Identifying the foundation of digital transformation in retail
Photo by iStock.com
By Sanjay Srinivasan, chief technology architect, Vonage
Technological advances have created a world of zero patience, where high expectations exist for immediate and high-quality everything. Nowhere is the zero-patience phenomenon more evident than in retail, where the customer experience can either drive brand loyalty or tarnish brand reputation.
Certainly, today's consumers expect personalized shopping experiences, customizable goods and the satisfaction of two-day shipping. Furthermore, consumers want technology-enabled shopping: smartphone purchases, virtual assistants, self-checkout, and tablet- and phone-enabled product demos. But enabling these experiences requires digitized network backbones, and, as part of this, a software-defined WAN (SD-WAN).
Better business outcomes
Historically, retailers have run traditional hardware-based WANs to link stores across distributed geographical locations. However, WANs require heavyweight infrastructures comprising various inflexible hardware components and governance policies. If a problem occurs, WANs typically require a technician to manually address the problem, adding to the already expensive overhead cost of maintaining hardware.
SD-WANs eliminate these hardware dependencies. Moreover, retailers find SD-WANs can optimize communication quality across the retailer's entire network, which can often span large geographic distances. Using an SD-WAN enables latency-free in-store networks that are consistently available. In addition, SD-WANs improve upon the security, performance and quality of traditional on-premises internet. Retailers that migrate to an SD-WAN can reap the benefits of lowered costs and improved customer satisfaction and loyalty. In short, SD-WANs are emerging fast as the foundation for a high-quality customer experience and better business outcomes overall.
The SD-WAN experience
Part of the 21st century-consumer experience revolves around free Wi-Fi for shoppers at brick-and mortar establishments. However, retailers often use the same network for both consumer-facing and internal applications, clogging bandwidth required for point-of-sale transactions. Consider a customer in a retail store attempting to make a purchase, but the salesperson can only respond with "sorry, our system is running slowly today."
With an SD-WAN, retailers potentially avoid this frustrating scenario and take control of network provisioning and traffic by routing and prioritizing data traffic at the application level. In addition, the technology allows retailers to switch between existing WAN and commercial internet lines in the event of a connection problem, ensuring consistent network availability. In fact, retailers are also able use dual internet connections, including options where one of those connections is wireless LTE, providing true diversity.
For retailers operating a number of store locations, SD-WAN can enable seamless communication between store sites. Distributed organizations often use a variety of broadband providers and solutions, each with its own level of up time, speed and quality. A more remote store branch might only have slower, wireless connectivity available in the store. The lack of a wired network can slow workflows and occasionally force retailers into using sub optimal technology choices.
Besides pressing needs such as quality, basic administrative tasks can be a challenge when communications are carried over a variety of networks and network types. This means the San Francisco branch might have a difficult time communicating effectively with a store branch in a more remote area. With SD-WAN, retailers can apply a universal policy across a variety of network types at different locations to ensure communication data takes the best possible path at all times. An SD-WAN implementation can also shape traffic over wireless connections to ensure maximum efficiency despite the slower connectivity. This kind of provisioning is much harder to do with MPLS and commercial internet.
The foundation of modern commerce
The migration to SD-WAN can complete the digitization process so many retailers are embarking upon today. SD-WAN promises to customize and improve shopping experiences, automate daily processes so associates can spend more time focusing on customers, and allow retailers to scale their technology offerings as they grow.
These are facets of the new, immersive shopping experience retailers must offer in a zero-patience world. Yet, today's requisite customer engagement is not possible without a backbone that can support modern commerce. A digitized network is the cornerstone for a successful transformation, and retailers that continue modernization attempts on traditional infrastructure are likely to fall behind.