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Retailers ‘tool up’ with apps, cloud and security

Retailers ‘tool up’ with apps, cloud and security
Friday March 22 2013

Enterprise technology company chief Stephen Keenan has advice for retailers feeling overwhelmed by the constantly evolving technology environment and increasing demand for more immersive shopping experiences

Stephen Keenan, UK & Ireland vice president of enterprise technology provider Verizon, said today’s retailers are racing to implement an array of technologies designed to enhance the retail environment such as augmented reality, self-service and near field communications (NFC). However daunting, they may still need to think about how they can benefit from wider technology trends, such as the rise of ‘big data’ and ‘cloud 2.0’. 
But what should UK retailers make of all these technology buzzwords, and where should they be focusing their efforts and investments? Here are the three key areas of IT that Keenan thinks retailers should be focusing on if they want to make the fastest returns, support growth, and cater for customers’ rapidly evolving and ever more demanding expectations in the coming years.
Better networks make customers ‘appy’
The growing availability of retail apps is a key driver for consumers using their mobile device for shopping. According to a global survey conducted by Equation Research on behalf of Compuware, 85% of consumers prefer using apps as opposed to mobile websites. Convenience was cited as the biggest reason why mobile apps were the preferred option, according to 55% of respondents, while 26% claimed to find it easier to shop using apps. 

“As a result, many retailers are coming to increasingly rely on advanced networking solutions, such as Ethernet, internet protocol (IP) and intelligent networks,” he commented. “With this underlying infrastructure in place, retailers can mobilise apps and keep operations and inventories running smoothly in the back end, enabling them to maintain a seamless shopping experience for the customer.”
The technologist even went so far as to say communications between machines and devices over high-speed wired and wireless networks is the “secret sauce” behind innovation across the retail industry. 

“The latest and greatest range from wireless back-up business continuity solutions, to smart vending, which has moved automation from labour-saving to revenue-generating; and NFC, which is allowing machines and devices to literally tap one another to communicate and transmit data,” Keenan said. 

“Having an optimised IT infrastructure in place is fundamental to all this innovation, enabling IT departments to accelerate business growth and create new opportunities for retailers and their customers.”
The sky’s the limit with cloud

Analyst firm IDC’s recent Retail Insights survey predicted that adoption of cloud computing within the retail sector is set to grow by 300% over the next two years. It’s easy to see why there’s significant movement within the retail industry toward on demand, cloud-based products and services. “In fact, it almost feels as though cloud computing was designed specifically with the cost-conscious, data-deluged retail enterprise in mind,” added Keenan.
“With cloud-based solutions, retailers can achieve savings from lower initial capital expenditures, and the usage-based pricing model used by most cloud applications aligns well with the seasonal nature of the retail business,” he continued. “Cloud-based technologies also provide the flexibility to scale up quickly, supporting IT deployments for everything from pop-up stores to more permanent expansions, and to scale down just as quickly when business conditions change and a new approach is needed. Simply put, the cloud enables retailers to become more nimble and experimental.”
Combating the cybercrime conundrum
The more technology advances, the more critical security becomes. Keenan maintained that, central to any retailer's success is securing the intricate IT ecosystem to include all point-of-sale (PoS) transactions processed over its network, as well as any external-facing properties on the internet.
“For retailers who are already using cloud-based solutions, securing the network becomes even more critical, as data breaches and hacking attacks can not only compromise sensitive customer information but also damage the brand’s reputation,” he said. The recent Data Breach Investigation Report Retail Snapshot from Verizon also found that the retail industry is one of the most targeted when it comes to cybercrime.
With careful planning and ongoing monitoring, retailers can ensure that their data is not compromised. “It is important that retailers monitor their public-facing web properties and channels for any potential fraudulent activities. They should also protect their instore assets through mobile-device management, so that only authorised employees can access sensitive information. Regularly changing password credentials, data encryption, constant updating of devices and anti-virus protection will also help secure data in the retail environment.”
Enriching the customer experience at every opportunity will be the key to a retailer’s success in the coming years, according to Keenan. “Having the right underlying communications network, IT infrastructure and a strong security framework will help to set the stage for retailers to deliver an exceptional brand experience for their customers in the here and now, while equipping them with the means to adapt to maintain that competitive edge in the coming years,” he concluded.

Tagged as: Wi-Fi | NFC | mobile | app | website | Verizon | Compuware | IDC | data breach | security | PoS | big data | cloud 2.0