Open Source key to customer experience in retail, claims experts

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Retailers struggling to deliver outstanding customer experience should be following examples set by the NHS and major retailer Fortnum and Mason, and investing in Open Source software, claims a series of experts.

The claim comes from Open Source specialist OpusVL and is backed up by Ewan Davis, a key figure in the NHS England Open Source Team, and one of the major partners involved in the NHS' adoption of Open Source Electronic Health Records (EHR). Both claim that the adoption of Open Source technology in retail, as already demonstrated by Fortnum and Mason, can significantly enhance customer service levels, boost online ecommerce conversions, and make retailers easier to engage with online than ever before.

Luxury retailer Fortnum and Mason recently invested in an open source ecommerce website and has since reported 20% more online visitors, and reduced its 20% basket abandon rate to zero since going live with the new system. However, despite Fortnum and Mason's success story, Open Source software is still not widely used in retail and Ewan Davis, who will be delivering the keynote speech in an event organised in Warwick by OpusVL later this month, said that retailers ought to be learning lessons from the NHS when it comes to Open Source adoption.

""If an organisation like the NHS can implement and benefit from Open Source software, then retail businesses ought to be considering it too.

"Functionally, it's very similar. The NHS has inventory to manage, supply and demand to fulfil, and the organisation has to respond quickly to patent demand every day. The NHS has viewed Open Source as a realistic alternative to proprietary software since 2013 and already there are a number of successful case studies. As a progressive industry, it's time more retailers started to embrace Open Source."

Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust, which runs a 700-bed hospital replaced its electronic patient records system with Open Source technology last year and Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS foundation trust in London has also created an open source electronic patient record system called OpenEyes, which has already been adopted by a handful of other trusts in England. OpenEyes has also been taken by Cardiff's NHS health board with an eye to adoption across Wales, demonstrating the widespread use of Open Source software in the NHS.

Andy Dyson, a large systems implementation specialist, who will also be delivering a talk at OpusVL's event for retailers on May 12, said that Open Source places control in the hands of the user, ensuring they are never outgrown by their IT, and this has been key to the NHS' adoption of the cutting edge technology.

"With Open Source, you are in control and can add additional modules and functionality on top of your base level system, as and when required. The code for Open Source software is not locked up, so systems can be adapted to suit the changing needs of a business, instead of a business adapting its processes to cater for its IT system. This has been key to the NHS' successful Open Source strategy and a key reason that the NHS is striving for 20% of its systems to be Open Source in the next few years. If it works for the NHS, it'll almost certainly work for retailers."

Stuart J Mackintosh, Director of Open Source specialist OpusVL, and a key figure across various community Open Source and Open Standards organisations, commented: "At a time when retailers are being forced to respond even more quickly to shoppers, it doesn't seem right that some organisations in this sector are being held back by proprietary software because it's expensive to customise, difficult to utilise fully, or too obstructive to operational processes. If an organsation as wide and complex as the NHS can increase efficiency and save money by utilising Open Source software, then retail businesses can certainly learn a lesson from their experience, and that's what our event will demonstrate."

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