Synchronizing Your IT Network with Changes in Retail Technology

In today's competitive, margin-driven retail environment, companies that align business objectives and IT operations -- and effectively monitor their performance -- win. A gut instinct for what makes retail work is important, but ongoing visibility into store IT operations makes the critical difference between success, lackluster revenue-week figures and sliding stock prices

Propelled by vigorous competition, retail chains are beefing up store technology. Merchandise selection is still important, but retailers are increasingly using information gathered from individual store operations to sharpen their competitive edge.

And, each store must reliably transmit data to headquarters. Too often, IT departments are not aware of individual store problems until hours after an occurrence. This means that many retail chains are not fully realizing the benefits of their technology investments.

A network monitoring system (NMS) solution with a strong retail focus enables IT and business managers to avoid many of the pitfalls of managing hundreds or thousands of remote locations.

Top Trends in Retail
The following seven trends in retailing challenge IT operations and increase the need for visibility:

1) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and Web Services
SOA and Web services enable retailers to deliver networked enterprise applications, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to individual stores.

2) IP Proliferation
IP connectivity has linked previously unconnected devices. For example, cash registers are now JAVA-based, touch-screen operated units that process electronic payment transactions, feed vendor-managed inventory (VMI) systems and manage affinity programs.

3) Centralized Surveillance
IP surveillance cameras that record to digital video recorders (DVRs) over an IP network deliver higher quality images than traditional closed circuit systems for less money, and they can be centrally monitored and managed.

4) Automated Environmental Monitoring
Centrally-managed sensors over an IP network ensure seasonally-adjusted temperature and humidity. They also detect water leakage, amperage spikes, open and closed doors and motion.

5) Wireless Broadband Connectivity
Easily-mounted secure wireless access points (WAPs) reduce the cost of deploying networked devices.

6) 24/7 Data Collection and Analysis
Store-level hardware collects the data that supports demand optimization, forecasting, and pricing decisions.

7) Centralized Operations
Enterprise data centers enable networked stores to consolidate and share enterprise applications at lower cost.

It is vital to stay current with these trends -- which, in all likelihood, stress your IT organization in a number of areas. For example, the ability to centrally distribute mission-critical applications and deploy sophisticated equipment at multiple locations increases the complexity of IT logistics, operations and maintenance.

On the business side, operating an unreliable store network can dramatically reduce the ROI from store technology, damage your brand and negatively impact revenue.

The Right NMS Solution Can Help
Reliable, profitable store operations require the right in-store IT technology as well as enterprise level network systems monitoring and management solutions. As a result, your NMS should mobilize the following best practices, tools, and technologies:

  • Automated Discovery and Tracking of Store IT Assets: allows rapid discovery of nodes and devices, gathering of basic information such as brand and model and storage in a configuration management database (CMDB).
  • Performance Monitoring and Advance Warnings: enables IT to automatically determine and test processes and applications running at each store, collect and benchmark performance data and issue proactive alarms.
  • Support for Non-standard Equipment: enables IT to monitor and manage the growing number of "non-standard" networked devices such as bar code scanners and POS systems.
  • Geographic and Business Process-based Visualization: allows data center personnel to see multiple stores in a single view and business process owners to easily grasp the hardware and applications running across stores.
  • Meaningful Metrics and Statistics: offers strong graphical reporting capabilities that enable executives to focus on a single store or compare performance across regions.
  • Deep Transaction Polling: performs deep inspection of hardware and network connectivity and enterprise application performance. Determines whether or not an application can run on a specific hardware platform and measures performance latency -- making it significantly easier for a remotely-located IT specialist to diagnose issues and facilitate repairs.
  • Strong Operational Model: links an incident to an online technical library that provides established policies and procedures for addressing IT issues and improves IT and help desk effectiveness.

In today's competitive, margin-driven retail environment, companies that align business objectives and IT operations -- and effectively monitor their performance -- win. ] Investing in enterprise-class retail applications and systems is important but does not matter if business and IT management cannot drill down to the store level, quickly correct system outages and obtain the metrics that underlie sound decisions. The most effective network monitoring and management system is one that is designed to respond to the changing face of retail operations.

Jamie Lerner is CEO of CITTIO, a software company that offers network and systems monitoring software for data centers and IP enabled devices outside the data center.