A would-be shopper walks by a clothing store window when the cellphone in her pocket vibrates with a customized coupon. Intrigued, she steps inside, where video walls advertise the shop’s newest inventory and an eager employee approaches, tablet in hand, to answer questions. Minutes later, she leaves the store having made an unplanned purchase—without ever waiting in line.
Welcome to the digital enterprise.
Whether she is at a retail store, restaurant or even a bank, today’s connected, tech-savvy consumer expects from physical stores the same ease of use and speed of service that she’s grown accustomed to online. Rather than be left in the digital dust, enterprises need to create seamless, cross-channel environments—ones that take advantage of social media, mobile technologies and Big Data analytics—if they are to attract and retain customers.
The importance of this approach is supported by research from business consulting firm Infosys, which shows that 78 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase from a retailer again if the store offers targeted offers. Seventy-one percent feel similarly if offered incentives based on their location.
As businesses move closer to their customers, the need to effectively connect employees and systems to real-time information is vital. For that reason, a true distributed enterprise—one that comprises headquarters, branch offices, distribution centers and a mobile workforce—is only as strong as the network supporting it.
Boardrooms and C-suite executives now recognize their networks not as cost centers, but as business enablers. A robust IT network infrastructure improves the capabilities of employees and customers alike—especially when implemented by a flexible, experienced partner capable of implementing a modern network trouble free.
“People are moving away from the notion of IT network infrastructure as something that’s just a necessary evil to realize they can do a lot with a network that delivers many capabilities,” explains Chris Connor, Senior Director, Project Management, Data Innovation, Comcast Business. “Network managers and CIOs talk a lot about how that’s been one of the bigger transformations in their industry right now. They need a partner who is flexible and can help them to stand things up quickly so that they can deliver more business value.”
Efficiency at All Levels of the Back Office
The transformative power of digital technology—and the reliability of the network provider that undergirds it—is sometimes obvious. For example, any service operation that sends out field technicians in fleet vehicles naturally leans on its network to continually update its job queue, with the clear benefit of being able to deploy the nearest available worker to a location in need of repair.
But today, bandwidth is the backbone of nearly every industry. Even in a sector such as manufacturing, floor operators find themselves with increased digital duties, from the maintenance of high-tech machines to using real-time data to optimize process flow. Meanwhile, the IT department can turn to its network provider to introduce new tools that bring greater transparency.
Usually, this starts with connectivity for multiple plants to a centralized hub. Where specialized machinery is involved, performance monitoring and video surveillance get built into network architecture. The network can even update inventory, bringing with it a new dimension to supply chain management—which is where the true power of the distributed enterprise comes into focus.
Bolstered by the power of a strong network, systems that were once paper-based can go digital, leveraging the power of technologies from GPS to RFID chips to optimize inventory management. The efficient result can mean less transportation costs squandered, and less capital wasted in the form of products collecting dust on shelves.
The need for businesses to better manage their supply chain has never been more imperative, but untold value is still being left on the table. Recently, Capgemini Consulting surveyed 337 executives at large global manufacturing and retail organizations, and the results were jarring. Though 70 percent of respondents had already begun to digitize their supply chain management, only 5 percent were satisfied with the progress made so far.
However, there is reason for optimism. While only 23 percent of respondents said that the majority of data from their extended supply chain is analyzed and leveraged for decision making, 68 percent expect to answer in the affirmative in five years’ time. Likewise, 94 percent expect to receive more real-time status updates from across the entire supply chain by the year 2021.
The ever-growing digital prowess of employees will work in their favor. When nearly every business sector includes a technology component, every employee is a digital one. Thankfully, the ubiquity of technology—high-speed wireless Internet in most homes, smartphones in nearly every pocket—means that, as research firm Gartner phrases it, “most employees have digital competencies that would have been almost unthinkable a decade ago. The challenge is for organizations to formally tap into that skill set for better business outcomes.”
“Delivering value as a network provider is no longer strictly about fixing problems and issues,” adds Comcast’s Connor. “It’s also about taking advantage of new technologies to empower employees across a distributed enterprise. Streamlining the existing operation is now just a starting point. The next step is to provide services that drive business growth.”
Leveraging and enabling the talent of employees doesn’t only accentuate the power of the network—it also allows companies to redefine the customer experience.
Trying a New Look – Without Changing Clothes
With 94 percent of retail sales still generated by physical stores, the sector remains primed for disruption. And digital signage—one of a number of high-tech options made possible by a strong network—is increasingly being relied upon to drive business growth.
Between 2016 and 2022, the research firm Markets and Markets projects a 6.7 percent compound annual growth rate for such signage, which will reach a value of $27.34 billion thanks to the ubiquity of kiosks, menu boards and billboards, and the software and services that power them.
The potential of this technology exceeds eye-catching advertisements or restaurant tables armed with tablets for ordering food. In this new era, a one-size-fits-all approach can no longer work. Consider again our hypothetical shopper. Today, with the correct infrastructure in place, her retail experience can—and should—be entirely personalized.
“Retail stores are doing things called virtual runways,” cites Connor as an example. “They stream media out to their locations, with videos of people wearing clothes that are for sale in the store.” The potential of the virtual runway experience is being tested aggressively. At the highest end, this tool has been ramped up to deliver a true fashion spectacle—exclusive showings of new designer collections delivered in 3D to the retail environment, where in-store customers can shop immediately. Going forward, a technology like 3D body mapping could be deployed to help apparel stores transform the customer experience and speed up purchase decisions.
“All these things need to be done over the network,” Connor points out, “and you have to be able to do that in a way that meets customers’ expectations in regard to quality and performance, without breaking the bank.”
With such a network in place, any business can reach new heights. “High-bandwidth, lower-cost broadband is much more reliable and higher performing than it used to be, and enterprises are looking at it as a way to deliver all the services they want,” Connor adds. “It’s really about taking operational expenses and overhead out of their business, and delivering a streamlined experience that allows them to focus on doing what they do, rather than being in the network management game.”