Fundamentals of IoT and edge in retail start with SUSE, the rest is up to you

26 February 2020 | 2688 Shares

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In the last article in this series, we covered IIoT (industrial internet of things): an area of technology that’s been around for probably thirty or more years (in tech years, that’s an age). Industry has been quietly deploying edge-based technology in all sorts of facilities, on a massive variety of machinery, plant, and physical systems. It’s easy to talk, therefore, about IoT at the edge as a new concept, but in truth, it’s really not.

Similarly, another vertical has been using very advanced IoT in edge installations for many years. In fact, a textbook definition of an edge installation is a retail store, perhaps one of a large chain or string of brick-and-mortar establishments. Here, IoT technologies like electronic displays, PoS (point of sale), security cameras, and building management systems have long been in use.

What’s more interesting is that up and down the highly complex supply chains of retailers, IIoT also has been playing (and continues to play) a significant role. Automated warehouse systems, stock control management, fleet tracking and management, logistics solutions — all of these are part of an IoT/IIoT infrastructure that’s streets ahead of other verticals, including many areas of business that you might expect not to be trailing behind, technologically.

Naturally, retailers face challenges, too; their experience in IoT and edge computing doesn’t make them immune from progress and changing customer demands. With expectations of personalized customer experiences that join online shopping with physical store experiences, even technically fluent retailers have to rethink and continually re-engineer their systems, procedures, and policies throughout the retail life-cycle.

Here at TechHQ, we’re hearing a need voiced by retailers to harmonize their supply chain systems with brick and mortar stores, with online portals, with joined-up marketing and much more. Consumers’ demands for personal, crafted interactions at every touchpoint with a retailer, means that IoT and edge systems need to function together efficiently, safely, and intelligently.

Furthermore, while edge-based compute and storage are highly effective (especially in speed-to-insight times), integration with the larger, hybrid clouds of most large retailers is also demanded.

In this article, we’re looking at three ways retailers can deploy IoT throughout their operations, and in particular, how technologies like connected vision can be implemented in new ways to help retailers and their partners reach their goals.

The areas of IoT and edge computing are a particular specialism for SUSE, which is also providing these technologies as an integral part of the overall system provision, from cloud to the data center to edge. As we look at the possibilities offered by edge and IoT tech, we’ll also touch on several of the distinctions that make the SUSE stack ideally suited for deployment in this vertical, throughout the journey from manufacturer to customer (via warehouse, logistics, distribution, and wholesaler).

Open standards that are the credo behind SUSE encourage interoperability, connectivity, tested reliability, and proven security. And with the rapid and scalable deployment and development frameworks that SUSE offers (see these articles from TechHQ), organizations can effectively bring the power and capability of the data center to each element in their operations.

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Predictive control through insight
In the area of stock control, inventory management, and logistics deployments, organizations can learn from heavy industry’s use of IIoT over the last thirty-plus years. With edge-based computing and IoT, coupled with edge-based compute power, predictive algorithms orchestrate the supply chain elements, ensuring that the right stock and PKUs are in the right place, at the right time.

For some retailers exploring just-in-time policies, the SUSE edge and data center synergy means that every partner and element in even complex supply chains can benefit. Information interchange that’s secure and based on open standards means that partners’ specialist point products can be interfaced with retailers’ systems quickly and with a minimum of development headaches.

Fewer errors caused by data incompatibilities mean better results in terms of delivery times, stock turnaround, potentially longer shelf lives, and eventually — the overall goal, of course — a better experience for each customer.

In-store and in-warehouse, digital vision systems have had a checkered history in retail, with cameras given a bad name by well-publicized instances of misuse by some retailers. But while surveillance is a term that makes end-users uncomfortable, the retailer and warehousing operator can use this IoT technology in new ways that actively promote better experiences.

Applications that can interpret behavior easily differentiate between organized theft activities and innocent in-store browsing, for instance. But the same systems can also monitor drivers’ behavior in terms of health and alertness, or ensure warehouse staff are observing safe working practices. With SUSE solutions, technologies to achieve these positive outcomes are hugely scalable and can be deployed rapidly in new areas.

Even more esoteric options are open to the forward-minded retailer. Trials of facial recognition systems that identify customers with their online habits have been successful in prototype. Leveraging technology like that is, of course, more of a human and PR headache than a technical one, and not discussed here. Suffice to say, the physical and virtualized technologies already exist, and thanks to the modular nature of open source and cloud-based options, development teams can spin up the resources they need from SUSE to test and explore these possibilities.

What’s apparent, in conclusion, is that the capability of SUSE technologies can bring solutions from development to production in record time, producing innovative retail methods. Even today, if we move away from more esoteric ideas, retailers can easily create systems that chime well with creative marketing activities: pop-up stores, special events, promotions, and offers in-store & online create unique customer experiences.

With massive benefits throughout the supply chain, better in-store and online experiences, scalable enterprise-grade systems in IoT and the edge, SUSE should be retailers’ first call. With SUSECON approaching in March this year, now is the time to engage. Or, if you can’t make the event, speak to a representative near you, today.