The Internet of Things (IoT) presents major benefits to retail businesses both big and small. IoT adoption is leading to an increase in data volumes, while advancements in the likes of 5G is leading to increasing network speeds that can now handle the rise in data volumes.

Successful retailers of our modern age are implementing smart technologies into their operations, and in turn, better understanding consumer sentiment and behaviour, personalising the omnichannel shopping experience and tailoring localised assortments, dynamically changing prices and promotions, and enabling agile fulfillment and supply chains.

IoT and real time analytics offers businesses the chance to empower customer experiences, create new business channels or acquire new partner ecosystems. To derive true value from IoT and the wealth of data being generated, businesses need help to understand how to best collect, curate, analyse and act on IoT data from the edge to inside the enterprise.

The power and struggles of IoT

According to Machina Research global market forecasts, by the end of 2024 more than 24.9 billion connections will be established, resulting in more data generated from monitored devices and equipment as well as the overall environment in which they exist.

When it comes to retail, businesses can now place beacons and sensors in stores to track purchase paths of customers by identifying ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ spots throughout the store. They can also utilise facial recognition technologies to measure customer moods and sentiments, or embed IoT devices within refrigerated trucks carrying perishable foods to measure temperature and humidity.

All of these data points offer businesses the opportunity to greatly improve customer service and internal operations. However, as data points increase, the sheer volume, variety and velocity in which the data is collected requires businesses to have more storage, processing power and analytics capabilities. In addition, as businesses adopt more technology tools, implement cloud services and maintain legacy software, solutions that don’t cater to hybrid and multi-cloud setups can lead to ongoing issues and inefficiencies.

Immediate insights with edge computing

One great potential of IoT is the speed with which companies can gain insights from data. In certain use cases, businesses want to generate actionable insights immediately, and any kind of delay is detrimental.

Edge computing allows businesses to process and store data at the edge of the network, versus in a cloud environment. In this instance, companies can capture data at the source, process it and gain insights right away. This can be coupled with automation and machine learning to bring rapid and valuable knowledge to businesses in real-time.

For instance, in the retail sector, connecting to customer mobile devices through store-specific applications allows businesses to tailor real-time recommendations for customers as they are shopping, even guiding them to specific aisles based on the products they are after, and sending specific coupons to their device immediately.

However, this is not without its challenges.As 5G and sensor technology advances, and data volumes grow, it’s crucial to consider price, infrastructure, limitations and performance. For instance, cloud is often a natural extension to edge and IoT data from a compute and storage perspective, but round trips can be very costly due to the bandwidth required to do it well. Customers need to have the right platform to support their infrastructure and know where to process and store data to get the most cost effective and fastest result, while also maintaining security.

Maximising value with a data platform

In the past, organisations have relied on data making its way into a data warehouse or data lake before meaningful analysis and analytics can occur. In addition, some companies have adopted separate tools for driving insights for streaming data.

However, the disadvantage with this is it creates yet another silo and new problems in figuring out how to integrate components. One solution is to utilise a platform that provides ingestion, transformation, query and predictive analytics capabilities that can be accessed by a single pane of glass and supports different cloud environments and edge computing.

The right platform will be able to capture and process data locally or move it to the cloud, depending on what makes the most sense. For instance, you can deploy hundreds or up to thousands of ‘edge agents’ to edge devices to manage them from one single location and streamline operations. The right partner will enable you to collect and process streaming data so you can react immediately to events, analyse data for future research and optimise processes to avoid common challenges.

In addition, it’s important to have the ability to track data, provenance and lineage, and manage and monitor the applications themselves. Ultimately, the goal is to manage and curate the data flow to turn unstructured data into actionable insights.

The importance of any cloud

On-premises infrastructure can lack the elasticity to accommodate spikes in data workloads, and this can slow down a business’s ability to drive understanding at the desired rate. However, today it’s also very likely that an organisation utilises multiple cloud vendors and runs operations via a combination of public and private cloud, data centre and legacy systems.

Using a hybrid cloud infrastructure in an intelligent way ensures businesses have scalability and flexibility with data storage and analytics. If you consider top tier banks, government agencies, telecommunications and mining organisations, for instance, data flow technology that utilises hybrid cloud environments becomes a very important and empowering aspect of a data strategy.

Businesses seeking to speed up operations and actively utilise captured and streaming data need to find a partner that specialises in enterprise data cloud. Key functions to consider is that the offering is multi-functional, secure and governed, open without any vendor lock-in, and works on any cloud – including on-premises, private cloud, data centre, the edge and public clouds such.

IoT is relevant for every retailer

Today the most successful retail organisations are utilising IoT. In fact, according to PwC’s 2019 Internet of Things Survey, 58% of retailers have active IoT projects, and another 30% have IoT projects in a research or development phase. The vast majority (94%) of retailers believe IoT’s benefits outweigh potential risks, and are evaluating how to incorporate it into their business.

Overall, supply chain and asset management are top priorities, with employee and customer experience and security, as well as logistics and predictive maintenance close behind.

The power of IoT is clear, and as retailers begin to invest in digital transformation and look to advance operations, the right partner can help teams to maximise these benefits. 

Nick Hoskins is country manager for Cloudera Australia and New Zealand.