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The "No Compromise" Distributed Network: Enabling the Digital Transformation of Physical Retail Spaces

August 02, 2018

High performing networks directly support distributed retail enterprises, ensuring that customers and employees can, and want to, continually engage.

For retailers, success today requires a laser focus on consumer engagement strategies. At the heart of these strategies are retail networks that must deliver optimized performance for all distributed locations. Retail industry analyst Leslie Hand of IDC offers insight and advice to get the most out of distributed networks at physical locations.

Read more in this edition of IDC Analyst Connection: Retail


Leslie Hand
Vice President, IDC Retail Insights

As the retail industry digitally transforms to create better experiences for customers, network needs skyrocket. With an eye on ensuring great experiences, how do retailers implement "no compromise" networks – networks that perform well among all of the distributed connected spaces? Give customers and employees what they want: secure, stable, reliable, fast, and easy to use platforms that support your business needs. High performing networks form the backbone of the fabric of distributed retail enterprises, ensuring that customers and employees can, and want to, continually engage.

The following questions were posed by Comcast Business to Leslie Hand, vice president at IDC Retail Insights, on behalf of Comcast Business' customers.

Q. The retail industry is digitally transforming to create better experiences for customers. How can retailers prepare the distributed enterprise for this revolution in consumer engagement strategies?

A. Underpinning the success of consumer engagement strategies are retail networks that assure optimized performance of all distributed locations. Retail's customer base, as well as most employees, interact and engage in stores, and it simply is not acceptable to neglect or allow under-performance in stores. Poor quality connectivity is bad for your brand, and impacts loyalty, frequency, and basket size of customers. Connectivity issues also affect employee satisfaction. Retailers need to make no compromises in all of the networked locations, essentially enabling equal performance in stores as in other enterprise office or warehouse locations.

Q. What are the critical elements of a "no compromises" optimized network that enables a digital transformation of engagement strategies?

A. Consider, in your own experience, what is a great connected experience; it's likely you responded with points that include: seamless and frictionless interactions that are convenient and work perfectly every time. Consumers and employees have similar expectations. Components include:

  • Guest WiFi. 51% of retailers report that they have already installed guest WiFi; 11% are upgrading; and 20% are installing within 24 months according to IDC & RISNews Customer Engagement Tech Trends Study, 2017. Requirements include seamless connections, security, and management.
  • A network that is high speed, reliable and resilient. Networks need to perform well so that the experience of doing "the job to be done", regardless of whether it is a customer shopping competitive prices or an employee helping a customer find the perfect complement to goods already purchased through a personalized mobile app.
  • Centralized management. Remote management and monitoring of multiple sites through a single-pane-of-glass user interface which delivers centralized analytics, easy setup of customized/branded guest networks capable of professional enterprise-class capabilities, complete security, policy changes, and provisioning activities.
  • Secure connectivity. Consumers and employees are very cognizant of security risks; they expect that their privacy and security will be guarded, and will penalize those who do not provide secure connectivity with lost business, job abandonment, and lost trust.

Q. Are there specific technologies with proven distributed performance advantages?

A. Retailers are evaluating cost effective technologies that provide the foundation for communications/networks across the distributed enterprise. SD-WAN, cloud managed networks and managed services are providing a dynamic and secure WAN fabric for distributed enterprises. Best practices include:

Cloud managed networks. Cloud, as a delivery method, enables business to focus on business strategy. A cloud managed network enables the most flexible and configurable platform possible to support business needs as they change.

SD-WAN technology. SD-WAN uniquely enables enterprises to cost effectively optimize the utilization of cloud/SaaS applications providing a dynamic and secure WAN fabric for distributed enterprises. A special study from IDC highlights results from an extensive worldwide SD-WAN survey and finds that "bandwidth optimization," "consistent application security." "integration with existing WANs." and "improved automation and self-provisioning," were the top four motivators identified by respondents considering SD-WAN adoption (36%, 31%, 28% and 28%, respectively).

Managed services for WiFi solutions. Take network security, business continuity, voice and connectivity out of the hands of the retail operator, and into the hands of an experienced and highly skilled specialist. Retailers should look for partners that offer the following:

  • Reliable, secure and flexible WiFi and voice communications
  • Remote management and monitoring of multiple sites (security, policy changes, and provisioning)
  • Automatic feature and security updates
  • Mobile app-based management and analytics
  • Easy setup of customized/branded guest networks and voice communications

Q. What challenges do retailers face, as they architect the enterprise for high performance, scalability, and flexibility?

A. The greatest challenges facing retailers today when considering network and communications needs and technologies are as follows:

  • Keeping pace with the rapidly changing landscape, making it harder to pin down network needs
  • Project prioritization and coordination. Retailers have a long list of projects that they would like to complete, and not nearly enough resources in terms of both people and funding. Communications and networking needs should be evaluated in the context of multiple initiatives that require a new foundation in order to succeed.
  • Cost/benefits justification. Retailers need to understand how to evaluate the need for modern retail architectures so that they can evaluate current and future requirements and costs/benefits completely. Managed cloud services and managed services more generally may help the retailer justify the project sooner.

Q. As retailers digitally transform, how should they plan for the technologies that will increasingly put demands on the network (IoT, mobile operations, AR/VR, computer vision)?

A. There is much that a retailer cannot clearly know today, but careful roadmap planning based on all known projects, as well as those that may be more visionary, will enable acceptable estimates for network planning. A few recommendations:

  • Apply a short term and long-term needs analysis
  • Consider the importance of the digital transformation of your business on thriving into the future
  • Invest in capabilities that serve your customers best (recommend specific performance network requirements)

ABOUT THE ANALYST
As Vice President for IDC Retail Insights, Leslie Hand is responsible for the research direction for IDC Retail Insights, and leads research related to the digital transformation of retail omnichannel operations.  Hand works with retailers and technology providers on developing best practices and strategies, aligned with where they are, and where they want to go, leveraging IDC quantitative and qualitative data sets.

ABOUT THE PUBLICATION
This publication was produced by IDC Custom Solutions. The opinion, analysis, and research results presented herein are drawn from more detailed research and analysis independently conducted and published by IDC, unless specific vendor sponsorship is noted. IDC Custom Solutions makes IDC content available in a wide range of formats for distribution by various companies. A license to distribute IDC content does not imply endorsement of or opinion about the licensee.

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