By Matt Pillar, chief editor
September 2013 Integrated Solutions For Retailers
As retail networks strain under the weight of application proliferation, network security and uptime once again take center stage.
Channel convergence, systems integration, and a growing bevy of customer-facing applications are a few of the trends putting new pressure on local and wide-area networks. As a result, we’re seeing attention turned back toward network infrastructure and security, the likes of which we haven’t seen in retail since the great migration from dial-up to broadband. Here, Steven White, senior director of technology at Vector Security, offers some advice to retailers.
Retailers have more applications to choose from than ever before, and today it’s all networked. What are the network implications of all that choice (i.e. bandwidth, management, security, etc.)?
White: Beyond the ones that we routinely think about, like security/PCI compliance, WAN performance, and reliability, there are trends driving a new way of managing network infrastructure. Two examples are the myriad solutions around digital retailing (intelligent fixtures, customer Wi-Fi) and the need to support multiple partnerships with cloud/hosted service providers. The net result is that retailers need to manage multiple broadband connections, and they are partnering to accomplish this. A quality managed service provider (MSP) can deliver reliable bandwidth along with a suite of services to secure and control access, easing the burden on IT departments.
As retailers consider bandwidth-intensive networked decisions (video, POS, mobile, kiosks, digital signage, etc.), how does network design enable/prohibit the secure and successful testing/ piloting/rollout of these apps and devices?
White: This is an area of concern among retailers, and it illustrates how planning and partnerships deliver results. When properly architected, modern IP networks can securely support all of these technologies and more, while ensuring that POS and other critical systems perform as intended. A common mistake is deploying a network without bringing all of the internal stakeholders and technology providers together to discuss both current and future needs. One example is video surveillance, where bandwidth requirements can vary depending on the cameras in use, the degree to which they are accessed across the WAN/Internet, and future plans for cloud storage and centralized “command center” operations. Those responsible for managing the networks need to be involved with tests and pilots from the outset, no matter how small. It is sometimes overlooked that what works flawlessly at one or two locations does not necessarily scale without creating problems on the WAN or at the corporate data center.
Retailers are aware virtually every networked device or application can collect Big Data. What’s the network’s role in ensuring that data is transformed into actionable information?
White: The challenge is more about understanding the value of information and bringing it together in meaningful ways. Connectivity is becoming ubiquitous, so smarter methods of consolidating data and reporting across multiple datasets are key. A deep understanding of retail — both in general and in the ways that make a store/chain unique — can be the difference between a sea of disparate bits and useful intelligence. The “Internet of Things” trend is transformative for retailers. They will sell smarter products that rely on networks to be demonstrated and displayed, and they will benefit from network-enabled devices that provide insight into how their stores, employees, and customers interact.
As retailers plan/build out new networks, what are the biggest mistakes you see them making and what threats to the business do those mistakes pose?
White: Balancing security, services, and capacity will be top of mind for retail IT departments. That said, I see the greatest risk in building a network infrastructure that does not adapt quickly enough to the changing needs of retail. The right approach involves partners who can effectively manage all aspects of network and technology deployment — from edge devices and cabling, to managed connectivity and reporting. The lines between traditional disciplines like physical and data security, as well as networking and database management, will continue to blur, and retailers stand to benefit. Without the ability to evaluate and support disruptive technologies and participate in emerging trends, retailers run the risk of lagging behind. With it, they are positioned for initiatives ranging from supply chain visibility and omni-channel marketing, to centralized video and analytics.