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Take the sting out of common retail IT management woes

 
By Craig Allen, Technical Director, APAC, Kaseya
 
Great customer experiences build loyalty, keep customers coming back and drive share of wallet. Many retail organisations understand that technology is critical to enhancing the customer experience and driving the bottom line. However, by the very nature of retail, managing the IT infrastructure for such operations poses unique challenges.
 
Retail systems are built with retail-specific footprints, terminals, devices and software systems. Whether it is a small, individually-owned grocery store or one that is part of a larger chain, point-of-sale (POS) systems may be set up in dozens, hundreds or even thousands of stores across a large geographic region. Retailers deal with credit cards and other payment options, so compliance requirements are extremely strict. But most importantly, the efficiency and performance of your POS systems can mean the difference between making a sale or losing business to a competitor.
 
Establishing clear points of difference is important for a highly competitive price/value-based environment—and making a few key tweaks to your retail's IT environment can make a world of difference.
 
Below are solutions for four pain points commonly encountered in retail IT.
 
1.  Lack of a holistic view of management systems
From making a payment and preparing an invoice, to customising the item or service sold and performing inventory checks, POS systems use a variety of hardware and software tailored to the retailer’s requirements. Unless you have one view of how your hardware and software are working and complimenting each other, it’s hard to ensure your business operations are efficient and productive. Plus, not being able to keep track of what is on your network, especially unlicensed or unsupported software, exposes your business to unnecessary risk, security, performance and compliance issues.
 
Solution: Retailers need a holistic management view as well as the ability to drill down to individual systems or groups of systems. Pooling all the functions onto one platform will automatically audit your POS infrastructure, giving you visibility into all systems. You will know exactly what is out there, what is being used, what is secured and what is vulnerable or non-compliant. You can even remotely delete unwanted software, uninstall unnecessary hardware components and keep legitimate software updated. This allows you to secure the network, maximise resources and reduce risk and complexity—and even budget.
 
2. Poor monitoring of POS devices
Retail IT environments have expanded to include digital signing devices, tablets, self-serve scanning kiosks, RFID systems and many more, spread across multiple stores. They are not part of a traditional local area network environment, making it difficult for them to be tracked, monitored and managed. What’s more, they either don’t connect or are often connected in a cumbersome manner with other retail hardware and software that retailers use for management and monitoring. Not only does this mean that retailers have to set aside time to manually update their devices, most retailers also end up chasing problems from device to device, which is extremely poor use of time and manpower. Information is difficult to retrieve, and new releases are resource-intensive to manage. More than a fifth of IT professionals in the retail industry still rely on on-site visits to fix POS systems.
 
Solution: Retailers need to be able to roll out software updates to POS devices in a more efficient and timely manner without disrupting their business. This can go a long way to improving the customer’s experience in-store, such as faster checkout, or ways to provide additional product or service information to the customer. Choosing software updates can be easily distributed to each POS device as soon as they are available will also help your team reduce travel time and manual, tedious administration. 
 
3.            Inability to manage downtime
In retail, time is money. Or rather, downtime is lost revenue. As many as 80 per cent of retail IT professionals report some form of planned or unplanned downtime for their POS systems during business hours. Research conducted by The Standish Group determined that every minute of POS downtime costs the retailer about US$4,700, on average. Even though downtime may be due to events that are not within the control of the business, e.g. bad weather, construction accidents, etc, retailers can expect to lose sales quickly as customers are impatient and quick to switch to other stores.
 
Solution: Retailers need to gain better control of their IT environment. The key is to increase the resilience of the infrastructure and systems you rely on for connectivity and put in place mechanisms that maximise uptime. One basic way to do this is to route basic administration through a central, web-based console. Administration is done remotely in the background and keeps your POS devices up and running right through maintenance. It is non-disruptive and ensures that retailers will not lose any sales due to downtime. More uptime means better bottom line.
 
4. Difficult retail data recovery process
Many organisations run the risk of losing important data by failing to perform proper and timely backups or by relying on inefficient and outdated backup solutions. As retailers have highly dispersed and complex IT environments, it makes performing backups and disaster recovery even more complicated. Data loss can mean huge losses in revenues. Even for small businesses, downtime can mean losing out on a potential sale, or ‘turning away’ a potential customer who might not return when business operations resume. Failure to back up and recover valuable and confidential data will certainly put a retailer’s brand and reputation on the line.
 
Solution: Retailers need to be able to recover critical business information and customer data when disasters strike. All POS devices have to be backed up and secured as reliably as systems in the data centres as retailers face strict compliance and regulatory requirements. By centralising the management of their data protection, compliance and security strategies, security breaches can be dealt with swiftly and disaster recovery can be performed efficiently.
 
We all know keeping up with the pace of technology is an issue for retailers. However, retailers are starting to recognise that their IT department plays a strategic role in adapting new technologies that can help to build sales and create a better customer experience. By embracing technology to improve efficiency, increase performance and reduce risk, you can wipe out many of the tedious manual tasks associated with maintenance of your POS systems, and deliver superior services to customers.

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