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EarthLink: SD-WAN Critical for 'True Unified Commerce'

Channel Partners – Retailers need channel partners’ help as they attempt to implement and maintain unified commerce platforms.

That encouragement comes from EarthLink, which has teamed up with Boston Retail Partners (BRP) to launch “a true unified commerce platform.” EarthLink will provide its voice, network and hosting services – including SD-WAN – and BRP will provide consulting and implementation.

Greg Griffiths, EarthLink’s vice president of enterprise and midmarket marketing, says retailers face challenges in attaining unified commerce, due to the hybrid cloud environments they tend to operate.

“They’ve got some applications still in their corporate data centers, but they’re also moving a lot of the new emerging applications to the cloud,” he told Channel Partners. “That creates a real challenge for the wide area network, because the [WAN] – the legacy technology that’s been in place for 20-some years – is MPLS, which sends the traffic from a remote location back to the corporate data center and then out to the Internet or out to the cloud, and that introduces a lot of latency.”

BRP released a survey last month revealing the demand for unified commerce.

The survey found that omni-channel integration is a top priority for more than half (52 percent) of businesses. The majority surveyed – 71 percent – plan to have a unified commerce platform within the next three years; however, only 9 percent have one now.

David Naumann, vice president of marketing for BRP, says most retailers are struggling to achieve a unified commerce platform. That’s because they’re trying to patch together various channels.

“They have legacy systems that were built, in many cases, several years ago on technology that wasn’t designed to integrate different channels into the one system,” he said.

Read Full Article: EarthLink: SD-WAN Critical for ‘True Unified Commerce’

VIDEO: Retailers are Shifting to Cloud based Solutions

We are seeing a dramatic increase in retailers’ interest in cloud-based software applications.

Watch this video blog post to hear how many retailers are moving to complete systems on off-premise cloud servers.

Visit our BRP Videos page to watch videos on other topics.

For more information on virtual POS, check out this white paper:

Virtual POS Is Retail Ready – Are You Ready?

As always, I appreciate you thoughts on this topic. Please enter your thoughts and comments below.

Ken

VIDEO: Networks – The Enabler for Real-time Retail

Network technology has improved tremendously in the past few decades.

The banking industry leveraged the networks in the 80’s and 90’s to install ATMs and completely changed the consumer banking experience.

There is a huge opportunity for retailers to leverage the network and mobile devices to engage with consumers in a new way – it’s real-time retail!

Watch this video blog post to hear how networks changed the banking industry and they may change the retail industry.

Visit our BRP Videos page to watch videos on other topics.

For more information on real-time retail, check out this report:

BRP SPECIAL REPORT: Real-time Retail – The New Retail Imperative

As always, I appreciate you thoughts on this topic. Please enter your thoughts and comments below.

Ken

VIDEO: Order Management is the New POS

We are seeing a trend where retailers will be moving away from traditional POS solutions to an order management based POS solution. Watch this video blog post to learn more.

Visit our BRP Videos page to watch videos on other topics.

As always, I appreciate you thoughts on this topic. Please enter your thoughts and comments below.

Ken

Omnichannel vs. Unified Commerce

eMARKETER- An Interview with Ken Morris

Excerpt from the interview:

eMarketer: What is the difference between unified commerce and omnichannel?

Ken Morris: In omnichannel, you have multiple channels but you don’t have one piece of software, one version of the truth: You have many versions of the truth. In the unified commerce world, it’s all connected in real time. I don’t just mean the web side but the mobile side, the web side and the store side—all in real time. Fifty years ago, retailers made a decision to decentralize point of sale [POS] because of a lack of network technology. The networks at that time weren’t redundant, they weren’t fast enough and they were too expensive to connect. When we talk about unified commerce, it’s bringing that all together in real time.

Download the complete interview: here (requires eMarketer subscription)

Corporate Cost Cutting 101: The Retail Networking Budget

Fiscal budget responsibility for networking in retail has become fragmented. Under present day circumstances, ownership of the networking budget is commonly divided amongst many divisions within a retail organization. These divisions are rarely viewed holistically by the organization. For example, in many cases managing data, “plain old telephone service,” Private Branch exchange (PBX), fax machines, Wi-Fi, and burglar, smoke and fire alarms are delegated to various corporate departments, and are maintained on a decentralized basis.

As a result, few retailers genuinely know their actual spend on networking based on the isolation level of each individual budget. This has put retailers at a fiscal disadvantage, especially those who have bought into multiple contracts for systems that have, today, become bundled entities with a much lower cost of ownership. The overall added expense of this structure is often considerable, as there is no system of checks-and-balances and a unified figure of total networking expenses does not exist.

A silver lining to this cloud does exist, however. Thanks to technological innovations, several opportunities now exist to significantly shave down networking costs and the overall organizational budget. Prudent retailers should consider strategic adjustments in the following arenas:

Bundling and Cloud Capabilities

Major opportunities now exist to save on expenditures by bundling necessary vital services into one integrated package. This can include data, voice, Wi-Fi, video, fax, security, PBX, etc. Currently, wrapping voice, data, customer-and associate-facing Wi-Fi and security into one resilient cloud-based service is readily available on the market and provides an incredibly efficient alternative with significant cost savings compared to traditional offerings.

