The cloud can provide great benefits and it can also present great challenges to achieve these benefits.  I will begin my discussion with the benefits in order to provide the encouragement to overcome the challenges.  In my opinion the greatest benefit the cloud provides is the platform to support your collaborative efforts across your partner network.  I think that this platform provides the basis for your successful collaboration across a far flung and wide ranging network of partners in the most cost effective, robust and secured manner.  I see that the majority of key benefits are extensions of the collaboration across your partners, including your customers. 

Cloud technologies and capabilities are generally accepted by all players in the retail supply chain, including the end consumer.  This has in fact become a part of the vocabulary that crosses over from consumer to supplier in your extended network.  The technologies that have been driving the consumer shopping demands and capabilities can also easily support the communication and collaboration across retailers’ extended supply chain.  So to re-iterated, the key benefit of the cloud boils down to a communication platform that can be extended across the entire partner and customer network.  This is in itself a critical benefit to your entire network providing the communication protocol, network for communication through the Internet, storage through shared cloud storage and shared services to support the needs of your extended network. 

All of your retail solutions and capabilities can be derived from this communication platform from consumer sales and shopping support to forecasting and planning to supplier coordination and most importantly the data sharing and big data analysis capabilities.  An important aspect of these capabilities and benefits is that they are agnostic to the size of any partners in the network.  What I mean by this is that the smallest small retailer can utilize the cloud capabilities and achieve the same benefits as the largest retailer.  This is very good for the small retailer and very intimidating and humbling for the larger retailers.  In the past, the largest retailers maintained a distinct advantage to utilizing technology over their smaller competitors.  With the explosion of cloud technology and capabilities this advantage has been eliminated.

Now small and large retailers and supply chain partners can utilize the same level of technology capabilities and this selection is based on the need and the objective rather than limited by funding and internal infrastructure.  The social and mobile technology in combination with cloud technology have leveled the business playing field in ways that are just now being explored.  There will be dramatic changes coming that will be driven by the small players taking advantage of these technologies.

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

ECommerce will have wide ranging impacts on both the retail and manufacturing sectors.  How can you focus these abilities to improve the consumer's experience?  Improving the consumer’s experience will require a re-evaluation of the sales channels, the manufacturing channels and practices and the supply chain channels and practices from the raw materials to the consumers’ homes.  In order to ensure and maintain success in this new reality you must harness the tools and capabilities in many new areas.  How can you support these continuously changing requirements?