Trend 4: Expanding Branch Office Services
In order to remain competitive, retail organizations must deliver better customer service in their physical stores. This is accomplished by migrating away from traditional lean-branch operational models focused on cost reduction to a more sophisticated service-rich operational model within the store. Deploying integrated and context-aware services into the store for both sales associate and customer use will translate into a better shopping experience, return visits, and brand loyalty.
New services such as robust wireless telephony solutions can enable better availability and improve responsiveness of sales associates for customer assistance by tying service desks to every associate in real-time, as well as provide push-to-talk integration for integrated in-store communications. Digital video services over wireless enable increased security by providing real-time video feeds to in-store security personnel, and can enable videoconferencing for merchandise planning and collaboration with headquarters staff. Location based services allow retailers to provide relevant services to customers, such as targeted promotions that appeal to today’s cost-conscious consumer or in-store navigation (wayfinding) to improve the customer shopping experience. Location services will also require the Wi-Fi network to be deeply integrated with back-end marketing systems, making it more integral to core retail business operation.
Traditionally, these types of services were only available within campus networks due to the cost of deployment into highly distributed branch offices. However, virtualization and deeper integration between network and application architectures are making these services available for branch offices at more reasonable costs.
Increasingly, retail Wi-Fi networks are providing more intelligent capabilities rather than serving as a basic network access mechanism. As a rich source of real-time and context-aware data, retailers are exposing Wi-Fi network information through APIs for consumption by broader enterprise services and applications. Wi-Fi networks are becoming highly-integrated with core business systems.
Trend 5: High Availability
The modern retail branch Wi-Fi network must be highly available, even more so than the wide-area network (WAN) circuits back to the main office or data centers. This requires site survivability without loss of functionality. Survivability of historically centralized services such as directory, RADIUS, DHCP, and DNS will need to be to in place to prevent failure of local network connections and applications, service outages, loss of business functionality, and impact to core retail business operations.
High availability can be accomplished either through deployment of centralized services down to each branch or by installation of an intelligent wireless network. Deployment of services to each branch can be a very expensive undertaking, requiring physical or virtual server deployment, licensing, maintenance, data replication, higher WAN bandwidth, and extensive growth of management and monitoring tools for these distributed services. Alternatively, an intelligent Wi-Fi network can dynamically adjust for the loss of central services and provide site survivability for a period of time until those services can be restored. It can accomplish this through a robust software feature set that integrates RADIUS, provides credential caching with directory services, and dynamically monitors central services to intelligently transition to local network survivability when required. What’s better is that this functionality is built into the network and doesn’t require deployment of additional hardware, software, or management tools.
Revolution or Evolution? – Andrew’s Take
Modern retail branch wireless networks must provide a high capacity, performance-rich, distributed, scalable, highly available, and stable architecture that also provides intelligent, context-aware services that integrate directly into back-office merchandising, marketing, and analytics systems. Wi-Fi networks are migrating from a best effort inventory focused service, to a core retail business enabler that demands much higher performance and service levels. Along with this shift, business partners and key stakeholders will take a much more involved and active role in determining network requirements to support core business capabilities. IT organizations must understand and navigate this change effectively to be considered business partners rather than an inflexible organization the business teams will seek to bypass.
Revolution Wi-Fi (Blog)
I hope you enjoyed Andrew’s take as much as we have, and a huge thanks goes out to him for his time and expertise. Want to be our next featured guest blogger? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter: @Cisco_Mobility.