The National Retail Federation’s Big Show was the biggest one yet, as 35,000 retail professionals flooded the Javits Center in New York City to see the newest retail technology and to stay up on industry trends. From digital signage to same-day delivery to mobile payments, the many breeds of technologies for bricks-and-mortar stores dominated conversation at the Big Show. But one key question remained unanswered: How do retailers accomplish it all?
Over the next eight months or so, retailers large and small will be planning, buying, and installing new technologies in anticipation of the 2015 holiday rush. But some organizations are better prepared than others to take the reins and lead the charge. Is your organization ready to start a major tech push, from planning and buying to rollout and support?
The health of your IT environment stems from your IT infrastructure, professionals, and policies. Ask yourself the following questions to check up on whether your IT department is fit enough to start implementing the newest retail technology.
Can we support our infrastructure as it is right now?
Bricks-and-mortar stores generate billions of dollars in sales and can offer terabytes of data to organizations willing to track and analyze it. As more organizations look to meld real-world and online shopping into one seamless omnichannel experience, infrastructure becomes a concern.
When an overflow of users and in-store data meets aging equipment and insufficient bandwidth, it can shut down a network and cripple commerce. Gauging the current health of your infrastructure will give you a good idea of what you’ll need to refresh or upgrade to meet new expectations.
Organizations can use converged or hyperconverged datacenter solutions to more easily manage their omnichannel back end and support increases in traffic, as these solutions integrate server, software, and power systems in one ready-built device. In a hyperconverged infrastructure, the components work in sync to create a software-as-a-service solution that can handle the floods of data that your users and stores generate at a reasonable cost. It can deploy and scale quickly, and allows you to easily manage your stores and other locations without staffing up your IT team.
Should we build our own cloud or lease one out?
A retailer interested in migrating its data center infrastructure to the cloud has a few choices: build and manage its own cloud storage, rent space from an existing provider, or choose a hybrid approach that’s software based.
Building your own cloud storage allows you to customize and streamline your omnichannel strategy, offering much more control over your data. Some of the biggest retailers are pursuing this strategy, but data center oversight can be a house of cards for some organizations: Difficult to assemble and hard to maintain while constantly on the verge of collapse.
Most organizations will find it most cost effective to let another organization manage the datacenters – that way they save the capital expense and make scaling their storage a lot easier than if they had to add the racks themselves.
In some cases, a hybrid approach – having the support of a datacenter solution with a personalized, in-store solution – can produce a more fluid option that delivers important data faster.
How are we supporting and managing our mobile strategy?
Retailers are equipping their staff with phones and tablets as new sales tools. But these mobile devices can be a nightmare for organizations to manage, fix, and replace if they’re lost or if improper content is installed. Device management is even more difficult for companies with BYOD policies, as personal cell phones and tablets in the workplace are compliance and security headaches.
Today, retailers are working with their vendors to beef up security and oversight with mobile device management (MDM) solutions. In some cases, using a third-party vendor to purchase and manage mobile devices can reduce costs, and eliminate the headaches of dangerous or data-leaking apps for IT professionals. By offering Apple’s Device Enrollment Program (DEP), for example, third-party providers make it quick and easy to deploy hundreds or thousands of mobile devices to your employees.
Organizations must also consider policies for upgrades at the end of a device’s lifecycle. Refreshing technology regularly can be a recruiting tool too, attracting the next generation of employees.
How will we process payments?
Mobile payments didn’t take off in 2014, but forecasts predict more mobile payments throughout the industry in 2015. Mobile payments are popular in Europe and Asia, and are slowly catching on in the United States, but will you follow that trend?
And don’t forget that October is the deadline for retailers to adopt new EMV standards for point-of-sale machines, shifting the onus of fraud responsibility from credit card companies onto retailers. Though all businesses are impacted by the changes, the cost of implementation may slow adoption for both small and large companies.
Retailers must consider how these upgrades will shape customers’ future purchasing, and be prepared to contend with more data collection and processing as customers use these new technologies.
Are we positioned to better manage IT?
Most organizations allocate about 5 percent of revenue for IT spending. Some may want to invest in developing their in-house IT team, but others partner with a third-party for services and solutions to realize some cost savings.
By using a third-party supplier, organizations can rely on professional services to quickly onboard new technologies, manage licenses and controls. It doesn’t eliminate the IT department, but rather allows your own IT professionals to focus on mission-critical priorities and initiatives.
Don’t get left behind in the 2015 retail technology push
The countdown to Black Friday has already begun, and retailers that hold off on technology innovations and enhancements until the bitter end will likely be struck by crashes and broken support systems. But before organizations commit to a technology upgrade, business leaders must work with IT to determine how to roll out new programs and devices. A third-party supplier may be best equipped to help organizations acquire and roll out new programs, and have the newest technology ready when the doors open for the holidays.
Email me at Joe_Knutsen@SHI.com to learn more about how your organization can get started.