Further, by switching to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and PBX in the cloud, there is added occasion to centralize call routing and to establish low cost call centers that provide quick, professional and consistent customer service.

Data Centralization

Centralizing data can similarly contribute to cost savings, as it cuts down the associated expense of hardware and maintenance. Efficiency also comes into play, as consolidating multiple factions of a company into a single entity promotes faster service at a considerably lower cost.

Invoicing

An additional opportunity lies within the processing and monitoring of corporate and store networking invoices. Instead of handling the invoicing process in an uneconomical manner, retailers now have several updated invoicing options to consider. Opting to buy invoicing software or outsource the payment of networking and telecommunication invoices can be extremely advantageous from a cost and visibility perspective. This area has matured dramatically in the last 15 years and should be part of any network strategy discussion, as these tools and processes typically pay for themselves in the first 6 months of implementation.

Making the organizational adjustments necessary to execute upon these measures undeniably requires time and effort, and invariably involves various setup expenses. Nonetheless, incorporating these technological advances into your retail organization is sure to result in a leaner budget and sizeable long-term cost savings.

12 ABC’s of the Network Roadmap

When formulating a plan in support of a corporate network design, a network roadmap is one of the most essential tools that a retailer can utilize. Advances in networking have made it an exciting time to be in retail, as the range of opportunities to satisfy the customer with superior customer service has grown substantially in the last decade. At the same time, with access to such a plethora of technological options, navigating through all the available possibilities can be overwhelming.ABCs

Use of a strategic roadmap in the planning stages can help a retailer focus in and ensure that all critical networking elements are included and work concurrently together and with other organizational objectives. The following list simplifies the process by stating 12 of the most elementary yet critical application considerations to make when preparing a network roadmap in a retail environment:

  1. Video Monitoring — This tool addresses the demand for instant access to store performance information. Whereas regional and district managers used to spend their days calling stores to inquire about performance and traffic, this technology gives them real-time visibility to all the relevant store-level data.
  2. Camera Systems — Camera networks can be used to track the in-store movements of customers, as well as create heat maps to glean learnings on customer activities and time spent in each area.
  3. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags — These smart labels are replacing UPCs, and becoming prevalent in the industry as a way to curb lines at checkout and improve the customer experience.
  4. Digital signs — Providing a visually dynamic experience, digital signage not only amplifies the customer experience but also has been shown to influence customer decision-making at the point of sale.
  5. Digital shelf labels — This technology eradicates the need for store employees to change paper labels when price changes occur, and also eliminates discrepancies between shelf and register prices.
  6. Penetration testing and monitoring — By conducting ongoing self-evaluation of systems, processes and policies, retailers can stay on top of and identify cyber security threats.
  7. Tracking of unauthorized terminals and access point — As point-of-sale tampering becomes more widespread, monitoring in this arena curbs fraud and the illegal acquisition of payment card data.
  8. Guest connectivity — Many retailers now offer network and other permissions to guests at their home offices, as well as at their other corporate locations and facilities to encourage 24/7 connectivity.
  9. Easy access to “Buy Online” portal — In order to increase the number of transactions completed on the corporate website, this capability is being enabled by retailers either at the point of sale or at customer touchpoints.
  10. In-store media — Product demonstration videos, interactive training content, and other sources of in-store media are being increasingly installed to aid employee sales efforts.
  11. Bring your own device — Allowing customers to use their own personal devices to scan goods and make payments is trending in the industry. The capability gives customers increased mobility and offers an enhanced shopping experience by providing seamless shopping.
  12. Upgradeable in-store network equipment — This is becoming popular as retailers attempt to cope with the rapid expansion of the number of in-store devices requiring network equipment.

In this unparalleled era of retail potential, the need to stay competitive has never been more vital. By setting strategy and direction on future implementation of the key technologies above, retailers can put themselves in a position to offer best-in-breed practices that are tailored to the needs of their customer base as well as stay relevant as a marketplace contender.

Networking Upgrades: Critical Considerations before Jumping the Gun

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

― Benjamin Franklin

In the past decade, technological advances in networking capabilities have transformed the retail space. Consumers are now accustomed to having 24/7 network connectivity and real-time access to information everywhere across all channels of commerce.

As a retailer looking to provide best-of-breed networking, the obstacles to upgrading can seem daunting. A lack of upfront planning and continual monitoring can lead to excessive long-term spending, missed opportunities to grow the business, or worse a failed disaster recovery plan due to networking issues. However, appropriate consideration of the below elements will help ensure that networking service level objectives and budget constraints are successfully met according to plan.

