Modernizing the Store Infrastructure Without Breaking the Bank

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01/15/2020
David Wilkinson is SVP/GM, global retail at NCR

Short-sighted retailers have under-invested in their in-store technology and are currently struggling with legacy IT infrastructures that are complex, expensive and outdated.

Retail executives must decide if patching their in-store infrastructures and sticking to what they know is the answer, or if it is best to rip and replace expensive in-store infrastructures and venture into the unknown. Many are discovering that it is possible to modernize existing in-store infrastructures and remain competitive for years to come – without breaking the bank.

To uncover how retailers can best leverage the power of the software-defined store to reinvent their infrastructure, NCR SVP/GM, global retail, David Wilkinson, sat down with CSN's sister publication RIS for an exclusive Q&A on the topic.

RIS: What pain points drive retailers to consider a software-defined store?

Wilkinson: Today’s store IT infrastructure is complicated. Systems are thick-deployed, with device-level software/hardware compatibility concerns. As customers demand more, having to update both hardware and software is often time-consuming and cost-prohibitive.

Some retailers face an impending deadline to overcome operating system end-of-life challenges (Windows 10 compatibility) with their existing point of sale, so the clock is ticking.

With the transformational speed of change within retail, it’s unclear what to invest in to modernize and stay ahead. Adding new innovations to inflexible systems is challenging. So, there’s a risk of buying the wrong thing and being stuck ― a flexible platform is key to survival.

Also, legacy systems are expensive to maintain. IT budgets are eaten up by maintenance and support, with nothing left to spend on innovation. Organic and acquisition growth is being compromised by the complexity of legacy store infrastructures when attempting to deploy systems into new stores.

RIS: What benefits can retailers achieve by implementing virtual servers?

Wilkinson: Faster store acquisition and organic growth. A software-defined store architecture allows retailers to create a single software image of an existing store IT ecosystem and deploy it across new stores with minimal intervention. So, they can stand up new stores fast — without replacing hardware — significantly reducing costs.

There is less downtime for planned and unplanned maintenance. The software-defined store operates in a resilient architecture that reduces the impact of utility, hardware or software faults. A dual-edge server provides high availability for critical systems that didn’t have it before.

Systems feature simplified issue identification and resolution. With virtualization, retailers can remotely monitor and resolve equipment issues with fewer interventions and expensive site visits. They can centrally and precisely control store IT across a large store estate.

In addition, retailers enjoy reduced hardware purchase and ongoing maintenance costs. Virtualizing existing POS registers extends the life of existing hardware (by moving software applications and operating systems off the device and onto the virtualized server). This eliminates device-level hardware/OS compatibility issues, and can lead to measurably improved performance. When it’s time to upgrade hardware, retailers can buy lower-cost, “thinner” hardware.

And finally, the solution increases staff productivity. With virtualization, a single device can access multiple systems. A cashier can switch between the POS and a back-office system without leaving the lane, or a manager could use an inventory tablet as a mobile POS during peak times.

RIS: Based on your experience, what advice can you offer retailers looking to get started?

Wilkinson: Start by uncovering the biggest IT challenges they face in the stores to realize immediate benefits. Most often, these issues cause the biggest pain:

  • POS hardware/software/OS compatibility concerns
  • Reliability of critical systems needs to be improved
  • Business processes that require specialized hardware (or multiple pieces of hardware) to accomplish a task

Retailers must understand that a software-defined approach isn’t about solving a single IT issue (like a POS upgrade) – it’s a fundamental strategy that benefits every IT project going forward. They should think about long-term IT operational efficiency gains. By remotely and centrally controlling store IT, retailers can significantly reduce the expense of IT teams to patch and fix store IT issues.

We also think it’s important for retailers to understand the difference between traditional data center-focused virtualization and a system purpose-built for retail. Clients who are familiar with the data center systems are concerned that additional IT staff or virtualization expertise is required – but that isn’t true with our solution. We’ve designed the infrastructure to be self-maintaining, with security features built-in, and we’ve addressed things such as POS peripherals and retail system workloads. Understanding these differences is important to realizing the true value of a software-defined approach to retail.

RIS: What can retailers do to future proof their store systems?

Wilkinson: Start with a flexible in-store infrastructure. It’s the key to everything else. Don’t “rip and replace.” Likely, the existing system works ― it just needs flexibility. By decoupling the hardware from software, and adding cloud-based API services, retailers can enhance what they have today and be able to innovate faster for tomorrow ― maximizing ROI all the way.