Fluidra Makes Waves With Real-Time, Customer Experience
How Fluidra overhauled its IT infrastructure with an accelerated timeline.
Fluidra is a multi-billion-dollar, multinational group listed on the IBEX 35, the benchmark index of the Spanish Stock Exchange. They are also included in the FTSE4Good Index Series, the benchmark sustainability index.
The company is the one-stop shop for everything related to pool production, equipment, and accessories, be it, pool steps to water fountains, chemicals, and a huge raft of other aesthetics. They have been the global leaders in the pool and wellness equipment and connected solutions for several years and further extended their dominance by merging with Zodiac in November 2017, who, prior to the merger, dominated the U.S. market with similar services.
One of the characteristics of their dominance is that they produce 75-80% of their products in-house within their own factories and have their own in-house logistical operations across Europe (for example, Trace Logistics belongs to Fluidra). Fluidra operates in several countries including Spain, France, the United States, and Italy, and is planning to grow to other countries. At present, they have a global footprint covering more than 45 countries.
Fluidra has a huge portfolio of highly customizable products that can be sold through its channel partners. Core to the success of the business is its reliance on a dynamic and ambitious IT department, charged with driving innovation using technology to provide leading-edge customer experiences.
The Global IT strategy and innovation team manages the relationships between software and hardware vendors. They are the IT department’s ambassador to the rest of the organization, its customers, and its partner base. The role is crucial to the forward-thinking culture of the organization, in terms of making sure the business is aware of the valuable contribution that technology can have on the overall business strategy, direction, and competitiveness.
The digital technology department is responsible for managing all systems that work with the digital channels, like the companies’ websites, e-commerce platforms, and all client services. In addition, all the integration between the on-premises site and cloud and SaaS-based services falls under their remit. Within this team, there are nine software specialists split across QA, development, and DevOps. The development team has two groups: one focused on the integration layers (enterprise service bus, Hazelcast, and others) and the other on their e-commerce platform, Magento. They also have external providers who aid with building new services.
Combined, both functions are jointly responsible for the strategy and execution of the overall platform and its services. The effort includes a tight collaboration with the infrastructure, master data, business intelligence, and security teams all working together to build an intelligent, secure service, sourced from disparate product-related systems.
Fluidra’s culture of promoting innovation has resulted in highly motivated teams that get to look at new ideas, approaches, and technologies that will further augment the company profile and fortunes, both internally and externally. It has a new team, growing from one software specialist to 10 in just 2 years. Business agility is a key driver for this growth and is a culture that they are working hard to adopt within the whole organization. Their strong relationship with the marketing team allows them to advertise and promote their capabilities effectively.
Fluidra was already reviewing their e-commerce platform as they recognized the need for modernization to future-proof their business. They also had existing latency and network bandwidth issues due to their ERP-centric architecture. The tight coupling with their ERP systems meant that they were limited in their ability to modernize their front-end applications, making any digital transformation or migration to the cloud challenging. The ERP systems were developed with legacy software and architectures which were difficult to maintain and modernize. In addition, the performance suffered, and they were unable to meet their service level agreements.
The pandemic further highlighted that the existing digital platform was single-function/siloed, becoming out-of-date, and not capable of handling huge spikes in user traffic. The stark reminder became evident with the significant increase in pool use during lockdown compounded with the closure of popular sales channels like their brick-and-mortar, face-to-face business. As a result, the only channel for purchasing items was the e-commerce platform, and the increased online workload became more difficult to support. The pandemic thus forced them to accelerate their upgrade effort and shorten their implementation window from 2 years down to 8 months.
As market leaders, Fluidra knew that they needed to keep innovating whilst offering a scalable, performant, and reliable service. They needed to process data much faster to support an augmented personalized customer experience – they wanted to perform calculations and run algorithms against prices immediately while interacting with their customers in real-time. They also needed to integrate with other systems like Salesforce and logistics platforms. This prompted the design of a new architecture that would significantly accelerate data processing as well as decoupling from systems that were inflexible and costly to maintain. They started to look at in-memory solutions that could deliver data immediately to the new services that they were building. Several solutions were reviewed by an external consultancy, but Hazelcast was ultimately recommended. This prompted discussions with Hazelcast partners who assisted with building a new architecture that was decoupled from the ERP systems allowing them to build real-time, front-end services. The e-commerce platform was the first service deployed as this was now the only way that consumers could have access to products, as the pandemic forced the closure of all stores and shops.
