Today, retail IT leaders are tasked with reducing the cost to serve in store, while enabling innovation and new customer experiences. It’s a long to do list, with conflicting priorities and investment decisions to be made.
In the past, IT leaders faced with these challenges could, with some justification, have pointed out that it was tantamount to impossible to meet these needs. In-store infrastructure, as it exists today, just isn’t up to the job. But technology is at a point of fundamental change, and new ways are possible.
CIOs previously had two main options: dedicated devices in-store, with their inherent inflexibility and support challenges, or public cloud offerings with latency and risk issues for mission critical systems such as point of sale.
These options are now being superseded by new edge-based technology, which offers new possibilities for in-store infrastructure. With edge technology, information processing, content collection and delivery are placed closer to the sources of this information, and closer to customers and store operations. In retail terms, this means placing new IT capabilities in-store, but in a way that delivers the control and flexibility of cloud-based services. Gartner has identified this “cloud to the edge approach” as one of the top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2018.
Traditional store operations in retail businesses are based on an old-fashioned device-orientated infrastructure. Many of these devices will be PCs running some version of Microsoft Windows, while others may be dedicated application devices (or appliances) such as self-checkout systems. As new requirements need to be met, each additional application further complicates the management and control challenge. If, for example, an existing device needs to be upgraded there is a high probability that on-site visits by IT staff will be necessary; indeed, it is often the case that when a new application needs to be rolled out in-store a completely new physical device is required. That is no longer the case. State-of-the-art edge technology uses ‘edge-scale’ virtualization to enable in-store infrastructure that can run many applications without increasing the IT physical footprint — and which can be managed as a software resource, thus upgraded and controlled remotely. This means that cost efficiencies can be delivered immediately through reducing the IT bill of materials and associated support costs, and a platform can be provided to rapidly roll out new applications that will revolutionize customer service.
Retail technology leaders face a raft of challenges in an environment in which to do nothing is fatal. They are tasked with building a flexible and agile store estate, but are caught in a trap, because this is nigh impossible using existing store technology. However, advances in edge technology built from the ground up for the store offer new options that change the art of the possible and allow IT leaders to create an infrastructure that delivers new levels of efficiency and innovation.