Toshiba's new commerce platform targets retailers with 30 microservices and 400 APIs

Toshiba wants to help the survivors in the retail industry to quickly add new IT services in response to COVID-19 market changes and have the technologies to deal with agile online competitors such as Amazon.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

Toshiba launched a major e-commerce platform designed to move giant retail customers from their legacy IT solutions to a next generation e-commerce architecture based on micro-services and new retail technologies.

The ELERA Unified Commerce Platform from Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions has been four years in development and was announced at the National Retail Federation conference. It launches with an initial group of 30 microservices with more to follow. 

Toshiba is one of the world's largest suppliers of point-of sale-and retail systems. 

The COVID-19 economic fallout has led to many well known retailers going out of business but Rance Poehler, president and CEO, Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions says he expects demand for ELERA to be high.

"We have close relations with the world's largest retailers and during the COVID-19 lockdowns they realized how indispensable we are because they needed to quickly implement new payment systems, self-checkouts, etc. Hundreds of our people have been working at their sites helping them setting up an e-commerce infrastructure that allows them to compete with Amazon and other online retailers, and quickly add new capabilities," says Poehler. 

The company is working with 30 startups to integrate cutting edge retail technologies into ELERA , which would give Toshiba's users a quick way to access and implement new technologies.

He said that the retail industry has been slowed by the burden of decades of legacy IT code and was loath to change it in case it changed business operations in unexpected ways. But COVID-19 persuaded retailers that they needed to move more quickly in implementing new features and new retail technologies.

ELERA (derived from "acc-elera-te") runs in the retailer's IT center or in a hybrid private-public cloud architecture. It works with legacy IT systems but it also comes with access to 30 microservices and 400 APIs -- enabling rapid implementation of a service in as little as three weeks.

Yevgeni Tsirulnik, VP of Digital Innovation at Toshiba, said: "We wrote the APIs first -- and then the software -- rather than the APIs last. This makes a big difference." 

The Toshiba retail group is based in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina and Tsirulnik says it is a good location for recruitment from local universities; plus having cutting edge projects to work on is very attractive to software engineers.

The advantage of a digital business is in its agility to quickly respond to events such as COVID-19 and curbside-pickups, contactless payment systems, etc.  But legacy IT is far from agile and retailers are realizing how important it is to have that agility, says Poehler.

"The retailers that didn't want to change went bust in 2020. The ones that survived are our customers and they know the change they need and how important it is to accelerate their plans. What might have taken four or five years is being done in less than a year."

The ELERA launch and its potential success is critical to Toshiba's ability to maintain its leadership market position. "ELERA is as as transformational for us as it is for the retail industry," says Poehler.

Toshiba plans to eventually offer ELERA as software as a service. The company hopes ELERA will showcase its considerable software engineering talents and that it will be seen less as a hardware company -- a legacy business. 

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