their innovation and digital capabilities as online grocery shopping is projected to reach $100 billion by 2022, according to a report by Nielsen and the Food Marketing Institute.

Northgate looked to Pimcore, a fully consolidated digital experience platform that delivers a complete system for both data management and end user experience management.

“It’s all combined together in one single platform,” says CEO Shashin Shah. “We provide solutions for their digital platform initiatives, their scattered data and consolidate it all into a single repository and manage it with a seamless user experience across all channels.”

Pimcore’s system enabled Northgate to move all its data from its scattered legacy system to a cloud-based platform that keeps all data in one place, and the grocer has since realized many efficiencies in both the operations and maintenance of its systems. Market staff can now more easily implement updates on their own, and new food products can be brought to market much faster. The improved system also helped the retailer expand its global presence and services and scale into new markets, Lewis says.

The intuitive interface and simplicity lets Northgate deploy applications much faster than with the legacy system. “Everything we’re doing digitally is now leveraging this framework, and we’re delivering these things in two-month timeframes and doing it by way of script,” Lewis says.

Pimcore offers several data management products, including product information, master data, digital asset and customer data platform. The master data management capabilities enable enterprises to link all critical data to one master file that provides a common point of reference. The customer data platform can also store customer activities from different source systems, offering retailers a clean, consistent and united view of individual customers. “We provide all of these data analytics off it, which really gives deep insights to executives to make informed decisions,” Shah says.

FLEXIBILITY FOR THE FUTURE

Retailers must remain flexible with the ability to quickly launch new applications and software deployments, Shah says. Whereas in the past, retailers might survive by doing that on a monthly basis, many now make new software deployments and upgrades daily. “Having the ability within your business, as a platform, or the flexibility, to make those changes very quickly depending on trends is essential,” Shah says.

The benefit of open source framework is that retail developers can continually build upon new systems with ease. Many organizations are increasing their use of open source software to reduce development costs and time to market, increase interoperability and foster more continuous innovation. Unlike commercial software with proprietary developments, open source software makes source code publicly available, enabling users to create their own custom applications, Shah says.

While large solution providers have brought new value to the market, they’ve also left some customers with integration challenges and solutions that don’t exactly fit their needs, Shah says. “Many executives in retail and manufacturing say they want to do things but don’t know how because the solution provider says it’s not the right way or can’t be done,” he says.

Pimcore was founded on open source to give power back to the hands of integrators, software developers and decision makers who are implementing the applications, Shah says. They wanted a completely flexible approach, using a framework approach instead of a product approach, enabling end users to define what they want and how to implement it. Pimcore offers 70 percent of the solution and lets retailers “figure out and create” the remaining 30 percent to fit their needs, Shah says.

“Everything we do, we’ve just continued to leverage that framework and anything we’ve developed in the past. It allowed us to have significant speed at which we are able to deliver at low cost,” Lewis says.

In June, Northgate teamed up with Pimcore and SADA Systems to make a bigger leap into the cloud by migrating its on-premise servers to Google Cloud Platform. The move enabled the company to become more flexible, create a more scalable environment and eliminate multiple on-premise
data centers.

Craig Guillot is based in New Orleans and writes about retail, real estate, business and personal finance. Read more of his work at www.craigdguillot.com.

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