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How Nike thinks about app development: Lots of micro services

Nike's plan: Build a series of services that do little things like checkout and reading data and then bring them together into larger apps that'll be easier to tweak in the future.

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LAS VEGAS — Nike's Jason Robey, director of database and data services, is thinking small when it comes to apps. Like micro services small. Like building services that only do one thing whether it be checkout, track activity or simply read data.

The company, an athletic clothing and shoe giant, has become a digital brand via its apps for athletes and their passions: Golf, running and soccer. Robey's job: Make sure the apps deliver a good experience and build Nike's brand.

Enter micro services

Nike is breaking down all the parts of its apps to crate building blocks that can be reused and tweaked as needed. There's also a redundancy benefit: Should one micro service fail the other ones will work in the app.

"We're not looking to write some ginormous app," explained Robey at Amazon Web Services' re:Invent 2014 conference this week. Nike plans to roll out micro services in the months ahead and then retrofit previous efforts with the same architecture.

Nike's software development journey started in 2011 when the company realized it had to become digital. It launched its Fuel Band, a popular wearable that has been discontinued. The app that supported it lives on.

By building composite apps on Amazon Web Services, Robey says Nike can iterate faster. Nike also adopted Netflix's operations support systems (OSS) stack as an architecture and deployment model. The micro service and OSS approaches will power Nike Digital sites including commerce, sport and brand.

As for the return on investment due to the micro services approach, Robey is in a nice position. He's "disconnected from dollars," but does get graded on app ratings, usage and overall impact on the brand. In other words, Robey's focus is just creating a good experience with his stable of mostly iOS-first apps.

"Our apps can have a big impact on the consumer experience. Athletes want an app that just gets the job done so they can get out," said Robey.

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