Whether it’s digital signage, smart labels, smart payments and smart carts to sales staff’s checkout devices, predictive equipment maintenance, inventory management, and even smart fitting rooms, the retail industry has recently seen a significant transformation led by smart devices. 

These help improve in-store digital experiences for customers and allow data collection and processing at the source, while in turn empowering on-site workers to deliver more. 

These devices are what we call the “edge”: they are an extension of retailers’ digital systems, distributed into a variety of locations and used by various staff members, and present a massive opportunity.

The smart retail devices market in APAC is expected to grow from US$ 3,327.87 million in 2019 to US$ 5,467.51 million by 2027, with smart payments being the fastest growing segment.

But as adoption of the edge increases – IDC predicts that the number of apps at the edge will increase by 800% by 2024 – retailers face the challenge of effectively managing these devices which, if improperly managed, can greatly compromise customer experience and even sales (i.e. data breach, storage issue, connectivity problem/outage). This is an analogue to the digital transformation wave set a decade ago which triggered accelerated adoption of DevOps for IT Infrastructure.

Navigating the edge: core pain points

The problem at the edge is larger than when it comes to others with other digital systems typically hosted in data centres or in the cloud. These have stable internet connectivity and no

direct interaction with users, making them less susceptible to security threats and misconfigurations.

For most retailers, every tiny issue at the edge means the need for manual intervention. The problem tends to get magnified due to the location of the device and usually a lack of technical ground staff.

  1. Connectivity and disk space issues leading to frequent failures

In a store or a warehouse, internet connectivity can be unpredictable, leading to frequent download failures, which is compounded by limited disk space and computing power on devices can.

With no technical support staff present, the only means of identifying issues is through help desk calls from the stores.

  1. Lack of visibility

Most teams do not have knowledge of what is happening on devices in a remote location like a store. If an update – for example of a key sales or customer service application – is pushed, there is no way to know if that was pushed successfully unless they check with the store personnel.

Oftentimes applications of key software or security updates are deployed and it’s a game of “hoping for the best.”

Furthermore, if the device is shut down or undergoing a restart at that moment, it could result in a failure that the tech team has no visibility into.

  1. Security issues

A device in a store or warehouse setting can be affected by various incidents such as physical damage, unintentional alteration of settings by employees, or even theft. Since multiple personnel may have access to the same device, security breaches can occur, potentially exposing sensitive data such as customer identification and credit card information.

Managing smart devices for competitive advantage

Many organisations are attempting to manually manage devices and software at the edge, and trying to create and maintain in-house solutions to address edge computing challenges. Yet they still encounter deployment and security issues that impede innovation and growth.

Business leaders and marketers in the retail industry should look to empower their tech teams so they can build, deploy and run applications as code to manage software at scale and minimise errors.

Additionally, they should specify checks and conditions to perform flexible and controlled upgrades so that upgrades can happen without impacting business operations, such as order processing or device restarts.

Reducing the footprint of tools used to manage deployment, monitoring, and service management will also help avoid performance degradation that could result in deployment failures.

Finally, to minimise the risk of security breaches through edge devices I recommend configuring device settings, conducting regular compliance checks and automating the resolution of misconfigurations to ensure device security and compliance. Embracing Zero Trust Principles as part of the retail device management plan can also help ensure that all the devices are authenticated properly and access is restricted.

Retailers would be wise to direct their investments towards creating systems that provide outstanding customer experiences rather than being preoccupied with deploying software, configuring devices, and ensuring their security, particularly as the number of smart devices in stores and warehouses continues to increase.

Prashanth Nanjundappa is vice president of product management at Progress.