Post-pandemic, the dust has barely settled for retailers—and already, many have a growing problem on their hands. Decisive migrations to the cloud and rapid development of digital storefronts or applications may have kept retailers in the game for the past two years, but they’ve also created greater levels of complexity in every retailer’s digital environment. This complexity is now becoming harder to manage.

To make matters more interesting, customers now expect greater levels of convenience, seamlessness, and efficiency from their digital retail experience, forcing retailers to include even more technologies—and complexity—into their digital footprint. With mounting complexity closing in on all sides, how can retail IT teams retain control and keep their digital infrastructure from collapsing under its own weight? 

Lack of control from lack of visibility

Managing retail’s increasingly complex—and let’s face it, increasingly distributed—digital architecture without some measure of observability is like navigating through a dense jungle without a compass. It’s no longer uncommon for IT teams to find themselves managing a web of cloud-based microservices or containerised applications in tandem with a plethora of “as a service” solutions required to deliver today’s digital retail experiences. 

The complexity behind this cost-efficient and rapid approach stems primarily from the retail IT team’s lack of constant visibility into the internal states of these distributed solutions at any given time. And though one could request logs and data from vendors like AWS, the request process is—as most of us know—cumbersome and difficult. This delays performance analysis and makes troubleshooting impossible in the event of sudden issues or unexpected downtime.

Though they’re still essential, network monitoring solutions only allow retail IT teams to do so much with the data at hand. Monitoring can tell you where performance is lacking and can help you make inferences about the system. Observability tells you the why—using telemetry data like traceable logs and metrics—which allows you to act decisively. For digital retail experiences to remain seamless, monitoring and observability must go hand in hand.

The yin-yang balance of observability and monitoring  

Correlating this telemetry data with monitoring data paints a fuller picture of the end-to-end status or performance of your digital infrastructure. And this broad and deep visibility provides a huge range of benefits: 

  • Faster resolution times, as the root cause of technical or performance issues can be traced faster with root cause analysis of observability and monitoring data
  • Proactive remediation or mitigation of issues before they occur through observation and analysis of logs within your observability solution
  • Identification of redundant processes, unused resources, or technical bloat—once resolved, this can reduce complexity and streamline performance
  • Implementation of process automation only possible once IT teams have visibility into how internal processes interact and consistently create expected outcomes
  • Much less downtime and greater stability of services when the above benefits are in effect, which is crucial to a positive customer experience

Understanding how observability benefits the end customer experience gives retail IT teams the leverage they need to get leadership buy-in. The business case is simple: observability offers greater visibility and control over the complexity of existing retail infrastructure while providing retailers the stability—and confidence—to add new technologies, services, or solutions to keep the business at the forefront of the competition. 

Bringing observability into the fold 

IT teams could build their own observability tools, but most retailers stand to benefit from leveraging commercial observability solutions  built with the necessary functionality to get things going. It’s even better if there’s built-in integration with top network monitoring solutions, as this allows retail IT teams to waste no time and put analysis, diagnosis, and resolution workflows in place.

I’d personally recommend implementing both observability and monitoring solutions simultaneously so retail IT teams can immediately analyse existing data points and get a handle on the growing complexity of their architecture. If you already have a monitoring solution, get observability in place before procuring any more digital technologies—this is the only way to get ahead of the complexity curve.

Today’s retailers must make observability a priority. Customers are demanding more—augmented experiences, buy-now-pay-later options—which adds to the load already weighing down on IT’s shoulders. By having visibility and a fine handle on the state of their infrastructure, retailers can avoid crippling downtimes, provide new services, and better serve their customers, all of which is critical to keeping the business afloat in the crowded seas of the retail industry. 

Chrystal Taylor is Head Geek at SolarWinds.