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Brick and Mortar Meets Digital Target Modernizes Retail with Engaging Digital Experiences
Heather MickmanSr. Group Manager Enterprise Services and Integration1All attendees placed on mute
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2Digital Experiences with APIs
Hi - Im Heather Mickman. I lead the API program and Integration practice at Target. Ive been with Target for 8 years and have been in technology for my almost 20 years! I actually started my career at Accenture in their supply chain practice in SF and then in Chicago, so its kind of fun to be at an event with them today with other IT leaders in the Twin Cities!
Im going to talk about the work we have done over the past few years to build and scale an enterprise API platform and APIs to enable creating digital experiences for Target.
Im not going to spend time on the technical implementation details but will talk about the context of our need for APIs, the business drivers, and how we approached the solution and the keys to success for team to make this happen and whats next in 2015 because its going to be a big year for us.
I have the 2 folks that did the heavy lifting on our API platform with me today: Pete G and Danny. Im going to leave plenty of time for questions at the end but also feel free to ask questions as Im talking always more fun to be interactive.
So first, let me spend some time providing an overview of Target and our technology ecosystem. Then I will get into details on our API program.3
EXPANDmore stores, more technology
Target opened its first store that opened in 1962, and there are now more than 1800 stores in 2 countries and headquarters locations around the world, from Minnesota to Bangalore. London and even Cairo. We also have more than 40 distribution centers and are the 2nd largest importer in the US.
Target has also added new businesses to core retail over the years adding: banking, pharmacy, and health care.
At Target we call our customers our guests. You will hear me refer to our guests many times today: Target is committed to always providing an exceptional and delightful experiences to each and every guest.
Targets growth in stores and businesses over the past 50 years led to a large [Technology Footprint]
TECHNOLOGY FOOTPRINTa bit bigger than this guyshttps://flic.kr/p/gaYY1KIm sure Im sure most of you have seen Targets in-store technology: Cash registers, price checkers, the handheld devices used by team members to restock shelves, the new gift registry iPads, Guest WiFi that makes it easy to use the Cartwheel app on your mobile phone. Technology enables so much of store operations, that if there is any kind of technology outage, it is more efficient for the team members to wait for the issue to be resolved vs. manually stocking shelves or placing replenishment orders.Even with that much technology in our stores, there is even more technology behind the scenes from the:the applications that makes sure the Distribution Center is getting the right inventory to the right store at the right timethe servers in our Data Centers. Target.com and our Guest facing mobile appsthe phone systems in our Guest Contact CenterYou get it right: it takes a lot of technology to run a modern retailing company
You might also imagine that as Target has grown over the past 50 years, our technology footprint expanded. Which means increasing [Complexity]5
COMPLEXITYwhich gold gear did you say?https://flic.kr/p/KikA9As the technology footprint expanded, the number of applications continued to increase, the number of technologies and tools grew, our infrastructure has expanded our technical debt increased and increased.So to keep up with that complexity, we added process and organizational [Structure]6
STRUCTUREwe list of nearby stores with invAdd to List -> RegistryProfile / Login
Makes sense of course, right?!? It's been really exciting to be leading this effort for one of the worlds largest retailers! I have learned so much in the past 2.5 years and its been a journey with a lot of different roadblocks and barriers to work through.
While we were building and exposing APIs, we were also blazing the path on new technologies and how to do technology work in Targets large enterprise IT shop. It became clear early on that we wouldnt be successful using the traditional technology and implementation patterns. We were talking about: Agile, not waterfallSmaller, more frequent releasesAutomating all of the thingsContinuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and of courseDevOps But before I dive into those details, lets first touch on some of the important technology choices we made to create a resilient, scalable, platform:14
ChallengesAnd Barriers with Existing ToolsChallenges:- Slow providing systems- Cost prohibitive to call directly- Unable to scale from increased demand- Need a place to aggregate data from multiple systems- Some data wasnt even in a database to begin with
Barriers with Existing ToolsCostProcess for traditional DBs was not a fitToo few tools/vendors
Barriers with Existing ToolsRDBMS isnt:Distributed (Multi-Tenant)Close to Guests (geographic distribution)Distributed across our data centersDistributed to the Cloud!
Barriers with Existing ToolsLack of performance controlProcess, not owning it all, flexibility on changes like indexing, etc.AvailabilitySystems before had outages, downtime, etc.Not Automate-able
First, we use Cassandra as our data platform. This was the first implementation of distributed NoSQL datastore at Target and we really had to sell it and convince folks in the org that it was the right technology for our use case. Cassandra was still a relatively new technology and in 2013 there werent many large enterprises using it or many people that had experience with it.
Lots of the providing systems we needed to call were slow, unable to scale, and some of the data we needed wasnt even in a database. Our NFRs are in milliseconds with projected TPS volumes in the thousands. Cassandra has worked really well providing the scale and distribution we needed for our APIs.
Open source matters to us we are shifting away from blackbox tools and technologies so we can be part of the community and contribute back. In fact we recently open sourced a chef cookbook that we use to automate deployments because Cassandra has been pretty easy to automate you can check that out on our blog (target.github.io).
It was appealing to step into using Cassandra leveraging the enterprise resources from Datastax. This also helped to gain buy-in across the IT organization. There is still some trepidation about using open source technologies and having the vendor support from a professional services and support perspective has been helpful to ease these concerns. We were able to move from decision to production in less than 3 months which is pretty impressive.19
Why Cassandra was attractive?Fit 80% of our needYears in developmentRich Cassandra dev. ecosystemGoogle-able (open-source resources)
Why Cassandra was attractive?Strong communityA company who would support itAligned well with existing investmentsSimple pricing model
I mentioned the legacy technologies we have at Target we have a number of core systems on the mainframe so we had to do a lot of complex integrations to expose that data and move into Cassandra. In fact, there 10-12 key legacy systems with data like products, pricing, inventory that we needed to integrate with.
I imagine that many people in this room have the same challenge?? This actually turned out to be one of the biggest challenges for our API program maybe predictable? But I know many people are surprised by this.
Camel turned out to work really well for these it took some practice, but became very powerful. We also really liked it because its code and testable and not a GUI!
There is sometimes a tendency in large Enterprise IT shops to rely on GUI based drag/drop integration tools and so this was a deviation from the standard patterns but was another of many ways my team pushed change and drove a more modern approach to development.
At the core of being successful with many of more modern, open sourced, technologies was building an empowered team with strong engineering and sw development skills. I could go one and one about the importance of this, but have summed up the approach Ive taken with my team to. 22
I mentioned that our team was the first to pioneer a couple different technologies in a large enterprise IT shop we were also the first to embrace a DevOps culture, full stack ownership, and CI/CD.
This has been essential to a lot of our success in addition to setting the standard for how software development is done across the organization. I find myself spending as much time evangelizing APIs as I do DevOps and CI/CD.
We use a pretty standard toolchain: using Git, Jenkins, Artifactory, Chef, and Open Stack. Its really exciting to see the adoption of these approaches across the broader org.23CassandraThe backbone of the Target APIAutomationMulti-Data Center ReplicationLinear, Predictable ScaleOur entire stack is automated with Chef including Cassandra. Managing everything with code is important to us especially as we continue to scale and grow. Were able to easily and predictably scale because of this automation and the technologies we use.
In retail, we see our volumes for our API platform increase more than 10x during our peak season which starts on Thanksgiving / Black Friday. And you can imagine that our bus