Modernizing our IT Environment at Target

Through a new approach to technology and IT culture

In 2014, I worked on a project to build out a system to provide new business capabilities for our Marketing and Digital spaces. This initiative was not unlike other initiatives we undertake at Target, but it provides a great example of the importance of us investing in an effort to modernize the way we operate, the technology stacks we use and the way we think about systems and systems architecture.

The project took in data in near real-time from multiple systems, processed the data and exposed it to consumers. The closer we came to real-time data the larger the benefit to our guests. There was only one problem – we had to keep one of our current systems running in parallel prior to switching on the new capabilities.

In this scenario, there were a couple of key frustrations I experienced which are symbolic of what is driving our need to modernize:

  1. 75% of the time spent on the project was integration with systems which would be shut off shortly after we went live.
  2. The estimate for integration work with legacy systems was enough work to keep 34 full-time workers busy for an entire year.
  3. The majority of the processing for this system was in a distributed environment, standing up the environment took over 20 weeks.
  4. The data which would be exposed through this system would be 24 hours old due to limitations of the providing systems.
  5. Every time we went through a release, we would initiate a fully manual testing process which spanned six weeks.
  6. Decision making for this effort spanned over eight teams and four different organizations.

From what I have seen, Target is not that different from the majority of large enterprises which have been in business for half a century. We have grown over time, transitioning from one technology paradigm to the next, adding more and more technology debt into our environment as we move quickly to provide business value to our internal business partners and our guests.

I assume we are faced with the same pressures as other large enterprises: do more with less and do it faster. We also need to adapt to a changing retail climate driven to multiple channels of interaction and increased expectations from our more digitally aware guests.

And while we are trying to do more with less, we also have to ensure we do not interrupt the wealth of technology debt which exists from decisions which were made over the past 50 years.

Key Shifts We Are Making

Over the past six months the technical community at Target spent time defining what a Modernized IT environment at Target looks like and what cultural and technology shifts will have to be made to move us forward with IT being a major enabler of our future corporate strategies.

Some of the key shifts which we have started to make include:

  1. Moving from an environment of highly centralized, highly shared and largely batch-oriented integration platforms to a more distributed, real-time, event-based patterns and implementations.
  2. Moving from a tightly-coupled application architecture to a service-based, loosely-coupled architecture.
  3. Moving our Business Intelligence and Warehousing investments from delivering reports to business users to an environment focused on developing advanced analytics into our core operational systems to take real-time actions driven by software.
  4. Moving from an IT organization which is highly siloed (App Dev vs. Infrastructure) into a delivery model which embraces dev ops, continuous integration/continuous deployment and Infrastructure as code.
  5. Driving all team members to a greater engineering focus.
  6. Specifically focusing on building a more agile technology organization.
  7. Streamlined accountability and ownership clearly identified and enabled in “full-stack” ownership teams.

We have started moving

As a start we have shaped the future state, identified initial high-priority technology investments which need to be made, secured funding and have mobilized team members to begin creating the Target IT world of tomorrow. Some of the key technology investments we have started and are accelerating include:

  1. Kafka
  2. Storm
  3. Spark
  4. Hadoop
  5. Cassandra

As you can see by the key shifts outlined above, this is as much a cultural change as it is a technology change.

The time is now to drive Target into the future omnichannel retailer through heavy reliance on technology. Our Modernization efforts have already become a core part of the bet Target is making in the future. Our guests will be at the center of this transformation and we will be totally transforming our half a century of technology debt through the use of new technologies and a new delivery model, heavily based on open source technologies and a dev ops cultural mindset.

Watch for more posts on this as we progress. We plan to share what we are doing and what we are learning along the way.