TNS Payments Market Global Managing Director John Tait discusses three key benefits of SD-WAN that can help retailers prepare for an uncertain future.
By John Tait
Retailers, like businesses in every industry, face constant challenges as customer needs and preferences change, and as technologies disrupt formerly effective strategies.
In terms of disruption, it is safe to say 2020 has topped the charts. Stay-at-home mandates crippled foot traffic earlier this year, while social-distancing guidelines limit numbers of customers indoors, and fears of the virus drive others away from physical stores. Meanwhile, supply chain and production issues have made some goods impossible to keep in stock.
With new and old challenges impacting the industry, it’s time to think differently. Retailers need to look closely at how technology can support their operations and their customers, secure customer payments and business data, and help them adopt the digital strategies that will be essential in an uncertain future.
This is where software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), can help solve some of these challenges. SD-WAN can offer a host of benefits for retail businesses. At its core, SD-WAN is a way of simplifying the management and operation of a network by decoupling the networking hardware from the way it is controlled. This gives a business the ability to manage network traffic to and from data centers and retail sites or offices, which alleviates network congestion and keeps the network from becoming overloaded. It can be layered on top of any connectivity solution to securely connect users with applications, including apps in the cloud.
Here’s how it can help retailers navigate an ever-changing business and economic climate.:
SD-WAN can support new strategies
You’ve likely heard the term “digital transformation”; your store might even be working toward it. The basic premise is that all businesses — not just retailers — can boost their overall agility, flexibility, and customer service experience by adopting digital initiatives and technology-based strategies.
For retailers, this can mean creating online storefronts to connect with customers in lieu of face-to-face interactions, with cloud-supported ecommerce options and curbside pickup options for pandemic-friendly buying experiences. Or adding chatbots and customer data management solutions to a website for ways to support customers with a leaner staff. Or implementing contactless mobile payment options for the first time, supported by secure, high-speed connectivity. It can even be as simple as adding a separate Wi-Fi network for customers to use while in a store.
The possibilities for digital transformation are practically endless within the retail space — it all comes down to how daring you want to be and how much tech you want to add. But even the more accessible parts of digital transformation incorporate devices and apps that can strain traditional networks and add new levels of complexity around network management. Simply adding digital displays to stream promotional videos in a store can stretch a network’s bandwidth.
That’s where SD-WAN can help. It can improve network uptime, performance and redundancy, it gives a business the ability to support new strategies and add the latest cloud-based apps while also prioritizing business-critical applications like payments. In other words, you don’t have to worry your payments terminal might slow or go down just because you’ve added in-store digital features that also require connectivity, like customer-facing tablets that let them place orders or view different options, or customer Wi-Fi.
For stores that have shifted to more of an ecommerce/delivery/pickup strategy, SD-WAN supports secure digital payments while connecting an inventory management system to a payments system and online/mobile ordering portal, so customers can have a smooth experience, and their data remains protected.
SD-WAN allows retailers to embrace the cloud
The cloud is a big part of digital transformation. Your own operations, like your databases or servers, might not yet be based in the cloud, but you almost assuredly use services that are. Think about tools like Office 365 and Google Drive, or payments apps like Square — all cloud-based.
Even if you’re not there yet, your vendors are most likely going to push you there. Plus, cloud isn’t just good for the vendors you use; it’s good for retail businesses, too. Many of the aforementioned digital services like ecommerce and chatbots need the cloud to run optimally; once you’re in the cloud, you have a world of possibilities, but to adopt cloud, you need to solve for connectivity.
While cloud services allow business-critical applications to be accessed from anywhere, it does add security concerns. A recent IDG survey found 98% of businesses surveyed says securing applications, data and infrastructure in the cloud is “very” or “somewhat” challenging. Almost all organizations IDG surveyed (95%) feel that their current security infrastructure hinders their ability to protect data — including payments data — as it moves to and from the cloud.
SD-WAN allows retailers to lock down cloud access at a branch or location by securing direct access to the public cloud and software-as-a-service apps like Office 365. SD-WAN also adds the ability to boost capacity during times of high network traffic, or failover to a broadband or LTE network. Retailers can quickly deploy new cloud-based apps with secure, reliable internet connectivity.
SD-WAN boosts customer payments security
SD-WAN allows retailers to deliver alternative payment options like self-service kiosks and mobile POS, such as outdoor terminals for restaurants serving patio diners, or tablets that allow staff to check out shoppers from anywhere in a store.
This flexibility in where and how payments can be processed is ideal for the consumer, but it can create cybersecurity risks because of more devices and more points of interaction to and from apps or internet breakout. No retailer wants to be featured in the next headline about data breaches or other cyberattacks — meaning properly security controls, especially for payments, are critical.
SD-WAN gives retailers a way to securely connect all types of payments options — POS terminals, cash registers, ecommerce gateways, mobile devices, automated fuel dispenser pay-at-the-pump systems and more, as well as any other devices and networks within a retail environment.
SD-WAN can also protect sensitive card data. Look for best-in-class security protocols like next-generation firewalls (including IPSEC VPN tunnels), anti-virus features, URL filtering and SSL packet inspection. Regulatory compliance with PCI DSS security credentials is, of course, also critical within a retail environment, and some SD-WAN solutions available today have been designed to incorporate PCI DSS requirements.
While SD-WAN does offer an upgraded, secure technology that can bolt on to another connectivity layer and reduce the complexity of network management, retailers that don’t have in-house IT staff may still be challenged to successfully implement one. Fully managed solutions remove the hands-on work while giving a business access to all of an SD-WAN’s capabilities, and even add an extra layer of security. With a provider actively monitoring threats and keeping an eye on the network peripherals — all the data going back and forth, and what devices are using them — retailers can keep their network, and their customers’ card data, locked down.
It’s been an unusual year in many ways, and the surprises are likely to continue for the next year or more. This new reality is understandably unsettling for many retailers. But it’s also an opportunity to rethink the way retailers do business to ensure long-term survival and drive growth — even in a volatile environment.
(Ed. Featured image by Photographer Suzy Hazelwood.)