By Brian Buggy, CTO and Co-Founder, Zynstra, an NCR Company
COVID-19 CDC guidelines have forced organizations across the board to review their technology infrastructure and limit high-traffic interactions. This is especially poignant in the world of retail, where the majority of devices in the physical store such as the point of sale (POS) are in use by both associates and shoppers.
As the holidays approach and shoppers across the world have to navigate a potential second spike of COVID-19 cases alongside a desire to complete their gift list, retailers have been forced to continue adapting their physical environment to offer safe and convenient shopping for both consumers and in-store associates.
Part of creating a safe environment includes analyzing their current IT infrastructure and continuing to evolve appropriately to minimize contact. Implementing a software-defined edge strategy can help mitigate this issue.
Traditional Vs. Software-Defined Retail Edge IT Environments
In a traditional retail IT environment, everything is hard wired within each individual device in the store. If a technology device malfunctions, a retailer often has to send a field engineer out to site. The field engineer has to go to the front of the store and deal with hardware that lots of other people have touched – bringing with it all of the hazards that we now have to deal with associated with COVID-19.
However, a software-defined edge strategy allows retailers to avoid this issue by pulling all of the retailer’s key software into a virtual world in the back of the store, allowing for more control, remote diagnosis and remote remediation. In most instances, it dramatically reduces the number of field visits and the number of human interactions.
Analyst firm Gartner defines edge computing as “the art of a distributed computing topology where information processing is located close to the edge, where things and people produce or consume that information.” With this definition in mind, let’s take a look at what a software-defined edge strategy means for today’s retailers.
Back To Business With A Software-Defined Edge Strategy
Adapting to the change of shoppers’ needs and expectations in today’s environment isn’t easy. We have entered a new era of convenience where more workloads require local processing – at the edge – and retailers are chomping at the bit to move fast and provide more flexible checkout options while also safeguarding associates and shoppers. Why? Customers have been forced to experiment with new technologies in their buying behavior in the wake of COVID-19 that they would never have used in the past, and this new behavior will not be temporary.
Many retailers who are in the middle of adapting their IT infrastructure to deal with this unprecedented change face key challenges, including dealing with hardwired and outdated POS systems. These legacy IT infrastructures only delay the deployment of new services and applications. This pain point is unfortunately creating a butterfly effect for other parts of a retailer’s organization. Marketing teams are frustrated as they cannot launch new loyalty apps or other concepts in a timely manner, and operations departments are frustrated as it is making the physical store inefficient and more expensive to run. The majority of retail store technology is device-based, meaning there’s a software application and operating system (OS) installed on every individual terminal or touchpoint throughout the store. Any time an update is needed, or a new store system is added, an entirely new installation of both the application and OS is required on every single device. This is expensive and unsuitable for today’s disruptive environment, where speed to market is critical and travel is restricted.
What’s more, rising labor costs and social distancing measures required in-store are making it more expensive for retailers to run their operations. With the constant change in customer demands, retailers know they need to adapt but are nervous about investing in technology that may soon become out of date.
A software-defined edge strategy gives retailers the core foundation to quickly evolve by helping them reduce cost to serve, improve their customer experience and innovate at speed. It provides virtualization, containerization and automation by integrating in-store touchpoints, including front-of-store devices, back-of-store devices, and associated peripherals, all under an intelligent retail store IT ecosystem managed from the cloud. Ultimately, transitioning to a software-defined edge strategy by virtualizing retail store systems reduces the cost associated with maintaining store systems and gives retailers much greater control.
Agility During The Holiday Sales Season And Beyond
As retailers head into the holiday sales season, agility and safety will be the name of the game in order to succeed. Adopting a software-defined edge strategy will not only give retailers control over their IT ecosystem, but it will also give them the ability to get back to business in a safe and innovative way.