2018 is a particularly trying time for the typical retail CIO. Those with physical stores are hard at work figuring out how to integrate a seamless end-to-end purchasing journey that delivers the best possible customer experience, while remaining cost efficient and managing the expectations of the board.
There seems to be little doubt that one of the keys to achieve success as a retail CIO lies in adopting innovative new technologies. Digitization of the physical store is paramount for the future and many of these solutions have the agility and flexibility to enable exciting new in-store experiences, enabling retailers to differentiate themselves from the competition.
In today’s retail climate where financial health is everything, the key is to find the right technology solutions that will drive operational efficiencies and reduce the cost to serve, while also delivering a platform for innovation. To try and achieve this balance can often leave retail CIOs between a rock and a hard place. How can they optimize efficiencies in the short term for immediate impact on the bottom line, while delivering innovation for the long term benefits of the business?
Finding A Balance
The answer to this dilemma is that it can be achieved through an edge-based infrastructure — something that CIOs are increasingly leaning towards, as this approach offers significant new capabilities that meet the demands of the modern customer experience requirements. Indeed it was no surprise to see this approach listed in Gartner’s top 10 technology trends for 2018.
Edge technology offers retailers the best of both worlds, with new ways to make in-store infrastructure work. Retailers can capitalize on IT capabilities in-store, while also enjoying the benefits of control and flexibility that are typically associated with cloud-based services. Using edge technology in the retail space ensures that information processing, content collection and delivery are placed closer to the source of the data — the point of sale — and closer to customers and store operations.
Edge technology enables the in-store infrastructure to support the running of multiple applications and appliances without increasing the IT footprint and support overheads. It makes rollout and management easier and more cost-effective because they are managed as software, with automated trials, updates and upgrades carried out remotely and securely.
Making Edge Technology Work
When it comes to edge technology CIOs require a solution that is designed specifically for the unique, highly distributed retail store environment. And this involves using edge virtualization to enable the CIO to deliver a leaner, more reliable and efficient store IT infrastructure. Centralized management is an enabler for continuous innovation to meet and exceed customer expectations.The key differentiator is that such solutions are now available in form factors that suit the store, and which crack the true challenge of distributed edge-scale virtualization — management and control.
Centralized control and management of store infrastructure mitigates the expense of sending IT teams out to solve store IT issues while also enabling the retailer to roll out new stores quicker. When it comes to management and control, the CIO needs to treat the store IT estate as an integrated whole, not a collection of disparate services and devices. The ideal solution in this instance is one that learns towards the management of a store ecosystem and away from managing individual stores.
This approach, particularly when used on a larger scale, relies heavily on in-built intelligent automation, which enables the management, control and updating of IT across the entire environment and does so with compliance and security in mind.
As the retail sector is in the frontline of the cyberattack battle, retailers need to be concerned about the security of their own data, and that of their customers. Lack of customer confidence in data security impacts brand value. Add to this the demands of compliance, particularly for electronic payment, and the scale of potential impact of security breaches such as customer data loss, malware, ransomware and distributed denials of service (DDoS) are very clear. Automation to ensure that known security patches are applied has to be at the heart of any viable current solution, otherwise the risk of human error becomes too great. Intelligent Automation enables all patches, updates and upgrades of IT infrastructure across all stores to be automated and reliable, delivering a more secure and consistent system.
Aside from these various efficiencies, edge technology can also effectively future-proof retailers, giving them an infrastructure that is capable of supporting the latest new and emerging innovations. This means that, as well as the guaranteed short-term benefits, there is the potential for even greater advantages further into the future. It’s a win-win situation for any retailer.
CIOs face a number of challenges in meeting objectives and ensuring that all areas of the retail business are secure, productive and cost-effective. When it comes to the in-store experience, there is more at play than optimizing efficiencies. Innovation is playing a key role in customer experience and operations. Retailers are looking to implement new in-store services, which almost always rely on technology, from innovative checkout through to interactive in-store displays and virtual reality (VR).
Edge technology, along with a new approach to management and control, puts retailers in an ideal position to help the CIO differentiate their retail organization from the competition and cement their success in the market. At a time when every dollar of technology investment needs to deliver immediate and measurable ROI and enable business innovation, edge technology will be the approach that sets the winners apart from the losers.
Nick East is co-founder and CEO of Zynstra, the award winning leader in purpose built retail edge software. Zynstra is transforming edge computing for retailers. Its intelligent infrastructure delivers high reliability and flexibility, with powerful automation capabilities that reduce cost in every store. Zynstra was previously part of Cramer from startup through to its $425M acquisition by Amdocs, where he was subsequently GM of their OSS division.