Core to the overall architecture is a centralized, decoupling layer that is isolated from the ERP systems. Within the decoupling layer, there are 3 key components:
- The enterprise service bus – for locating data
- Data staging - for high-speed data storage and retrieval
- Event streaming - to communicate with internal services
The Hazelcast in-memory data store is used in the data staging layer for high-speed data storage and retrieval. Other database platforms (like MongoDB) will also be hosted there, some of which currently do not require real-time performance. The data staging layer will provide all data access requests for all applications via APIs, whether it is for the data warehouses, the ERP systems, Web sites, and e-commerce.
The Hazelcast stream processing component is used for the loading of stocks and prices for all products stored in the shopping baskets in real-time. The ERP MDM system pushes customer, product, and pricing information data to the event streaming system that runs on AWS Kinesis and Hazelcast then reads the data and qualifies it. Hazelcast was a crucial component in ensuring that as stock and prices changed, e-commerce customers had a real-time view of what was available and at what price as they made inquiries. All the pricing logic is hosted on Hazelcast to dynamically calculate unique pricing for each customer and product combination. As they expand their system, Fluidra is planning to integrate other data sources using Hazelcast stream processing.
Having in-memory storage and stream processing capabilities within a single platform creates an architecture known as a “digital integration hub.” This architecture allowed Fluidra to integrate data from multiple sources and process data in real-time, without worrying about integrating separate solutions from separate solution vendors. This mitigated the complexity caused by integration, performance, and management issues, while also avoiding separate licensing costs.
Now, price calculations can be performed between 50 and 100 times faster than before. This enabled them to expand the usage to accommodate stock information. Some customers work with specific warehouses, based on location and other factors so that they could determine whether products were in stock. Having the stock data in Hazelcast meant that they could perform lookups immediately. Fluidra also provides the ability to customize/personalize products to their customer's specification. For example, producing items with specific branding and offering a tailored shopping experience so that the customer has a focused view specific to their requirements. All this real-time information is stored and retrieved from Hazelcast.
Fluidra is very happy with the performance and stability of the Hazelcast Platform and that the price/performance ratio is very good when compared with other platforms. In addition, the ability to start small and grow to enterprise, mission-critical platforms offers them the flexibility to build smaller, prototype solutions quickly.
Fluidra continuously strives to maintain the perfect pool and wellness experience and has always set high standards. They never rest on their laurels but continue to lead and innovate to remain a step ahead and above the rest. The plan is to integrate other key data services with Hazelcast, starting with Salesforce. This will enable a real-time 360 view of their customers, further enhancing the outstanding customer experience they already offer. Many of their websites will have Hazelcast accelerating data access to ensure the highest level of service – even while user volumes rapidly increase. The product information management system will also be integrated with new look and feel interfaces.
The Internet of Things is an area that can have a significant impact moving forward. Being able to provide smart devices to pool owners will deliver a service that will allow 24/7 interaction with their pools – whether it is to check the temperature, filtering status, or lighting, for example.
Customers are continuously demanding the highest levels of customization and a business-to-business-to-customer business model will allow end customers to enjoy a frictionless experience when designing and customizing their products. In addition, this will streamline the sales, engineering, and manufacturing processes – enabling Fluidra to become even more operationally effective and efficient. API development has commenced, and the platform will use Hazelcast to accelerate data processing and assist with real-time quotes as well as the potential to assist with augmenting product visualization and 3D modeling.
As the demand for better customer experiences increases Fluidra will be able to use Hazelcast to accelerate data processing from their existing database platforms like MongoDB and others. Their digital integration hub architecture can provide huge performance gains to front-end applications needing to perform complex processing in real-time from disparate internal and external systems.