Magazine Article | February 15, 2007

Maximize Your WAN's Worth

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

This retailer provides an enhanced customer experience by connecting its locations with a broadband WAN.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, March 2007

It started out as a simple point-to-point WAN connection between Elephant Pharmacy's first retail location and its corporate office in 2004. It has grown to be a network that connects all three Elephant Pharmacy locations and offers many additional benefits for the retailer. "It" is a WAN provided by New Edge Networks. However, this WAN is more than just technology — it provides Elephant with competitive advantages.

Providing a high-quality customer experience is the mission of Elephant. The average customer visit to an Elephant Pharmacy store is 45 minutes. Those lengthy customer visits happen because Elephant is a lifestyle store, not just a pharmacy. In the back of each store, Elephant provides a full western culture pharmacy as well as an eastern culture pharmacy with free educational classes for customers. The front of each store provides natural lifestyle items such as foods, body care, and cosmetics.

Tim Millen, VP of IT for Elephant Pharmacy, says, "Our goal is to provide our customers with great service by being a multistore chain that appears to be a single store. The WAN became a critical part of our stores' ability to communicate with each other." Millen wanted each store to have instant access to vital customer information, regardless of which location the customer visited. In addition, the network had to scale to 50 locations, if needed. Millen knew this was more than the local phone carrier could handle with a single point-to-point model. That's when Elephant's Communications Advisor, Doug Kanner with W. Lange And Company Inc., recommended New Edge Networks. New Edge designs, builds, and manages networks for businesses. The company focuses on markets such as retail, healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing.

High-Speed WAN Provides Multiple Retail Benefits
Millen realized that VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) technology would be critical in providing the type of real-time communications that Elephant required, while maintaining HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance. Speed and reliability also were of utmost importance. New Edge installed a primary WAN that uses ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) over DSL that is completely private (isolated from the Internet), providing a 1.544 Mbps (megabits per second) data transfer rate between locations. To provide the redundancy needed for a real-time application, the backup WAN consists of standard DSL connections at each store with VPN (virtual private network) capabilities for security and compliance. Should the primary WAN fail, communications will cut over to the standard DSL connections.

In addition to VoIP and data transfers between locations, the WAN also provides application access for digital video security monitoring and remote control capabilities for PC maintenance. Millen can look at all video information from a single location, and when he runs the video in fast-forward, he can see customer traffic patterns and adjust buying and product placement accordingly.

Why not build the WAN in-house? "We outsourced this project since we do not have the staff required to install, configure, and maintain a WAN, especially as we add locations," he says. As Elephant continues to add those locations and services, customers will be able to request prescription refills online. In addition, Elephant plans to add in-store kiosks for prescription refills. Eventually, Elephant will offer a chain-based IVR (interactive voice response) system to provide information to customers, as well as prescription ordering services. All of those services will be dependent upon the WAN connections to function in a real-time and dependable manner.

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