Behind the scenes, CenturyLink connects virtual and physical retail
Performed properly, omnichannel retail looks easy to the customer and is complex for the retailer.
Fortunately for retailers, managed network technology vendor CenturyLink provides a full suite of cloud, SaaS, and hybrid solutions that support seamless enterprise operations across digital and physical channels. This includes leading-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, which are redefining omnichannel retailing.
Chain Store Age recently spoke with Tim Wood, general manager, eastern region of CenturyLink, about how secure, next generation technology infrastructure enables retailers to deliver a highly personalized and profitable omnichannel customer experience.
How are emerging technologies like AI and machine learning changing the way retailers are looking at infrastructure?
“Retailers are navigating an omnichannel world with an uphill battle of perception and reality. Physical locations are still driving valuable customer experiences and significant portions of revenue, despite the perception that retail locations are dying and going online.
“While online retail is growing, analysis shows the brick-and-mortar channel is still growing revenue. AI insights allow for data-driven decisions and efficiently-run ecosystems to flourish in ways that weren’t possible before. AI and machine learning allow for intelligent customer support, predictive/proactive recommendations for customers, and meaningful business metrics for retailers as they execute strategies and experience.
“These breakthroughs enable smart retail. As Internet of Things (IoT) evolves, retailers can now collect, analyze and distribute data in ways that create intimacy with customers, and make relevant business decisions based on data and validated in real time. Traffic patterns, supply chain, customer feedback, point of purchase, omnichannel correlations, and so many other data points are at the fingertips of retailers. And it all has to work on an intelligent IT and network infrastructure that is evolving at the same pace your customers and business are growing.”
What security solutions should retailers be seeking when implementing emerging technologies?
“Retailers have all kinds of data. Customer data is one of the most sensitive types of data, and as a trusted provider of products and services for the customer, you must invest in them and protect them. Protecting your network has never been more pivotal.
“An intelligent network is the first step. Whether it’s software-defined networking (SDN)/network function virtualization (NFV), network monitoring, or intelligent firewalls, businesses need to realize that in an IoT world, protecting your data is the most important thing you have to do. Reactive security isn’t good enough anymore.
“That’s why IoT security solutions haven’t always met the demand of the ever-changing, rapidly-growing retail industry. However, there is a resurgence of getting back to basics. This means securing critical devices and partitioning off your network to make sure the right elements are secure, while other elements have flexibility and agility needed to address customer and business requirements.”
How can retailers effectively support AI and machine learning solutions on the back end?
“We see the back end broken into a few areas: IT infrastructure (cloud, on-premises, data centers), network infrastructure (wireless and core network), and application/support (applications, OSS/BSS, and human support). Data is only as good as the business decisions and customer interaction you are creating.
“In order to do that, the foundational elements have to be evolved. Too many times, customers don’t get the full promise of AI and machine learning without the ability to move the data intelligently and efficiently across their infrastructure. Clouds and data centers have to be dynamically capable of handling multiple policies, use cases, and location requirements.”
How can CenturyLink help retailers in deploying these latest emerging technologies?
“Customers need to move, synthesize and react to data. Those actions need to happen as fast and close to the customer as possible. CenturyLink has the infrastructure and network capabilities from the cloud, all the way down to the edge, making it a perfect partner for smart retailers looking to evolve with their customer base.
“We have managed services, and expertise to help consult in the IoT, AI, and machine learning journey most customers are facing today. Ultimately, our intelligent network & IT infrastructure along with our managed services/consulting can accelerate business decisions and customer experiences in an IoT world, especially in retail.”