Who's Minding the Connected Store?
There's a new network effect taking place. From inventory management to point-of-sale systems (POS) to on-site Wi-Fi networks, retailers now rely on network connections to support traditional brick-and-mortar operations and extend new services to in-store customers.
While connectivity is crucial, however, many in the retail industry underestimate how much it's reshaping the IT landscape. The online and in-store domains are converging, and retailers need a strong infrastructure foundation to ensure business operations continue to run smoothly.
In effect, retailers must now pay as much attention to the network architectures underpinning their stores as to the concrete structures that house them. We've moved beyond just physical store management. The future of retail is all about connecting the physical world with the virtual one.
Retailers as Network Operators
Retail IT operations include data center management, connectivity to and from store locations, and wireless network management within stores. If a problem occurs across any of these areas, the consequences range from mild inconvenience to a potentially major loss of revenue. Imagine the impact of downtime in a POS system during the holiday shopping season. An hour without network access could result in tens of thousands of dollars in lost sales. And the more the rate of activity on the system rises, the more vulnerable it is to a failure event.
The key to avoiding downtime, or even degraded connectivity, is performance visibility. Retailers can take control of their infrastructure by deploying monitoring systems to help identify problems and even pinpoint potential issues before there's a customer impact. Whether it's a network switch, a server or an access point, retailers should be able to see what normal operations look like and immediately know when a piece of equipment is acting outside defined parameters.
For example, the NetFlow feature on a Cisco router provides information to IT on the characteristics of the IP traffic it supports. When retailers have an efficient way to collect and analyze that data, they can create baselines for normal activity and set alerts to be triggered when a change occurs.