Naser Ali, Director, EMEA, at MapR Technologies, looks at how retailers can gain real business value from the Internet of Things.
The Internet of Things (IoT) as a concept has been doing the rounds for a few years, but only recently has it moved from an industry buzzword into a vehicle of enterprise transformation. This year alone, Gartner predicted that 43 percent of organisations will have at the very least begun planning to implement services leveraging the IoT in their business.
The retail industry is no exception. The IoT is already providing retailers with incredible levels of insight into products, customers and prospects, helping them sell more effectively and improve the bottom line.
From innovating the customer experience and increasing footfall, to driving efficiencies across the supply change, retail companies are using the IoT to optimise processes across every aspect of the organisation.
Digital signage in retail outlets, for example, is just one what that the IoT is being incorporated to digitise the consumer experience. With research from Industry Weapon finding that 76 percent of consumers have entered a site because the sign was interesting, tailoring signage to improve the customer experience holds massive potential for attracting customers. In fact, IDC predicts that this industry alone will increase dramatically from $6 billion in 2013, to $27.5 billion by 2018.
The IoT is also being deployed to help companies work more intelligently. For instance, smart shelves are helping manage the supply chain more efficiently by flagging when a product is low in stock. The introduction of smart price tags is also helping organisations change product prices in real time in line with promotions, and respond to spikes and fluctuating stock levels without staff constantly patrolling the store with ticket guns.
Data is driving these digital processes, enabling the operations and services to be more efficient and intelligent at responding to businesses’ needs and issues as data volume grows. And with as many as 50 billion connected devices predicted by Cisco before 2020, there is massive opportunity for those businesses that begin planning for and incorporating the IoT into their operations now.
Consume and analyse
While the massive volume of data that the IoT generates holds great potential for businesses, true value is only derived from how all data is collected, consumed and then analysed.
From the outset, data must be amassed without delay or loss. It must then be ingested and analysed consistently and accurately – all within a timescale that enables the company to gain actionable insight. The missing link for most if not all adventures in IoT at scale is combining this real-time data with historical information, usually stuck in legacy systems in disparate locations. Being able to converge all this into one platform is where genuine insights, new applications, revenue and cost reduction opportunities and eventually competitive advantage can be produced.
This is digital transformation in action, such as optimising business processes, enhancing customer experience, and improving the bottom line.
First steps to gain value from data
For those companies starting on their journey, there are two main challenges that Gartner has identified which stand between them and a successful deployment. Firstly, while many organisations understand that the IoT holds potential, some haven’t established what the benefits would be to their company nor have they invested the time to consider how to apply the IoT to their business. Secondly, many organisations have insufficient expertise and staffing for the IoT, aggravated by a lack of strategic leadership.
But retailers can’t shy away from starting down their IoT journey, no matter how daunting it may seem. For those companies who wish to being on their connected path, the following steps will help them gain value from their data from the outset:
1. Audit – Identify the different data sources across the global network
2. Plan – Work out what it is you want to do. A number of different aspects must be considered for successful deployment, developing a strategy for data collection that support streaming, which is the continuous flow of event data transferred between multiple services or applications.
Current frameworks that are based on the Apache Hadoop File System aren’t capable of analysing the trillions of small files in time sequence that is created by data streaming from or towards IoT elements, while legacy systems that are able to manage the event frequency can’t handle the sheer volumes of data.
Organisations therefore need to develop a plan that enables them to process the data efficiently and cost effectively; saving historical data indefinitely for future use, or deleting that which has become obsolete or can’t be stored in compliance with regulatory frameworks
3. Execute – Start slowly, beginning with just one application. The cloud also offers opportunity to build and test far more iteratively. This enables you to address possible problems that can provide a fast return
4. Scale – When you’re ready, start by scaling other applications using the same data. From there, you can bring on additional data sources and applications, until all connected data sources are incorporated
Driving business value
For those organisations committed to evolving and transforming business capabilities augmented by the IoT, the potential output is massive. And those that begin to evolve processes now will quickly leave the competition behind.
Businesses will only feel the benefits of real-time IoT analysis if the data is getting to the right place at the right time uninterrupted, and with compete accuracy. Speed and scale are essential for organisations hoping to garner true value from their deployments, so choosing a big data platform that converges a number of necessary technologies, such as Streaming, Spark, Database, Hadoop and legacy storage, will help gain optimum output.
Retailers understand the potential for the IoT, but actioning it is no walk in the park. However, following these first essential steps to reduce the complexity of IoT data ingestion and plan an effective deployment, will help businesses drive real business value.