Retailers have become under enormous pressure to operate as close to normal as possible, enabling people to buy food and essentials. IT can really help diffuse this pressure, to safeguard operations and business continuity, ensuring that critical actionable information is quickly made available when and where needed in the supply chain.
Here are five areas I see as priorities:
1 Protecting the health of retail employees and customers.
In a supermarket, for example, it goes without saying that not all employees can work from home. I can see the trend of moving online, even with grocery shopping, but not all people are buying online, and even in the case of online shopping physical goods have to move between people. People interacting is a necessary part of retail but protecting retail employees and customers is now critical. Technology itself cannot solve it, but it can help reduce risk. Moving more business online is an obvious option; in addition, reducing cash payments by using contactless can also help.
2 Securing business continuity
Food retailers must continue to operate physical stores. Distribution centres must stay open and operational. Online channels are straining, some coping with an increased traffic of 700%. And home deliveries must be made. Again, software-enabled technology can flex to help in all these scenarios, helping IT scale the online infrastructure to cope with increasing traffic, provide boosts of extra IT power, applications and services to where they are needed, and importantly be able to support the relocation of personnel or staffing increases in key areas of the retail chain.
3 Real-time view to manage finances, demand and supply
Retailers will experience changes in the demand and traffic in-store and online. It is critical for them to have the actual picture of the current situation, what’s selling, what needs restocking, where things are in the supply chain and out for deliveries, to react appropriately and swiftly. It means to understand the needs of their customers and manage finances and cash-flow accordingly. The current situation is impacting consumer buying behaviour – specifically the content of a grocery basket, with significant peaks in essentials from canned goods and pasta to flour. The demand is changing so that retailers need to work with their supply chain to keep up with the demand – and be able to act and react in as real-time as possible as the situation develops and as consumer needs change.
4 A hybrid cloud could be the solution. Put simply it enables teams and organisations to get access to computing power, services and applications swiftly and view this all through one lens. This is important because it provides a flexible resource which can be used when needed. Many retailers are already using the flexibility of a hybrid cloud solution to scale needed resources in a public cloud to deal with increasing demand during high selling seasons. In addition, it allows applications to be developed quickly and securely for internal use and customers. For example, consumers are already experiencing significant queues – as much as a few hours – to process their online grocery shopping. Access to a burst of compute can help reduce this. While the physical movement of goods requires physical interaction and delivery slots need to also be managed to mirror the demand, the consumer-facing side can be dealt with faster.
5 Digital workspaces, all enabled through software, can give retail employees access to their applications – securely – through a single log-in. They are thereby able to continue to deliver services. It can be a solution for employees to use their own devices to gain access to information. It can be an essential solution when retailers want to quickly hire new employees, for example, delivery drivers to deal with the increasing demand for home delivery. New drivers can immediately install their apps, detailing what and when they need to deliver, to inventory and stock levels, directly onto their own mobile device, securely. They also can receive training, if needed, via the same mobile device – for example how to keep safe distances from people, leaving parcels on doorstops, and navigating signatures.
It is of paramount importance that security must not be compromised. The risk is increased with the increasing number of all endpoints devices that are accessing organisational assets remotely. We build security into the network and app from the beginning, so retailers don’t have the extra headache of having to layer that on afterwards.
We must work together to overcome this crisis and support IT teams in the retail sector, specifically those who are on the front-line to deliver essential goods and food.