Retrospective: 15 years’ innovation at the Netherlands’ best-known supermarket chainPublished on: Author: Ronald Bakker Category: News
In 2006, I was the first Qualogy consultant at the Netherlands’ best-known chain of supermarkets. I entered as Java Developer for the team working on the website for online orders. Fifteen years later and I am working with some 40 Qualogy colleagues on a range of assignments for this appealing client. A good opportunity to reflect on the last 15 years.
As mentioned, my first assignment was on the website for online orders. I was lucky enough to get on the team building the new version of the website, which used the Fredhopper system to manage the online product range. The page was also given a fresh look and feel. It was a fantastic challenge.
The IT organization in 2006
Fifteen years ago, the IT organization was totally different to today’s. The website was an independent organization within the company, and I had very little to do with the other IT departments. Because of our expertise, my colleagues and I were also responsible for the technical side of the corporate website. The department consisted of five Oracle PL/SQL-developers, 2 Java developers, and they insourced a front-ender. In terms of Java, there was next to nothing at this stage, not even a version management system. Everything until that point had been largely set up by the Java developer already there.
The 2006 tech stack
The tech stack was also significantly less professional. The website’s logic was primarily embedded in Oracle PL/SQL. There was an adjacent Java layer and a front-end layer in front of that. The Java layer was written on a self-made framework.
In comparison to today: we use Spring Boot on the Java side, which is deployed with Kubernetes in the Azure cloud. We are also increasingly using Kotlin instead of Java.
I worked for the supermarket chain at two stages: from 2006 up to 2016 and from October 2020 until now. I am delighted to be back. Throughout the years, I worked on various projects, including:
- The development of a recipe search engine.
- Single sign-on between an old and a new environment.
- Development of an online wine shop.
- Development of the mobile app.
- Transition from the old to the new environment, including decommissioning the old environment.
- The new recipe website with app.
At the moment, I am working on the digital assistant and on track & trace push notifications for online orders.
The growth of the brand
The supermarket chain has grown significantly over the last 15 years. In the early days, the turnover in online orders doubled a number of times. And I suspect that has happened a few times since. The delivery area has also expanded from the urban setting to almost the entire Netherlands. Moreover, even customer service is now being automated with a digital chatbot. And of course, there are several new mobile apps, of which the online shop app is the most important.
Highlights and challenges
I remember several milestones. Around Christmas time in 2006, for example, when all of a sudden it seemed as if the whole of the Netherland visited our online shop looking for recipes. Before we knew what was happening, we had more than a million hits per day. And that in a country with just 17 million people. On Christmas Day itself, the site was so busy that it went down once an hour. We hadn’t expected that sort of traffic at all! Fortunately, we were prepared for the rush in 2007 and the site stayed online.
I have always loved working on one of the most-visited websites in the Netherlands, as it’s always a great challenge keeping a site with that number of visitors technically feasible. We faced a similar issue with visitor numbers during the first lockdown. Suddenly, the whole country was shopping online. Keeping everything up and running under those circumstances is an amazing feeling.
The online shopping app is also a highlight. It was one of the first apps in the Netherlands, and before we knew it, everyone was walking around the supermarket with their mobile phone. It was really practical, as you could use the app to organize your shopping list in the walking order of your local supermarket.
The future of shopping
This year, the list of top ten shops in the Netherlands included four supermarkets. That’s certainly a reflection of supermarkets’ prominence, and the degree to which the Dutch appreciate them. In the cities, there is also an increasing number of small players who will very quickly deliver your sopping by bike. I think this is set to increase over the coming years. Lots of people are going to realize that you can save a lot of time by ordering online. All you have to do is to create your shopping list, pay online and wait for your delivery. Practical! I also think more and more is going to be automated, including the distribution centers and the delivery process.
The challenges for IT
More and more people are ordering online, and there are more and more competitors on the market. Everyone is going to want to grow. And that means being able to easily upscale. Automation is important for keeping the costs down. And that’s going to take all sorts of AI techniques, such as robots in the distribution centers and the digital chatbot. OF course, it’s also great if you can include new features that the competitor doesn’t have yet. Ongoing innovation is essential.
The role of Qualogy
Qualogy is a great fit for this supermarket chain because Qualogy understands Oracle. Oracle is still the company’s backbone. We’re also very strong in Java, which has proven to be the most robust and scalable programming language for building the backend. Qualogy has a large Java community in which everyone keeps everyone else up to date with respect to the latest knowledge and developments. We have a lunch session every two weeks in which we hold presentations for one another. Externals also present their knowhow. We subsequently share that knowledge with our customers. As the icing on the cake, we also have an AI section and understand the front-end, for the cool new features.
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