Guest Column | January 23, 2020

How Smaller Retailers Can Gain An Edge — On The Remote Network Edge — With SD-WAN

By Cliff Duffey, Cybera

Network SD-WAN

While analysts continue to crunch the overall industry numbers, if you’re a retailer, you’re likely already celebrating or lamenting the impact of the recent holiday shopping season on your business. And, while the overall numbers in the U.S. are looking quite positive, if you’re a smaller retailer who didn’t maximize your potential sales opportunity, it may be time to consider a new approach.

Particularly in this digital era, technology greatly influences how you offer and deliver your products and services. This includes figuring out how to accommodate the way consumers want to shop and pay today—in stores, from their living rooms, and basically anywhere using their mobile devices.

That is one of the reasons sustained success in the retail industry involves implementing the best technology platform possible to improve your business outcomes. Unfortunately, as a smaller retailer, you can face some distinct disadvantages in terms of budget and IT staff limitations when competing against much larger retailers, let alone e-tailers. E-tailers have been and continue to be a rather uncomfortable thorn in the side of smaller retailers. A recent CNBC article quoted some startling statistics. According to ShopperTrack data, Black Friday sales for brick-and-mortar stores dropped 6.2 percent, after shopping on Thanksgiving Day rose 2.3 percent. While Black Friday online sales hit an all-time record of $7.4 billion in sales, according to Adobe Analytics.

Fortunately, there is also a great technology equalizer to help you compete head-to-head with larger competitors: secure software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN).

A Technical SD-WAN Primer

SD-WAN is a software-based technology for connecting remote locations to a distributed enterprise network. SD-WANs at the edge operate as a network overlay enabling remote sites to consolidate multiple network functions and applications over low-cost broadband connections. Because SD-WANs are software-based, they reduce the number of network devices and connections needed at each site, significantly lowering network complexity and costs. These software-defined WANs can be remotely customized and reconfigured to support changing needs and system updates.

Today’s most innovative SD-WAN solutions are able to take these capabilities even further by providing highly secure and effortless application deployment for distributed enterprises that have hundreds or even thousands of locations. For these solutions, since everything can be provisioned, secured and managed remotely in the cloud, you can deploy enterprise-grade networking and apps to all your remote sites with zero truck rolls and zero on-site IT staff.

Operating as a managed service, SD-WAN solutions are able to greatly simplifies enterprise-wide SD-WAN implementation thereby eliminating the need for IT departments to maintain their own SD-WAN data centers. This results in very fast time to execution for initial installations as well as future upgrades and it can all be done at web scale with the lowest possible cost.

An SD-WAN that includes unified threat management, or UTM, provides an integrated security and visibility solution that grows in scope to increase security agility. UTM covers a broad range of security functions such as firewalls, web and app filtering, SIEM, SSL (decryption, inspection, and re-encryption), intrusion detection and antivirus, anti-malware and anti-spyware software.

An SD-WAN solution where each application is assigned its own virtual application network, or VAN, to protect against breach propagation allows diverse applications, such as POS and guest Wi-Fi, to be optimized with their own custom security and performance policies rather than relying on one-size-fits-all settings.

The loss of a WAN connection can bring the operations of a remote site to a screeching halt. Some SD-WAN solution offer built-in automatic 3G/4G LTE wireless failover in order to ensure uninterrupted WAN connectivity if the primary broadband connection goes down. The transport-independent and software-defined nature of some SD-WAN platforms also make them 5G LTE ready when this new service becomes available.

From a technical standpoint, it is clear to see why secure SD-WAN solutions are increasingly popular across a wide swath of industries. In fact, a recent IDC report found that around 75 percent of businesses surveyed either were already using an SD-WAN platform or had plans to integrate one within two years. Separate research showed that approximately one-quarter of companies surveyed looked forward to significant savings through SD-WAN—as much as 40 percent.

Going Beyond Pricing Discounts

So, what makes SD-WAN such a smart choice for smaller retailers? While some advanced technologies—such as shopping and payment apps, as well as the Internet of Things (IoT)—might seem alluring to smaller retailers. However, they also can create more IT-related headaches than they solve. Not only that, but they also can be cost-prohibitive or lack the appropriate level of data security unless you have a full team of highly skilled IT professionals to manage them.

As a result, many franchises, remote sites, and other small retailers feel that they simply can’t keep pace with larger retail organizations. But what if you could easily take advantage of advanced technologies to deliver a much more compelling customer experience (CX)?

This is precisely how SD-WAN can help level the playing field for you smaller retailers. By leveraging SD-WAN solutions, you can go beyond price discounting to compete for customers much more effectively. For instance, if you can focus on personalizing and perfecting the CX you deliver, it can be a transformative start to modernizing your business.

Equalizing The Network Edge

The value of SD-WAN is most apparent for smaller retailers who tend to operate at the remote network edge, an area with key challenges that traditional networking has yet to solve. Thanks to its flexibility, SD-WAN technology is ideal in this type of remote environment, particularly if you want to deliver an omnichannel shopping experience and a choice of payment applications, both of which have become critical for retailers and e-tailers alike.

To start with, SD-WAN can simplify the testing and deployment of new cloud-based apps and services at the remote network edge—with a smaller budget and minimal on-site IT management. The result is a reliable network foundation empowering a streamlined digital transformation that can make your business more agile, manageable, and secure.

In particular, SD-WAN can help you:

  • Quickly roll out shopping and payment applications and services that boost customer engagement
  • Easily integrate online and in-store shopping experiences as part of an omnichannel environment
  • Increase data security through encryption, secure payments, next-generation firewalls, and automated PCI compliance tools
  • Generate new revenue to improve your profitability

If you are a smaller retailer, you face enough challenges without adding technology to the list. Why not flip the script and leverage a flexible, secure networking platform that’s already proving its worth at the remote network edge? SD-WAN can be the great equalizer you need to compete against larger retailers and dramatically improve your bottom line—not just during key holiday shopping seasons, but throughout the entire year as well.

About The Author

Cliff Duffey has served as Cybera's President since founding the company in February 2001. As president, he has been the architect of Cybera's growth and emergence as a leading security technology company. Prior to Cybera, Duffey served as Senior Vice President of Corporate Development at Covad, managing the acquisition and integration of BlueStar Communications. Duffey was Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at BlueStar Communications, where he managed technology strategy, business development, product marketing, and the rollout of BlueStar's network of 450 U.S. data centers. He also held management positions with Ascend Communications until its acquisition by Lucent, and Intermedia Communications. Duffey holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering from Clemson University.