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‘Tis the Season for Automation as Retail Sales Pump Problems in IT Systems 

Written By Holly Pennebaker
Dec 19, 2023

December: The month that breaks the internet Every. Single. Year.  

An exponential increase in sales likely tops any retailer’s holiday gift wish list. And while more revenue is never a bad thing, chances are, your IT team could use some extra cheer to keep their spirits bright. Shoppers are going to shop 24/7, and the gift-giving boom can easily overwhelm your IT systems and processes.  

Managing inventory and online systems (from large shops and small), order processing, HR tasks related to seasonal employees and more transform work that’s challenging for IT teams into an impossible feat. This season can be the most wonderful time of the year for IT, despite how tough things might seem, with just the right amount of innovative, strategic automation to package up tasks and processes, and wrap them with a big, shiny bow. 

Meeting Demands for Instant Gratification 

No customer, no matter what month it is, will put up with wrenches in the system, unavailability, or wait times. They want to get online, and after a simple search, go through as few steps as possible to complete the transaction and get the job done. Too much disruption in their plans equates to losses for the business, as they’re too likely to leave the sale incomplete or seek another company who can better serve them.  

Online holiday shopping lists of all shapes and sizes multiply the workload for IT teams responsible for managing a spiked volume of alerts and incidents produced by various retail systems. And today, IT must perform with the highest level of efficiency to avoid falling short of the competition.  

SEE MORE: How AIOps and ITPA Streamline Retail Operations: A Real-world Example 

And we mustn’t forget the lasting pandemic impacts that continue to reshape shopping behaviors. A lot of people with safety concerns stopped shopping in-store and never looked back – a seemingly overnight transition that forced IT to get digitally mature, to help drive employee and customer safety. 

The more shopping the merrier might sound like an ideal mantra for retailers this time of year, but the increase in purchases and other online activity keeps IT infrastructure, application development, and services teams very much so on their feet. The holiday shopping boom sends tons of areas on overdrive, including servers, troubleshooting, web and mobile app development, site reliability engineering (SRE), customer facing issues, and much more.  

Photo courtesy John Schnobrich via Unsplash
Photo courtesy John Schnobrich via Unsplash

Let’s Talk Top Challenges Happening Now 

Resolve gets what it’s like to be in the IT department during the holiday shopping season. Not only does IT become an even more important foundation for organizational and business support, but they must get proactive and ahead of any balls that might drop. The following challenges are especially troublesome right now.  

Root Cause Analysis (RCA): Who Dunnit and Why? 

It’s a step beyond problem solving. RCA leads to learning what factors caused the IT incident, and it ensures the problem doesn’t happen again. RCA helps IT understand why a certain system runs a certain way at a given point in time, or why it’s outperforming comparable systems. At the end of the day, RCA reduces risk for the overall organization.  

Increased online activity during the holidays can mean site reliability is more difficult to sustain, as server volume also spikes. With some retailers having an enormous number of servers, they likely don’t have enough site reliability engineers (SREs) needed to manage and maintain them. An SRE might find an issue that needs attention, and they’ll likely respond by resetting the server. But that’s the thing – the reactive approach doesn’t meet the holiday season’s reliability demands, and SREs have to worry about future issues going forward.  

EXPLORE: IT Automation Powers SRE Practices as System Complexity, Consumer Demands Grow 

RCA can feel like a time-consuming chore for IT despite how necessary it is for continuous IT operations. It’s important to remember that RCA focuses on the incident’s cause rather than its symptoms and that it significantly lowers costs and time spent by catching problems early.  

Incident Detection: The Sooner the Better 

Data, alerts, and incidents soar in retail during the holidays, with efficiency out of sight. To say that humans sans tech can’t keep pace is an understatement, as mean time to resolution (MTTR) and customer impact can really take a hit.  

Disruptions are bound to happen as consumer demands rise and get tougher to meet. The leap retail activity takes during the holidays can cause incidents that harm the business, if not put it in jeopardy. It’s especially important when business continuity has an even greater focus than usual. Resolve’s recent white paper revealed the top 10 incident management challenges, as listed below.  

