Cloud Computing Enables the Store of the Future

Here’s why retailers should implement a hybrid store cloud platform now more than ever.

August 17, 2020

By Sara Counihan

The role of the retail store is evolving—quickly. The challenges created by COVID-19 and the need to react to increasing consumer demands for a healthy and safe experience shine a light on how a “hybrid store cloud platform” is necessary now more than ever.

In his session, “The Store of the Future,” during the virtual 2020 Conexxus Annual Education and Strategy Conference, Marty Wolfe, vice president and global consumer industries CTO, IBM, explained how the need and approach to deploying a common hybrid store cloud platform and related considerations should be top of mind for store operators.

“Changing the way you operate and how you operate has never been more important,” said Wolfe. “The changing customer need has a real impact on the store itself.”

What is a hybrid cloud platform? According to IBM, a hybrid cloud platform is the combination of private cloud data storage and third-party public cloud data storage, and it creates a more efficient operating model for the retailer. The platform is a computing environment that creates a single, flexible infrastructure to run a retailer’s applications and workloads.

The principle behind a hybrid cloud is its mix of public and private cloud resources—with a level of orchestration between them. A hybrid cloud gives an organization the flexibility to choose the optimal cloud for each application or workload (and to move workloads freely between the two clouds as circumstances change). This enables the organization to meet its technical and business objectives more effectively and cost-efficiently than it could with a public or private cloud alone.

With the pandemic shaking up the way retailers operate, Wolfe encouraged retailers to rethink the way they are offering their services to customers.

“A guiding principle [for retailers] should be the idea of contactless, touchless. Customers going in the store less will likely persist for the rest of 2020 and 2021. Overall [foot] traffic will be significantly less than it is today,” said Wolfe.

“People want to drive up to the store and be in there less,” he said. Retailers should ask themselves, “What do I have to do about technology, customer service, loss prevention to meet this consumer need?”

Wolfe said retailers should think about what data is stored physically in the store and what is stored on the cloud, and that there should be a shift in the technology architecture of the store to a seamless computing environment a la the hybrid cloud platform. These transitions need to happen in a way that’s easily repeatable in each of the operator’s store locations, Wolfe said, so that it’s not a “shock to the system.”

Regarding deployment, Wolfe said that “on the edge” computing will be the way of the very near future.

“By 2025, about 70% of all new workloads and operations will be deployed ‘on the edge,’” said Wolfe. But what does “on the edge” mean? According to IBM, edge computing is a distributed computing framework that brings enterprise applications closer to data sources such as IoT devices or local edge servers.

“It means any device in the store—routers, cameras, WIFI, POS systems—will be managed in a common way,” he said.

Having an efficient data storage infrastructure also allows retailers to implement new technologies that improve the safety of customers, as well as employees, such as monitoring the health metrics of customers and workers entering the store. However, Wolfe emphasized that privacy should be top of mind for these types of technologies.

“The identity of the people being evaluated needs to be protected,” he said. “We don’t need to know the identity of the person. All we need to know is that there is a person and what their relation is to the health and safety of other people.”

Content, learnings and networking at the Conexxus Annual Education and Strategy Conference tapped into a central theme of “Surviving & Thriving in the Age of Disruption: How We Responded to the Pandemic.” The three-day event took place virtually and concluded August 13. Look for more coverage in NACS Daily this week.

Sara Counihan is managing editor of NACS Magazine and content project manager at NACS.