Even before the pandemic struck, the manufacturing and retail industries were facing challenges. From the need for workflow automation, to increased global competition, many businesses have been struggling to keep up with such rapid change.

But 2020 bought even greater disruption, with fundamental changes in consumer behaviour, supply chains and routes to market, knocking companies off balance. At the same time, customer expectations continue to evolve and increase. Instant gratification is now the standard and if your digital experience can’t deliver it, consumers will leave to find a business that can.

Finding the edge in business transformation

Edge computing is powering many of the world’s latest innovations—like the Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, remote sensors, augmented reality (AR) and 5G. However, ask 10 different people to define edge computing and you’ll probably get 10 different definitions. The reason is that edge computing is not, whatever many might say, a technology.

Instead, it’s a concept relating to the management and use of data. Edge computing is focused on bringing computing as close to the source of data as possible, in order to reduce latency and bandwidth use. In turn, this encourages outcomes that can drive powerful transformations in how businesses use and work with data.

The advantages of the edge

It’s predicted that retail will be the fastest-growing segment of the edge computing market due to the high volumes of data generated by IoT sensors, cameras and beacons that feed into smart applications. Edge computing allows this data to be more efficiently collected, stored and processed than is possible on cloud alone or an on-premises data centre.

This presents enormous opportunities through cutting edge technologies like:

  • Real-time sensors—as the volume, variety and velocity of data from more connected devices increases, localised network resources deliver real-time value by enabling faster interpretation and processing. Sensors can then be used to anonymously track shopper behaviour: What did they pick up? Did they put it in their basket? This information can then be used to better understand the customer, product placement and buying behaviours.
  • Reliable security solutions—the edge delivers reliability in a world where different devices have different requirements for processing power and network connectivity. Using sensors, retailers can gain more insight into not only something has been taken out of store but what has been taken: “Excuse me sir, I believe you have a set of printer cartridges in your bag.”
  • Efficient stock management—as data moves faster, decisions can be made faster, which can help reduce costs. That means no more closing the store for a day before the end of the financial year to count stock. Let sensors and computer vision do it for you.

The edge of innovation

Retail is a prime example of an industry that’s poised to rapidly embrace life on the edge. Today’s consumers have high expectations, including convenience, superior customer service and better shopping experiences, requiring retailers to find new and engaging methods through innovation to maintain and grow brand equity.

Here are just a few examples of the future innovations poised to dominate the retail sector:

  • Smart visual searches that enable customers to come into the store with a photo or image of something they are looking for, scan it, and a device will tell them what products are in store that best match what they’re looking for.
  • Smart fitting rooms equipped with AR mirrors that display outfits without the customer having to physically try them on.
  • Infrared beacons which generate heat maps that tell retailers about in-store traffic patterns, allowing them to better design their spaces.

What’s more, some of these innovations are already in use. One example is Coles’ recent move to adopt a cloud-based artificial intelligence platform to change the way it replenishes its fresh produce stock across supermarkets nationally. The platform will be used to improve stock predications by considering past purchases, weather and local community events, as well as automating replenishment processes and reducing food waste. As a result, with data and analytics closer to home, Coles can deliver exactly what their local customers want—and ultimately, transform their approach to sales, marketing and supply chain management.

With the right digital solution, you too can create an experience that connects your business, supply partners and channel partners—to stay ahead of customer needs, adapt to market trends and make changes that matter most to your customers. Talk to your IT teams and take this opportunity to build a dynamic and strong digital experience. By doing so, you can gain a competitive edge during these difficult economic times—an edge that could become the most critical factor in your survival.

Emma Pudney is chief technology officer for Asia Pacific and Japan at Rackspace Technology.