Build Resiliency, Agility, and Security Into Retail Store Networks
By Mark Cornwell
Secure internet is a must-have for every retail store’s in-house network today. It is critical to providing the resiliency and agility needed to support business operations, from communications and inventory to payments, plus the omnichannel shopping experience that customers expect. Always-on internet access also makes a different way of protecting customer and business data possible.
Let’s start with the basics. The internet and the cloud have changed how home office systems communicate with stores at the edge of the network. Dedicated leased lines connecting headquarters and store networks are disappearing. Today, store networks are connected to headquarters and service providers in the cloud via the internet. For stores, access to the internet is typically provided by a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) over shared cable or fiber infrastructure.
Boost Revenue and Engagement With Network Uptime
How do you make that critical internet connection, and the business operations it enables, resilient?
One approach is to have redundant paths to the internet. Connecting the store network to more than one ISP eliminates the single point of failure. This dual connectivity also enables load balancing and makes instant failover possible, should one ISP connection fail.
For areas where there is only one ISP available, or for additional resiliency, store networks should also have an integrated cellular failover capability that routes traffic over the cell phone network.
Wi-Fi connectivity provides a tertiary approach for stores in malls that have Wi-Fi service or are in range of ISP Wi-Fi hot spots.
Future-Proof Store Networks to Accelerate Agility
Store network systems must also be future-proof, so retailers can rapidly adopt and adapt emerging technology, whether it is planned or unplanned, to speed up digital strategies. Today, offering free Wi-Fi access to customers is table stakes. Innovation comes with using that Wi-Fi for digital marketing, like connecting social media with the in-store experience, sending promotions to shoppers who are using your Wi-Fi, or connecting with loyalty program members via a mobile app.
Making these digital connections extends the omnichannel experience to the shopper’s smartphone.
Other internet-dependent technologies that stores must have the agility to adopt and add to their network include video displays that require digital content to be downloaded and played locally. Tablets enable associates to connect with customers, provide product information, look up inventory in other locations, and complete sales transactions anywhere in the store — as long as the internet is working.
Virtualized edge network management enables the agility that retailers need for competitive advantage. Virtualization separates the network hardware from the network management software, enabling centralized control of the network. This speeds up and simplifies configuration, micro-segmentation, and other changes, as well as adding new devices to the network. So, instead of sending engineers out to tens, hundreds or thousands of locations to lay new cables and attach new kiosks and digital signage online to the network, it can all be done remotely, minimizing disruption to your business.
You can also remotely monitor network performance, troubleshoot and diagnose problems, make modifications to stores individually, and deploy new locations quickly. Remote management of edge store networks can be handled by the brand’s or multi-store franchise owner’s IT headquarters. Alternatively, these tasks can be performed by a Managed Service Provider’s (MSP) operations center.
Choose a Networking Partner That Can Enable Security Beyond PCI DSS
Security beyond PCI DSS compliance is also possible with virtualized edge networking. Stores have more than just credit card data to protect. Back-office store systems hold Personally Identifiable Information (PII) on customers and employees, payroll data, and even intellectual property.
When evaluating solution partners, look for one that can build a network solution that enables a multi-layered, Zero Trust-based approach to security, ensuring that your network is protected from the inside out. With Zero Trust, you assume that any person or device on your network should not be automatically trusted. Instead, defined control policies verify every person or entity before allowing access.
Additionally, whether you monitor and manage store network security from a brand headquarters’ Security Operations Center (SOC) or use a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP), your store networks should enable fine-grained visibility and control over incoming and outgoing traffic. Stores will also need a VPN solution to protect data in motion across the internet and the cloud. The security landscape is always changing to keep up with cyber criminals, so make sure your networking solution doesn’t lock you into a rigid position.
Store operations, digital customer experiences, data, and networks all require resilience, agility, and security to take your investment into the future and scale as your company grows. Finding a partner that can help you centralize and manage both store networks and store network security can streamline and simplify your journey to resilient, agile, and protected stores.
With more than 20 years of progressive cross-industry IT leadership experience, he has led significant business and technology transformation projects, including multi-year enterprise resource planning programs (SAP, Oracle, NSB) and e-commerce platform initiatives (IBM WCS, ATG, Magento). Cornwell draws on his extensive cybersecurity background to lend his expertise to the broader industry and oversee Netsurion’s engineers who build, manage, and monitor the company’s internal systems and technologies.