Five edge tech tips for retail CIOs

Retailers' data strategies should include edge computing.

While retailers have focused on cloud strategy, today, the vast majority of any scale are turning their attention to their edge strategy.

As the number of applications, smart devices, sensors, and end points in the store grows and increases in complexity, deciding what data is processed in the cloud and at the edge while ensuring high resilience is paramount.

Every customer we meet wants to move and innovate faster but at a lower cost. Edge technology makes this possible. So, here are some tips when planning your retail edge strategy.

Focus on business outcomes

Like all IT initiatives, a clear eye on the short-, mid- and long-term business outcomes is key. Agility, speed to market, customer experience and reducing operating costs are common requirements. When looking at innovation, it’s tempting to focus on a single pilot versus the ability to operate at scale. Partner with internal and external teams who have significant experience in retail operations while proving the business value.

Build a clear picture of the requirements and dependencies and prioritise applications core to store performance. Point of service (POS), self-checkout and analytics are popular use cases for edge technology, particularly with the emphasis on agility, shrink loss and staff productivity.

Decide your data strategy and don’t forget the network

A well thought out data strategy can help you avoid costly mistakes and wasted money. From transaction and system data, behavior and stock data to vision and sensor data, you need to understand the total volume of data that needs to be processed, where that can be run, how much bandwidth you need across WAN and LAN, and how much latency you can deal with.

Ultimately, this comes down to deciding what data needs to be run in the cloud and at the edge, while understanding your resilience requirements. Typically, non-real-time machine learning is run upstream in the cloud, whereas real time POS updates are processed at the edge. A failover strategy will also be required to ensure continuous operations for the most critical applications in the store, underpinned by your edge infrastructure.

Be clear on ownership and responsibilities

In a small retail environment, the IT team will be responsible for all decisions relating to store technology, however larger retailers often split applications and infrastructure teams. It’s important to understand who is responsible for what at a design, build and operating level.

Both teams should be aligned on the business outcomes, key drivers, risks and costs. In an increasingly cloud-native technology environment there may need to be significant changes to your ways of working across application and infrastructure. Re-structuring your teams to meet these objectives may be necessary.

The right skills set needs to be identified for security, maintenance and support post-edge implementation, particularly as most applications will no longer operate on Microsoft Windows. Edge environments are not like data center environments, so, when new capabilities are introduced, taking a ‘security by design’ approach is essential in order to avoid or mitigate new attack vectors.

Don’t reinvent the wheel or rip and replace

No need to go through an expensive rip and replace exercise or the pain of building your own in-house edge infrastructure. While most retailers are caught in the "legacy trap," having acquired technology debt over many years, they can take simple steps to modernize their existing store infrastructure with an edge strategy.

Virtualizing or containerizing existing applications enables hardware to be separated from the software, so they can run the latest software on any hardware and more easily drive change. They can also evolve their applications to microservices and containers, allowing applications to be more rapidly deployed, patched, or scaled.

By taking this approach, you can deploy any update to an endpoint in the store with real agility. That can be a new feature or simply a security change or a bug fix.

Determine your edge in vs. cloud out approach

Like any tool, cloud works well for some jobs but not others. Edge, on the other hand, is designed to cope with conditions that cloud infrastructure was not intended to accommodate. Retailers must decide how these two approaches can be best combined to deliver in-store operational success.

Identify vendors that have spent years investing in this type of cloud native technology, one that is purpose built for the unique retail edge environment, taking into account not only the cloud applications and on-site store systems but also the plethora of retail peripheral touchpoints that will require edge integration. It's not something that can be replicated easily, so choose wisely.


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