#1: Reaching Consensus on a Corporate Network Architecture

A retailer’s top priority should be crafting and continuously reviewing strategy on the network’s segmentation and security architecture. Laying the groundwork in this realm is crucial, as failure to do so can be very expensive and require later construction and maintenance of both second middleware and corporate server instances. Functional considerations include: Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 12.32.59 PM

  • Determining whether or not stores can communicate directly with each other without passing through corporate firewall—though this is a significant security benefit, it can also cause additional network overhead and latency.
  • Finding the right balance between Budget Security, Compliance and Service Levels—significant design work and leadership is required in the initial planning stages, as this work extends to in-store network segmentation and also involves coordination with PCI measures.

#2: Quality of Service (QoS) Filtering

Cross-network QoS Filtering should be the next component addressed. Filtering ensures vital services receive highest priority while those not essential to customer service are lowered in priority. It also allows for the generation of reports to use in analyzing the environment that ensure balance is achieved. Other strategic aspects to consider:

  • Web filtering tools should be reviewed, as they provide an effective means by which to control permitted traffic between the corporate network and the public Intranet based on user permission groups and web site categorization.
  • As a best practice, the same team that monitors and reacts to the QoS should work with the security department to maintain the web filtering tools.

#3: Redundancy, Disaster Recovery, and Business Continuity

Last, having a network that supports the corporate redundancy, disaster recovery and business continuity plans are critical to a holistic view of the corporate network roadmap. Each of these initiatives should be well mapped out for the current state and designed in a way that supports corporate change and growth.

Factoring in these corporate considerations ahead of time promotes tactical alignment from the initiative’s beginning, ensuring the retail organization has a clear vision for the future of its network. Ultimately, this planning will pave the way towards optimal networking in the business environment.

Virtual POS is the new POS Paradigm

We aCloud Computingre at a strategic inflection point where the network is taking center stage by enabling a mobile world where consumers drive self-checkout on their smartphone, interact with their friends in real-time on purchase decisions, and receive discounts and personalized pricing as they are shopping.

The traditional store architecture will not support the agility and flexibility that the store environment requires to evolve. A new leaner architecture will become the new normal and virtualization the new buzzword.

In the past, Virtual POS would not have been an option due to the perceived risk of WAN failure. Today, due to massive investments in infrastructure, we now have robust network infrastructures available that are far more reliable and resilient than anything we have seen in the past. The reliability of today’s networks provides 99.999% up time.

Virtualized POS WP Cover PageThe network changes everything! Virtual POS enables the retailer to have a more agile environment to be able to offer the customer a richer shopping experience while reducing expenses – isn’t this what every retailer is working towards? And best of all, retailers can lower the total cost of ownership for POS by embracing this model.

Why are most retailers reluctant to make the move to virtual POS? Is it fear? Or are we locked into our pre-conceived notions, our bias of what POS should be or what the network should be. Is it that it isn’t perceived as broken so why fix it? Except that it is broken and every day we wait we are missing the next wave. We are only limited by our imaginations to invent the new POS experience.

Are you ready for virtual POS?

For more details on virtual POS, check out this white paper:

Virtual POS is Retail Ready – Are you Ready?

NETWORKS – The Retail Enabler

Significant advances in networks in the past decade are transforming retail, as we know it. However, the transformation isn’t pervasive yet, as the adoption of the latest network technologies requires planning and commitment.

NetworkCorporate, regional and district executives expect instant access to sales transactional data, customer counts, and in-store occurrences via an IP-based camera system. Additionally, new networking capabilities have brought the expectation that sales associates are given visibility and access to inventory located anywhere in the supply chain in real-time. The network is also taking center stage by enabling a mobile world where consumers drive self-checkout on their smartphone, interact with their friends in real-time on purchase decisions, and receive discounts and personalized pricing as they are shopping.

Retailers are consistently looking for ways to improve the in-store experience by providing consumer experiences that surpass expectations. From training services and software to bettering speed and reliability at the point of sale, the demand for process improvement is continual. Yet, despite the desire for progress, a rut has been created in the market of networking. Because of contract obligations and short-term demands, companies end up paying more money for bandwidth, while never re-engineering to accommodate the powerful system that they need.

To illustrate the dilemma, in a 2014 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey conducted by Boston Retail Partners, more than one-third of retailers surveyed stated they have no plans to migrate from IPSEC to a private network. Further, around 30 percent cited they have no plans to utilize voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), instead continuing to use “plain old telephone service” (POTS) technology rather than actualizing on the cost savings of VoIP integration.

Taking the step towards change may be difficult due to concerns about downtime and blackouts. Though these are legitimate concerns, the fact remains that we now have one of the most robust and reliable network infrastructures in the world. While in the past, centralization of the point-of-sale process would not have been viable due to unstable telecommunications networks, massive investments in infrastructure have changed the landscape. In fact, research shows that the reliability of today’s networks provide 99.999% up time. (Source: Galvin Electricity Initiative).

We are at a strategic inflection point where the network is truly transforming retail and the customer experience.

How will you capitalize on this opportunity?