Retail: how “edge-to-cloud” is taking shape in supermarkets

Digital transformation as a priority for businesses has been the theme of the last decade. But in the early 2020s, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation kicked into high gear. Companies that have been on a five or even ten year digital transformation roadmap suddenly try to make big changes in five to ten weeks.

At ZDNET, we do a lot of deep dives into the technologies driving digital transformation. Most of our stories focus on technology, from AI and the cloud to mobile and edge computing.

In this article, we’ll take a slightly different approach. Instead of starting with technology and what you can do with it, we’ll visit a prototypical company and look at all the technologies it might need to incorporate to achieve its goals for growth and profitability.

Since many of these initiatives are confidential within companies, in this article we will discuss a fictional set of retail stores that sell home and building products. Let’s call it “For Home”. In this way, we will learn some trade secrets that a real company may not feel comfortable revealing to the public.

Case Study: “For Home”

Normally, Pour la Maison Home-by-Home stores must manage normal payment operations and customer transactions. While it’s an operation common to almost all stores, it’s also one that’s deep in technology and innovation.

Each checkout transaction triggers a host of data updates. The stock level of any product purchased must be deducted, which may trigger a new order or transfer from warehouse to store. This decision can be passed to a sales representative or AI management, taking into account a wide range of prices and availability worldwide to make the best decision.

Data about customers, stores, and geography is fed into an analytics engine to give product managers insight into buying trends, and potentially uncover new trends that wouldn’t be obvious without access. in live data.

The benefits of RFID and microservices

And since most Homeware stores are equipped with wireless shelf tags (small displays that act like labels by telling customers the price of an item), another AI process takes into account the sales rate, demand, and available inventory, which allows you to dynamically reduce or increase prices in store aisles, or run a promotion.

Globally, retailers must monitor global supply chain issues and consider weather, political and supply chain analysis to ensure products are where they are needed. AI also plays a role in this area. In fact, we will see AI play an increasingly important role throughout Pour la Maison’s network, as well as its supply chain.

By combining API access and microservices with big data and real-time analytics, Pour la Maison and its suppliers can take into account the ever-changing terrain of international supply and demand, and change vendors, orders and promotions based on availability and logistics while they are running. .

Pour la Maison has invested heavily in the “edge-to-cloud” concept.

The company has thousands of stores ranging in size from 10,000 square meters to 15,000 square meters, stocking 30,000 to 60,000 products depending on the market in which they operate. To keep track of all that inventory, each store uses a ton of IoT tools, including RFID and theft prevention. RFID also speeds up checkout with self-checkouts.

In addition, the company uses sensors to manage environmental control (humidity control is important in some cases) and energy expenditure. While Pour la Maison has long had security cameras in stores and parking lots, it recently began transmitting video feeds through a series of intelligent image processing systems that allow incidents to be reported immediately and safety accidents.

Since many processing operations must be carried out in real time and in each store, Pour la Maison has invested heavily in the “edge-to-cloud” concept. Each store has its own secure computer rack, which functions as a mini data center. Real-time on-site work is processed at the edge (ie, at each store), and data is continuously streamed from the store to Home Decor’s central data systems and cloud computing operations.

E-commerce sales site

The company conducts e-commerce through browsers and a mobile application, which helps manage product availability, orders and the shipping process. Since more than 70% of online customers order through the mobile app and even use the mobile app while in the store, the company has made a significant investment not only in the quality of the application, but also in the integration between the application and the commercial information and the real-time data that goes to the cloud from the stores.

Since 2000, Pour la Maison has turned department stores into dual-use facilities, using them for customer visits during the day and as e-commerce processing warehouses after hours. The company added autonomous picking and packing robots for the night shift, which made it rely even more on real-time inventory management, cameras and artificial intelligence. All of these improvements have allowed the company to deliver heavier, more commonly ordered merchandise directly to customers in-store, while dramatically reducing wait times and shipping costs. Central warehouses that fulfill e-commerce orders still store several hundred thousand products sent by parcel delivery services.

Earlier this year, Pour la Maison acquired a competitor with 450 stores and began a massive migration effort to move them from legacy point-of-sale systems and siled central databases to “edge” digital transformation. -to-cloud”.

End-to-end integration across all stores and vendors

There is a general operating principle by which Pour la Maison measures all its IT decisions: everything must be included, and it must be done intelligently. It is not enough to have a constant flow of data from stores to company databases.

This data must arrive at the right places, at the right time, and trigger the right operations. Data flow cannot be one-way either. Data must flow between vendors and suppliers, business departments and stores, and vice versa.

Pour la Maison defines edge computing operations as everything that happens at the store level, as well as everything that happens during shipping, on the docks and even in supplier warehouses. Pour la Maison has systematically refined its choice of suppliers, taking into account the possibility for its IT operations to share API data and microservices to have a global view of operations down to the minutes.

Data centers or Cloud? I’m also a captain!

Pour la Maison still operates its own data centers. Two of them manage confidential information, including personal employee data, financial data, data that must be found to meet GDPR regulations, and information that may affect performance.

But the company is also investing heavily in cloud computing as well as SaaS implementations. In general, any application that can be delivered in SaaS mode is preferable over the time it would take to develop it in-house.

All this end-to-end integration, from the edge to the cloud, with stores and vendors, taking into account weather forecasts and logistics and tracking shippers, can be very complex. The number of IT systems, accounts, dashboards and management consoles is staggering. But when Pour la Maison decided to make uncompromising digital transformation a core value, the company set out to find vendors that could provide the integration needed to manage it.

Dynamic provisioning and on-demand infrastructure from the edge to the cloud is key to its solution. So when it adds new resources — like when it had to set up support for the 450-store chain it acquired earlier this year — it doesn’t just rely on transportation infrastructure. . Most of the backend functionality can only be scaled as needed and dynamically provisioned.

Seasonal overloads are also taken into account, allowing the company to add about 30% more IT infrastructure resources for critical sales periods, then reduce costs in months when customers focus on other interests.

Edge-to-cloud platforms

HPE GreenLake is an example of one such company offering “edge-to-cloud” services that bring the centralized dashboard, on-demand provisioning, and pay-as-you-go benefits of public infrastructure of cloud on premise and edge IT facilities IT facilities. This is what a company like Pour la Maison needs to be able to immediately start providing services to its new acquisition. There is no order and waiting period for new configurations.

Other edge-to-cloud solution providers, such as AWS Outpost, Azure Stack, Google Anthos, IBM Cloud Satellite, and Red Hat’s Edge Validated Patterns, offer their own version of the edge-to-cloud stack. The bottom line is that IT pros no longer need to silo their solutions to solve problems in different areas of their operational infrastructure.

Edge-to-cloud platforms allow the entire solution to be integrated, providing the benefits of each vendor’s offerings, but without the confusion of multiple different control consoles and billing requirements. Instead, it is possible to get the benefits of the best available solutions, but run a full hybrid, multi-cloud, multi-vendor, multi-constituent network as a coherent whole. The result is not only productivity and cost savings, but also reduced errors and improved overall safety.

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