To thrill its customers with better experiences, Zulily built a Big Data-crunching machine on Google Cloud Platform, says Vice President of Technology Bindu Thota.

Innovation, Efficiency, Service and Sales: How 3 Businesses Got There with Cloud

From G Suite to Azure, businesses discover ways to drive innovation, efficiency, service and sales.

Online retailer Zulily provides millions of customers a unique, personalized online shopping experience daily — and it couldn’t do it without the cloud.

The Seattle-based company, best known for its 72-hour flash sales, introduces thousands of new products every day, from clothing, shoes and toys to home decor and pet products. To make shopping fun and relevant, Zulily uses real-time data analytics and machine learning algorithms in the public cloud to constantly refresh and tailor its store for each customer’s buying and browsing preferences.

The company crunches data on a platform system its IT team built on Google Cloud Platform.

“It’s a Big Data problem,” says Bindu Thota, Zulily’s vice president of technology. “We don’t want to overwhelm customers, but how do we show what’s most meaningful to them? It’s not like customers will wait 10 minutes while we try to do this. We have to have s­ervices run at high scale and low latency, so we can immediately show customers what is most meaningful to them. That’s the power of the platform we built, and the cloud enables that.”

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Businesses work in the cloud every day, using it as a platform for everything from delivering innovative new services to managing back-office operations. Through cloud services, companies of all sizes and from all industries can achieve business goals that would otherwise be much harder to accomplish.

The cloud enables businesses to deliver better services and manage business functions more efficiently, while increasing worker productivity and cutting costs. But it also allows companies to get creative and become more innovative by redefining their business pr­ocesses, analysts say.

“It allows companies to shift into a new model. They can rethink what they’ve been doing and leverage the properties of cloud computing — the flexibility, the automation — to build new processes,” says Seth Robinson, senior director of technology analysis at CompTIA. “Companies can really transform themselves.” Starting in 2014, Zulily migrated from a private cloud to the public cloud over a two-year period. The 9-year-old company owns some infrastructure in-house at the edge of its networks, such as its fulfillment centers, but nearly every workload runs across multiple public cloud providers, Thota says.

Zulily uses Google Cloud for most of its data processing and analytics. It takes data from all its services — such as products that went live on the site today, prices for each product, customer purchases and shipping data, as well as customers’ preferences — and moves it to a centralized data platform on Google Cloud.

“We have a centralized data pipeline, a platform that takes data from each one of these sources and then brings it to a central location,” she says. “Then we add a lot of ‘smartness’ on top of it to make meaningful sense of the data for the business.”

 Bindu Thota
“We have to have se­rvices run at high scale and low latency, so we can immediately show customers what is most meaningful to them. That’s the power of the platform we built, and the cloud enables that.”

Bindu Thota Vice President of Technology, Zulily

Cloud Enables Deep Insights Via Analytics

Besides personalizing Zulily’s mobile app, web storefront and daily emails for each customer, the technology also delivers business insights to the company’s leaders. Zulily’s staff and vendors can view sales data in real time, allowing them to add more inventory for popular items to further boost sales.

“Our employees and vendors have visibility into what is selling out,” Thota explains. “If vendors have more inventory, they can quickly, in real time, add more inventory, and suddenly we are serving our customers’ needs even better.”

The cloud enables Zulily to stay agile, flexible and on the cutting edge, Thota says. The company simply could not run the tech infrastructure in-house because it would not be cost-effective or the best use of the IT staff’s time, she says.

Instead of having to internally maintain server and storage capacity at peak loads all the time, the company can use the cloud to scale up and down instantaneously as demand changes.

“The scale at which we do this — the millions of customers that we personalize, the pricing model and making sure we have the best prices and deals — all of it requires us to be innovative. And the cloud platforms empower us to do all these things,” she says.

SEE MORE: The Google Cloud Platform is evolving to meet the needs and demands of modern business.

Cloud Offers Brooks Running a Better Way to Run

Seattle-based shoe and apparel manufacturer Brooks Running has used Microsoft Azure to build a mobile app that recommends to customers the best footwear to fit their individual running styles. Run Signature differentiates the company from the competition, says Mark McKelvey, Brooks Running’s vice president of IT. The app, which runs on an iPad device, is used by the company’s tech representatives, who meet with customers at stores and at special events like marathons.

“We want to improve the comfort and performance of runners, not by fixing any flaws, but by understanding how runners run and providing them the footwear that supports their preferred motion path,” he says.

The app uses research performed by the company’s biomechanics team. Customers run on a treadmill, and the iPad device analyzes their running styles, taking into account preferences such as a more cushioned feel or a more lightweight experience, and then it makes shoe recommendations.

Each customer’s anonymized running data is uploaded to Azure, providing the company’s biomechanics team with more information to analyze so they can advance the science and improve the app’s recommendations, he says.

“It’s become a large science experiment where we continue to do research with runners around the world,” McKelvey says.

Meanwhile, Brooks Running has eliminated all its data centers and has gone all-in on cloud, allowing it to more cost-effectively manage IT operations. Since McKelvey joined the company four years ago, the IT staff has grown from 20 to 50 people. But he’s been able to keep the infrastructure team small.

“The growth in staff is around adding new business capabilities,” he says. “We are not growing our number of server and network engineers. We can keep that team small because we are leveraging cloud technologies.”

Nadeem Muhammed

Real estate brokerage firm F.C. Tucker Company wows prospects with custom-made marketing materials to sell their homes — built in just moments in the cloud, says Nadeem Muhammed, Vice President of Digital Marketing and Technologies.

Stability Brought by Cloud Services Changes the Conversation at Work

With 56 offices and 10 franchises, F.C. Tucker Company is Indiana’s largest independent real estate brokerage firm. But competition is fierce. And to stay a step ahead, the company recently turned to the cloud. It was previously suffering from a raft of inefficiencies: Email was unreliable for employees, as its in-house Exchange server endured regular outages. And file access was inconvenient, with agents forced to use a VPN whenever they worked remotely.

When Nadeem Muhammed joined the Indianapolis-based company more than two years ago as its vice president of digital marketing and technologies, he replaced the in-house file and email servers with Google G Suite — and it’s transformed the way the business operates. The cloud productivity suite not only improves collaboration and file access, it has allowed the company to better manage workflow and improve its services. That, in turn, allows the company’s 2,000 employees to win more business and increase profits, says Muhammed.

“It has become a more collaborative environment. We’re serving our customers faster and better,” he says. For example, agents and office staff are taking advantage of file sharing on Google Drive to impress clients and attract new ones.

When listing agents visit people selling their homes and want to win their business, they take photos of the houses and upload them to Google Drive. Office staff can then download the pictures and quickly design flyers and brochures that can be used to market the property. Agents can easily access the documents in the cloud and show the homeowners the customized marketing materials on the spot.

“It’s impressive for agents to show how the brochures and flyers will look while they are there,” Muhammed says. “It shows the value we can provide, and it gives homeowners a good visual to make a decision about whether our agents are right for them.”

Instead of purchasing separate software, the marketing department recently combined Google Forms and Google Sheets to create an in-house ticketing system that enables staff members to track and manage marketing requests.

“People are using it to its full potential,” Muhammed says. “Today, the conversation is no longer ‘Is my email up or not?’ Now, it’s ‘What can we do better?’ and ‘How can we do things more effectively with G Suite?’”

Photography By Daniel Shapiro; Chris Bucher
Aug 30 2019

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