Patrick Nester, team leader Retail Core
What exactly are the tasks of you and your team?
“We are working on the further development and improvement of our 'Retail Core' product. Our main focus is particularly on implementing or responding to the needs of our (potential) customers in the retail environment. When it comes to new features, we always evaluate which new technical options are available to us from our cloud platform providers such as Microsoft Azure. If necessary, we implement their new tech. In addition to our main task - the further development and improvement of soviaRetail Core - my team and I are also technically responsible for our two showrooms in Bietigheim-Bissingen and Munich as well as the trade fair system.
RetailCore covers a standard of different (technical) processes, which can then be adapted to special customer requests if necessary. "
What exactly is Retail Core?
“The 'Retail Core' product is a collection of various applications for the retail sector in their standard versions. In other words, the 'maximum set' of features that we can offer a potential customer. The applications are all interlinked. The retail core includes the soviaRetail Backstore (browser application), the InStore Assistant (mobile application), self service and self checkout, mobile checkout, the interactive shop window, the interactive fitting room and, of course, digital signage.
Most of the applications mentioned can be used independently - but do not have to. The interlinking of our applications in particular results in many advantages for the customer, for example the InStore Assistant in combination with digital signage: content from the InStore Assistant can be pushed onto signage devices. Or also using the example of Self Checkout and InStore Assistant: here the store staff can correct items scanned by the customer at the Self Checkout with the help of the ISA. "
What projects are you currently working on?
“We are currently working intensively on a new feature called the Communication Center. This is used to improve communication and collaboration within the team and across teams and branches. This involves a chat application that is integrated both in the InStore Assistant and in the soviaRetail Backstore. It enables employees to exchange ideas with one another - as is already known from common messenger services such as Microsoft Teams or WhatsApp. Text messages, pictures, videos, audio, or any documents can be sent. In addition, technical attachments such as an article or an outfit from the ISA can also be shared directly. Or references to processes such as orders, picking orders or shopping carts. In this way, tasks or technical information can easily be delegated or communicated to other colleagues.
Here, too, it is important that we take into account the ability to adapt to any customer projects right from the start. The colleagues from the customer project teams should, for example, be able to easily expand the share function with additional document types. "
Is the communication feature only intended for communication within the retail team, or also for chatting with end customers?
“Exactly, as of now it is only intended for internal communication. But it is also conceivable in the future that if someone talks to a chatbot on the retail customer's website, which at a certain point does not get any further, a new chat will be generated with a 'real person' who will then also be able to use this application functions."
That means, when you develop new products, are they always a bit of a custom product?
“When we develop, we try to be as flexible as possible and to make everything we do interchangeable as far as possible via configurations, or to make it configurable via the backstore. Of course, changes can only be implemented to a certain extent in this way. Basically, however, we try to design everything in such a way that it is later easy for the customer project team to overwrite or adapt modular components of a feature. "
Can you tell us about future projects?
“We're definitely not running out of work! There are some features that we would like to revise and renew. For example, the search function should be more efficient. Here we could use Azure Search, a service from Microsoft Azure. We are currently using it for the media search in the soviaRetail backstore, but not yet for the product search.
In the long term, the communication application could be expanded to include voice and video telephony.
We also want to address the issue of interfaces to other systems and develop standardized interface solutions ”.
What are the biggest challenges for you in a new project?
“You can't really say in general; for each project and each task the respective challenges are individual. However, what we always have to keep in mind for all new projects is the scope for possible customer adjustments. We can't 'lash everything down' from the start, but rather have to develop dynamically, flexibly, adaptably and / or interchangeably.
We always deal with the new features and technologies that Microsoft Azure provides. Microsoft has released Teams' base platform/engine for developers under the name 'Azure Communication Services' (ACS). We dealt with this very early on and got used to it, back then it was still in the beta version. At the beginning of the year, ACS went live with version 1.0, so we had already done the preparatory work and created a proof of concept.
However, dealing with new technologies is always part of the job of a developer. "
Do you work more independently or more closely with other (customer) teams?
“We basically work closely with the other teams. From the customer project teams, we mainly receive requests for improving existing features. Our sales team often approaches existing and potential customers at an early stage with new developments.
In principle, the feedback from the customer project teams always flows into our work. Features that were specially developed for a customer are then often adopted as the standard for Retail Core. That was the case, for example, with the omnichannel processes ”.
How do you differentiate yourself from the customer project teams?
“As part of product development, we take care of the standard, i.e. the 'template' for every new customer project. This means that we have to be very careful that if we change something in existing functions or the source code, these changes do not affect the customer systems.
With new releases, it is important to remember that we are not doing anything that would cause the customer project teams to have to manually intervene in their customer systems. This means that we cannot simply implement a new function that requires a customer system to be updated as a result. So we always have to have a fallback solution ready.
When developing new features, we are of course not focused on a specific customer, but rather on what all customers might need.
What all teams ultimately have in common, however, is to focus the needs of our customers. "
You haven't been a team leader that long. What is new for you in this position and why did you decide to take this step?
“Yes, I've been in the team leader role for about a year now. Not that much has changed for me, except that I'm in a few more meetings. As a result, the proportion of pure software development has naturally shrunk a bit for me, but that doesn't mean that I no longer develop at all; I still love doing that. Personnel responsibility and all related activities are also new. Otherwise, I'm the first point of contact for topics that come from other teams (sales, technology, marketing ...).
I took the step to become a team leader because I like to face new challenges and also like to take on responsibility "