After completely overhauling its existing client side architecture with the Lightbend Reactive Platform, Tomax also built beautiful, highly responsive new User Experiences for unglamorous tasks like inventory management and shipping / receiving, creating a reactive experience from top to bottom.
Tomax Corporation offers a cloud-based Retail.net solution, an integrated, modular solution suite spanning retail activities including master data management, merchandising, operations, point-of-sale and workforce management. Representing over 50 retail chains with over 15,000 storefronts and millions of customers and store associates each month, Tomax provides the retail industry’s first and most advanced real-time, on-demand retail management software-as-a-service suite. Tomax also provides world-class services, ranging from custom development, consulting, and implementation through application management and hosting. Marquee retail customers include Hallmark, Party City, L.L. Bean, NAPA, and Benjamin Moore.
When Tomax Corporation launched Retail.net over a decade ago, it was the first technology and solutions provider to take the SaaS route and pursue a true demand-driven retail system that could scale up and scale down to meet the needs of shoppers, store associates and suppliers alike. “We have always aimed to abstract the cost and complexity from stores and move it to a central data center,” says Tomax CEO Eric Olafson. Tomax built its suite of software using Java as the primary language atop Oracle databases and J2EE application servers with little emphasis on handset operating systems like iOS and Android.
As the mobile revolution took the retail world by storm, Tomax realized it needed to revamp its core technology platform to deliver a far more flexible and extensible suite of offerings to keep customers happy. Retailers were rapidly moving away from purpose built POS and inventory management devices towards software built on standard smartphones and tablets. Shoppers, too, were increasingly accessing retailer’s systems, either in-store or outside, from mobile devices. Similarly, the rise of multi-channel retail, both as a sales channel and as a management and information vector, necessitated that Tomax rethink its core technology offering. “Retailers want to mobile-enable Bringing Reactive Applications to the Java Virtual Machine their store associates with point of sale, store operations and realtime information to improve customer service, increase average transaction, and boost productivity,” says Kathryn Murphy, VP of Strategy at Tomax. "Customers coming into the store expect the retailer knows about what they’ve been doing online – it’s the new normal."
At the same time, the mainstream adoption of cloud computing called into question the old enterprise practice of overprovisioning IT infrastructure to meet peak demand, which for retailers can be as much as 50x depending on seasonality. “We had a pod mentality. IT was usually on-premise or in physical machines at a data center,” says Virgil Fernandez, the CTO of Tomax. “We saw the future where our servers can be anywhere - it could be in Amazon, in our data center, or in various data centers geographically dispersed. And we needed to be able to auto-scale but still maintain PCI compliance.” Typical of this kind of peak volume is Party City, with incredible increased transactions at Halloween in 800 store, plus 400 pop-up stores to meet holiday demand.
Lastly, Tomax felt that it needed to take the next step up from Java and towards one of the newer programming languages better equipped to handle the massive concurrencies of mobile environments and the scaling flexibility required to properly leverage the new world of public, private and hybrid cloud computing.
We wanted a more modern language and framework built from the ground up for Reactive systems that made applications easier to scale while actually giving us better performance and speed.Scott LewisLead Architect at Tomax
In short, Tomax wanted:
- A mobile-ready stack that would deliver greater end-client flexibility and faster time-to-market for mobile deployments
- A better way to deliver multi-channel solutions that bridged various back-office siloes to create unified processes and views
- A lighter weight, more responsive infrastructure that could quickly scale up to meet peaks while maintaining PCI compliance regardless of geolocation or environment
- A Reactive environment to speed up development times and improve extensibility and modularity
Lewis and the Tomax technical team decided to narrow down their search to modern non-blocking programming languages that could more easily handle numerous simultaneous computing requests on a single machine, virtual or physical. They considered Node.js and Ruby, two popular alternatives but quickly focused on Lightbend’s Scala language. “Because Scala can run any Java code, we could easily repurpose or just reuse parts of our current code base. That would save a lot of time and effort,” says Lewis. Keeping the stack in the Java family, Lewis knew, would also be an easier sell to risk-averse retailers that were accustomed to and familiar with Java as a secure, enterprise-grade environment.
Lightbend's easy compatibility with diverse client-side environments, including iOS, Android, HTML5, and Windows, would effectively future-proof Tomax’s back-end software for years to come. Lewis and Fernandez also liked the Akka clustering technologies for the native capabilities to perform key cloud-related tasks such as autoscaling and load balancing. Akka’s robust fault tolerance and ability to quickly bring entire systems back up after a server crash, too, would provide Tomax customers peace of mind and near guaranteed IT operational continuity.
Tomax worked with Lightbend on a mobile platform product refactoring, which was largely completed after six months. The application revamp, too, gave Tomax a chance to completely overhaul not only its existing client side architecture but also to build beautiful, highly responsive new User Experiences even for unglamorous tasks like inventory management and shipping / receiving. The result?
- The new multi-channel solution built with Lightbend is not only better able to bridge silos but is also far more modular and easier to extend than existing Java code
- Tomax is now experimenting with Amazon public cloud computing for customers and is completely revising its infrastructure plans
- The shift to Reactive and non-blocking environments has allowed the Tomax coding team to change the way it builds apps and position the company for a future as an app platform open to multiple retail software and SaaS vendors.
Retailers are excited to switch from stranded single-purpose hardware to multi-channel, device agnostic retail management workflows. These will allow for more flexible associate behavior and move key tasks closer to end customers.
When associates check out customers in the aisles, the customers spend more money. The more adaptive store systems can be, both on the front and the backend, the more profitable the retailers can run. Lightbend is a key ingredient in making this happen.Eric OlafsonTomax CEO
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