— What does "digital transformation" mean to you?
— In short, this is the realization of the wishes of customers, taking into account the digitalization of the world. It is a set of technologies that allows a person to conveniently use our services. This transformation affects all internal business processes. We need to see – when, where, why, with what appeals the client addressed, how he was helped, what was done and respond accordingly, change their internal processes. This may be a reduction in the time of delivery of goods, the availability of drugs of one kind or another, convenience for website visitors, information content, the ability to pay / book a product of interest to the visitor. So there are a lot of changes.
— What tasks do you face as a CTO in the context of "digital transformation"?
— Building the right architecture for data flows, introducing new rules into existing processes, and changing the infrastructure of technical and software solutions.
— What are the main difficulties you face in the process of transformation?
— Not all processes can be easily changed for various reasons, including the high degree of formalization in all processes. Also, in connection with the pandemic, the requirements for the speed of change have become tougher.
— The pharmacy market is considered quite conservative.
— It is not as conservative as it seems. There are TOP-5 leaders who are changing things quite vigorously, forcing others to catch up with them. Over the past two years, several chains have accelerated their growth by being able to increase their online presence and expand offline with freed up space.
— How has the pandemic affected your business?
— The main challenge we faced during the pandemic was a high load on our company’s services (website, mobile app, courier delivery). The number of website visitors has tripled. This was caused by quarantine restrictions on the movement of buyers, which resulted in an increase in visitors to our website. Also, the requirements for the speed of updating information, such as the availability of goods in pharmaceutical markets and their display on the website, the availability of goods in the warehouses of suppliers, delivery and supply terms have also increased. We scaled quickly and were able to smooth the load on the infrastructure.
Another challenge is remote work. We have transferred 90% of the office staff, which is more than 300 people, into remote work mode. We had to organize access for everyone after a few days, to make sure that the equipment supported the applications. We revised some of the company's processes to meet the new realities of work.
— What innovations have been introduced under the influence of the pandemic?
— We launched a telegram bot for regional managers to visit retail outlets, and we switched to electronic document management with suppliers. Now we are developing a new website and finalizing the mobile application. E-commerce is a sensitive area. If you once tried to place an order, and you did not succeed, you may not come again. The cost of a mistake is high.
— What are the requirements for IT infrastructure in this context?
— Whatever happens, our outlets must work. Digital transformation makes us quite demanding on the bandwidth of the IT infrastructure, its speed and availability. A lot of information needs to be transmitted quickly and changes need to be introduced immediately. These are data exchange between systems, electronic correspondence, online conference calls, Internet traffic, data for analytics, financial documents. Accordingly, the main requirement of the infrastructure is the flexibility to take into account the expansion of the network. IT infrastructure must be ready to scale, both vertically and horizontally, without negatively impacting ongoing processes. It is also important for us to constantly monitor the indicators of the IT infrastructure and key processes.
Vadym Zaparovanyi, the Technical Director of Accord Group: “Indeed, constant monitoring of the infrastructure is an integral element of its functioning. Distributed systems with services located in the cloud, hosting providers, etc., the causes of a failure that affects the continuity of business processes can take more time than eliminating its causes.
One of the manifestations of this situation is senseless attempts to resolve the conflict of information systems at the level of the network infrastructure, while the cause of the problem is the program code. Unfortunately, in the current conditions of the “digital race”, companies developing business applications “for themselves” do not always have enough time for comprehensive software testing.
In this regard, Application Performance Monitoring and Network Performance Monitoring solutions that provide automated monitoring of the availability and status of devices and software allow you to understand the behavior of applications and devices at a deep level, significantly increase the speed of response to failures and, as a result, maintain business continuity.”
— How does your IT department interact with other departments?
— We have our own group of developers, our own software support group, service department. Developers use the Scram/Agile methodology in their work, which makes it possible for business units to see the progress of the assigned tasks transparently. The software support group and the service department use the ServiceDesk system, through which all departments see the processes and how things are going on their requests.
— What is your approach to the use of cloud technologies?
— The office, the website is on iron resources, that is, they are not in the cloud. We use cloud technologies to solve individual problems, calculate models. The decision to store everything in your private cloud, on your own servers, is about security and flexibility. If we have a server, then the reaction speed is much faster. We will be able to respond as quickly as possible if something goes wrong. Some will agree with me, and some will not. But this is the way we are developing for now.
— Do you use Big Data in your work?
— We use some methods and technologies of Big Data in the internal CRM system, in managing the range of retail outlets and evaluating proposed real estate for opening new outlets.
— What projects are you currently working on?
— We are updating the software at retail outlets, which allows us to get closer to the omni-channel business model. We are finalizing the pricing module, supply modules, procurement, price control, goods accounting and sales at retail outlets. We have our own software, which we are finalizing with partners.
— Was it historically, or why did you take the path of your own software?
— We chose the path ourselves, because at that moment there was no solution on the market that suited our tasks. Even the simplest things from the “two goods for the price of one” series were not implemented in solutions at that time, and the revision cost a lot of finances and developers' time. If you want fast and high quality, it will be very expensive. If you want fast and cheap, it will not always be of high quality. We took the path of our own development.
— What technologies will you invest in, what fronts will you cover?
— Today, the world of technology is a living and moving ecosystem. In the short term, we are investing in a full-fledged CRM and cybersecurity projects, and in the long term, this is a solution that will help us become a full-fledged omni-channel retailer.
Now we are considering some solutions based on SaaS technologies both for the retail network and for communications with our customers. This will allow us to get even closer to the transition from a multi-channel retailer to an omni-channel retailer. The medium-term goal is omni-channel, as an opportunity to provide the buyer with any convenient way not only to buy a product, but also to receive information about the product, promotional offer, preferential delivery terms and support/consultation.
And it is clear that without infrastructure, the transition to omniality will not happen. This is the basis that you need to be able to expand not only horizontally, but also vertically in order to store and process data and provide them in the right form. Therefore, in addition to developing our own software, we invest in hardware – servers, communication equipment.
In general, we are open to new things and are ready to invest in technologies, provided that they will meet our objectives.
You will also be interested to know how Accord Group helped XBank build an IT infrastructure that does not depend on external factors.