The following is a guest post from Jeff Brown, vice president of IoT and embedded sales at Dell EMC OEM Solutions.
From high-end outlets to local corner stores, the ability to attract and retain loyal customers while offering new services is forcing the retail sector to continuously adapt to stay relevant. Many forward-thinking retailers are beginning to look toward "internet of things" technologies to help them digitally transform. Nearly half of all retailers have adopted some IoT technology and the components market is projected to top $82 billion by 2025, according to reports.
Modern retail stores need to evolve from simple, cash-based transactions to a highly-connected digital hub that can support new customer-demanded in-store services, such as banking and customer Wi-Fi. Providing connectivity to everything from point-of-sale machines, security cameras and alarm systems, as well as refrigeration units to produce ordering and fulfillment, requires an entirely new business infrastructure.
"Making an investment in IoT devices won’t just help with customer retention, it’ll be the cornerstone for retail stores who want to survive in the digitally-connected era."
With a new, highly-connected infrastructure comes an increase in data, so retailers need to implement a proper IoT ecosystem to handle the influx of data. This is critical to the modern store’s success.
Here are four steps to designing a connected store:
1. Design an intelligent and scalable network
Today’s retail stores need to run services from independent providers, such as point of sales; refrigeration specialists; digital signage and advertising; security cameras and alarm systems; and any other installations. As more in-store procedures become digitized, the network architecture must scale without the need to continuously rethink the in-store network design.
The design should also be flexible to create individual network segments per service type. This helps mitigate against security incidents and connectivity outages. To measure the success of a connected store’s network design, the store needs to automatically route traffic between primary and secondary access nodes, segment networks per service to managed traffic policies and implement new services per store with minimal technical interference. This will increase availability, improve network security and future-proof the technology.
It's also imperative that organizations design with headroom, as many of them won’t know what they will need in the years to come and installation costs can be equal or higher than hardware itself. Organizations will spend an extra dime on up-front hardware, but will also provide big savings over the course of the full roll out.
2. Use cellular WAN for remote connectivity
Network security and the ability to secure data transmission end-to-end will prove to be a valuable anchor to retail prosperity. A key implementation decision is choosing the correct network access gateway. A gateway series that provides the necessary compute and network interfaces on which to build a highly-connected store will do the trick.
Having a built-in cellular modem will supports cellular wide area network (WAN)-like applications, which is ideal for remote store locations where physical-wired connectivity is not possible.
However, if the fixed-line network is the primary connection option, the cellular connection can be used as an alternative or secondary network path, enabling network failover and ensuring the continuity of key data services for the store. In addition, administrators can easily apply dynamic traffic management policies for the cellular WAN connection, ensuring key business flows are maintained and unnecessary flows (e.g. in-store customer Wi-Fi) are disconnected. This provides the peace of mind that the cellular connection cannot be exploited and that there are no unnecessary data costs during times of failover.
3. Keep security top of mind
In this increasingly interconnected world, our reliance on third parties has never been greater. Organizations aren’t simple atomic instances, but highly interconnected systems that exist as part of something even bigger. The ripples of chaos spread farther and faster now that technology connects us in astonishing ways. Consider that one of the most substantial data breaches in history occurred because attackers used credentials to log into a third-party HVAC system.
"Due to our increasingly interwoven relationship with machines, small subtle failures can lead to mega failures. Prioritizing the implementation of cybersecurity tools and technologies to effectively protect data and prevent threats will be a growing imperative."
Due to our increasingly interwoven relationship with machines, small subtle failures can lead to mega failures. Prioritizing the implementation of cybersecurity tools and technologies to effectively protect data and prevent threats will be a growing imperative.
Using secure connectivity minimizes the effort and cost required by a business to ensure their stores are safe from cybersecurity attacks. Depending on your network layer-based security, you may only need one hardware device deployed per store. More importantly, that extra layer of security could have a consistent base-security posture for all connected stores. This provides business owners with the peace of mind that each store location is safe from cybersecurity threats.
4. Collect data the right way
Harvesting data can be expensive. And, while all data is important, not all of it is necessary. Having the ability to run decision-making applications at the store’s edge is critical.
With flexible interface options for wired-LAN and wireless networks, including Zigbee and Wi-Fi, it’s simple to connect key systems, such as refrigeration, point of sale and inventory management. Store owners can be assured that the correct decisions are made in-store, which will positively impact their bottom line.
By securely capturing and transmitting meaningful data, retail operations can be significantly improved, and at a fraction of the cost of traditional process-management software. The IoT industry is rich with specialized software providers and retailers should pay close attention to curated partnership programs to help cut through the clutter.
5. Future-proof retail connectivity
Despite the rise in online shopping, many retail stores are continuously expanding. And when it comes to new store openings, deadlines are aggressive and cost sensitive. The key to success for any modern retail store is to improve customer experiences.
To do so, they need to implement new technologies like equipping the store with physical IoT devices and seamlessly connecting the devices to application services in the cloud or in a centralized location. Making an investment in this technology won’t just help with customer retention, it’ll be the cornerstone for retail stores who want to survive in the digitally-connected era.