  • Incident escalation is costly. 
  • Incident resolution takes a lot of time, damaging the customer experience.  
  • Increased event noise causes missed alerts and operational inefficiencies.  
  • Some events have a larger impact on the business than others.   
  • Labor and costs reduction is required despite having to manage a growing network with fewer resources.  
  • Supporting network growth demands and product expansion, while struggling to meet existing SLAs, gets more difficult.  
  • Decreasing customer satisfaction causes unsettling churn within the organization.   
  • Deviating, confusing incident response processes can equate to poor customer satisfaction.   
  • Customer service complaints related to inconsistent incident response reduces employee morale  
  • Managing data from multiple systems creates inefficiencies  

Left-shift: Movement to Refine the Customer Experience 

Service desks run wild this time of year, making a left-shift strategy invaluable for optimizing them. The more repetitive tasks humans have to do, the more likely human error becomes. 

It might be tricky to overcome the mindset that complex processes shouldn’t be escalated from L1 IT service management (ITSM) teams to L2 or L3, but in fact, L1’s technical knowledge is limited compared to higher levels. Left-shifting, strategically speaking, improves IT delivery and support, producing faster incident and service request resolution, reduced costs, well-used scarce technical knowledge and capabilities, and a better employee and customer experience.  

But a left-shift strategy of moving incidents to the lower support tier, that can result in self-service efficacy and efficiency, is not without a couple barriers.  

During the holidays, it’s hard to find time to implement a new strategy thanks to an unusually high volume of service desk requests. IT is in consistent alert-fighting mode that demands (at least) 100 percent of their attention.  

Cost concerns also stand in the way of left-shift initiatives. Leaders assume it’s expensive and that it will require too many resources. They maintain a reactive approach that can’t take on proactive activities like running analyses, taking preventative action, or completing post-incident reviews.  

Adding Automation to Your Shopping Cart 

Quickly get a handle on IT-related problems caused by increased holiday activity with automation to suit your needs and address the season’s pain points. The breakdown below explains how automation brings much more cheer to IT teams.  

Human Error: A Lot Lower than Before 

When IT automation takes on a higher rate of repetitive tasks, the need for manual, human intervention significantly drops and human errors are far less likely to occur. It means there’s more accuracy and consistency in your IT operations without the worry of mistakes, along with greater efficiency across processes.  

The holiday season brings with it larger data sets and more complex data. Automation steps in to identify potentially bad data and notify the right team, while also correcting it or removing it, and improving data quality. By reducing the risks of human errors, automation improves operational efficiency, boosts productivity, and increases revenue.  

Cloud Sprawl: Gain Control with Minimal Effort  

Crowd sprawl is the uncontrolled expansion of your organization’s cloud instances, services or providers. It happens when there’s a lack of visibility into or control over its cloud computing resources. Even though it’s not supposed to occur, rapid growth of your cloud services and resources can put crowd sprawl into motion.  

An underscoring of cloud visibility and governance, a full understanding of your cloud landscape, and solid grasp on your services and resources and their usages all make up an ideal first step toward managing crowd sprawl.  

Automation takes crowd sprawl control several steps forward by monitoring and controlling cloud usage. Automation provides IT teams with an exhaustive visibility of your cloud environment, tracks usage patterns, produces alerts and reports on cloud usage anomalies, finds redundant or idle resources, and enforces compliance with preset policies. 

Automation is the key to get prepared for the jingle bell rocking sales increase, allowing retailers and their IT teams to have a fun-filled, stress-free holiday season. The gift that keeps on giving, automation will carry you into a very happy new year, too.

Connect with Resolve’s automation experts for help getting started or building on the automations you already have. 

About the author, Holly Pennebaker:

About the author, Holly Pennebaker:

Writer and Editor

Holly is an award-winning writer, editor, and storyteller with 16 years of experience in newsrooms and B2B companies. She's produced and managed content including public-facing news, podcasts, newsletters, guides, blogs, webinars, research reports, e-books and social media in fast-paced, deadline-driven environments, focusing on accuracy, ethics, and strategic style. Beginning her career as a production at NBC Chicago, Holly broke the sentencing of former Ill. Governor Rod Blagojevich. Next, she moved to Atlanta to work as a web producer at WXIA-TV (NBC) and covered all things news, including the Boston Marathon bombings, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, and she interviewed Ludacris at a music festival. Holly's next move was to Cincinnati, Ohio, to work as the health and fitness producer at WCPO-TV (ABC) and help roll out the first-ever premium subscription service for a TV station's digital platform. She exited the journalism industry a few years after and entered human capital, talent management, and business leadership education. Now Resolve's writer and editor, Holly is passionate about reaching others with content that enables decision making, provides education and empowerment, and makes a valuable difference.