As retailers across the globe pursue new approaches for reducing cost while increasing the quality of their customers’ experience, many are exploring the different ways new digitisation technologies and edge computing are driving business growth. An opportunity to collaborate on this very topic presented itself at the 2019 Innovation Summit, held in Barcelona, Spain. This annual conference focuses on bold ideas surrounding new ways to gain an advantage by digitising energy management and business operations.
Some of the themes that resonated the most with the event participants include the following:
Failure to modernise is costing retail businesses
A grocery store chain in the UK whose refrigeration towers failed was forced to close for three days and lost $150,000 in ruined meat, dairy and produce products. Their system for tracking refrigeration performance was completely manual, and they received no advanced warning that a failure was about to take place. Today, modern digitisation solutions consisting of smart sensors and cloud-based data analytics software can detect anomalies before any such unanticipated downtime occurs.
End-to-end product traceability translates into cost savings and better customer service
Consumers are now demanding access to more data regarding the sources of raw materials that make up the products they buy. Specifically, they want to verify whether those materials are produced in a safe and sustainable manner. In the food and beverage industry, for example, new automated Product Information Management (PIM) systems are bolstering traceability, from farm to table. As a result, consumers are benefiting from safer products, and manufacturers can limit expenses whenever a product recall is required. I recently personally benefited as a consumer. I was alerted within 24 hours of a tainted batch of all-purpose flour my family purchased. We were informed via text message and were able to discard the flour and claim a refund before suffering any serious health side effects.
Hyperconverged infrastructure makes a big splash
Hyperconverged IT platforms, which consist of an aggregation of servers, storage, and virtualisation are allowing businesses such as retailers to save on their store footprint. For example, one European grocery chain shared that their in-store technology room consisted of 34U of traditional rack space (populated with servers, storage, communication switches, power protection and other critical devices). Another more leading-edge grocery chain had recently instituted a policy of not allowing any technology into their stores unless it could be placed within a hyperconverged environment. With this policy in place, they managed to fit the same capacity of compute and storage power into only 2U of rack space (a 94% reduction in space). Less footprint dedicated to compute systems means more shelf space that can drive additional sales.
Vendors such as Scale Computing, are now offering creative solutions such as “data centre in a box,” which combine the advantages of hyperconverged IT with pre-configured, pre-tested, pre-integrated OT (operations technology) software, environmental monitoring, power distribution, and power protection all in one secure rack.
Digitisation helps enhance in-store customer experience
The global head of facility management at a leading fashion retailer presented his approach for enhancing in-store customer experiences. In an environment where high quality justifies a high price, the facilities team digitised the entire store to create a unique, controlled atmosphere that reflects ultimate client comfort. The store temperature can’t be too hot or cold nor the lights too bright or dim. The store must feel secure, comfortable and innovative. As the facilities staff gathers data on client behaviours in their store, the data is used not only to make the store more appealing but to also integrate that data into planning tools that determine exactly where particular products should be placed to maximise revenues. Data gathered at one store is also used to help make the profitability at new stores more predictable.
IT and OT audiences are now converging with common interests
Although the conference attendees all had their own unique stories to tell, some common threads emerged. For instance, during the education sessions, it became apparent that the scope of digitisation now reaches across traditionally separate facility and IT department disciplines. In my presentation alone, of the 30 retail industry stakeholders in the audience, 50% identified themselves as IT specialists while the remainder identified themselves as working within engineering and/or facilities departments. IT specialists are asking to learn more about refrigeration control. Facilities engineers are learning more about data capture, networking and data analysis. A consistent drumbeat is emerging that is driving an interest to share knowledge in order to optimise the benefits of each individual digital journey.
Resources that can support your retail digital journey
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