By David Thomas, motorolasolutions.com
For a glimpse at the future of retail, take a look inside one of today’s retail stores. Technology innovation is transforming the retail environment and mobility is leading the charge.
So, what is driving the change? A number of factors, not least of which is the widespread consumer adoption of mobile technology. Consumer experiences with smartphones, tablets and digital applications are helping to reset shopper behavior and expectations. In a mobile world, information and applications are readily available and everything can be done on the fly.
Retailers have responded to emerging consumer expectations for service and convenience by adopting a wide range of mobile technologies in stores, supporting every aspect of store operations ranging from checkout and inventory searches to customer service.
For some retailers, mobile computing devices and mobile infrastructure, such as wireless local area networks (WLANs), have become key differentiators as they look for ways to drive efficiencies and improve customer satisfaction. Not only do these technologies have customer-facing advantages, helping enhance the customer shopping experience, they also provide operational benefits, allowing active management of the sales floor, supporting inventory tracking and optimizing checkout to name a few.
For retailers that have already deployed the infrastructure necessary to support mobile solutions and for those contemplating making this investment, a new mindset is required. Management of these technologies may require a set of skills and tools that may not exist within your IT organization.
Mobile technology, not unlike many of today’s hot innovations, is characterized by rapid development cycles that constantly deliver new features and functionality enhancements. However, the rapid rate of change can test or stretch the ability of IT organizations to support them. For a retail enterprise, which easily may have thousands of mobile computing devices deployed across hundreds of stores, maintaining, monitoring and optimizing the performance of these devices and supporting networks can be a daunting task.
Fortunately, there is a viable alternative available for retailers that recognize the strategic importance of deploying mobile technologies but which may lack the operational resources to get the best return on their investments. That option is a managed service. By using a service approach, retailers can take advantage of third-party providers to bridge the gaps in skills, tools and capital investment that may limit the effectiveness of their in-house management effort.
When it comes to selecting a managed services partner, retailers should keep in mind that specialization counts. All networks are not created equal and capability in the management of a wired network does not necessarily translate directly to the management of a mobile enterprise’s IT ecosystem. Differences in devices, applications, user profiles, business processes and network architecture call for expertise in those areas to achieve the best outcomes.
For retailers who choose to supplement in-house capabilities with managed services, there are clear benefits. These include:
- Better return on investment from mobile infrastructure expenditures that deliver the enhanced levels of customer engagement and productivity promised in their original business cases.
- Access to third-party resources – including data center infrastructure, remote management tools, well-defined business rules or skilled personnel – which may not exist in or be available to your organization.
- More cost-effective management that delivers better or equivalent performance from a third-party resource able to take advantage of economies of scale.
- More freedom to focus internal resources on strategic initiatives.
The decision to use managed services for mobile infrastructure management is one that all retailers should consider as they evaluate their plans for mobility within their current operational models. As a retail executive, you may want to qualify your need for managed services by considering whether any of the following situations apply to your organization.
- You recognize the value of the mobile technology but don’t necessarily have the expert resources or experience to assure that your infrastructure is optimized for maximum performance.
- Operating goals and high degrees of competition have led you to deploy or consider deploying mobility-enabling technologies, but you’ll want to ensure that most cost-effective solution is in place for managing these technologies.
- You recognize a need for new technology and capabilities but do not want to divert focus and assets away from innovation (building the retail store of the future) to troubleshooting and problem solving.
The upcoming holiday season will provide many retailers with an opportunity to try new technologies and to evaluate investments in mobile infrastructure. In the past year, a number of leading retailers have announced deployments of mobile device technologies and laid plans to enhance mobility-based engagement with their customers. Innovative services, from guest access to mobile concierge services, will be on display. Associates will use WLAN networks to access real-time information and speed customer progress through the store. In the background, IT organizations at a number of retailers will be ensuring that mobile devices are running as expected and that tools and applications are working without interruption. Some will do so with the benefit of managed services supporting back of the store capabilities such as device management, managed WLAN services, mobile security and even compliance reporting services.
If current trends hold, the growth of mobile infrastructure in retail environments to enhance the shoppers experience will be critical. To ensure the best shopping experience, the challenge of effectively scaling and managing devices, networks and applications will persist. The future of retail will be shaped by the capability to empower retailers to engage mobile technology in a flexible manner to support them and their customers as mobile technologies are widely deployed to drive the shopper’s experience as well as shopper loyalty.
David Thomas is VP, managed services at Motorola Solutions. For more information, please visit motorolasolutions.com.