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.
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.”