For most Australians and New Zealanders, the experience when dealing with our major retailers is seamless. What most people don’t realise is the work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that the technology that runs retail, supports this experience.
Technology has a lot to do with providing a seamless experience to retail customers, and there is a lot of complexity involved in ensuring the quality of this experience. Let’s look at some of the challenges faced by retailers and technology providers in delivering this experience.
Coverage. A retail store such as a major supermarket is a complex technology environment. Almost every aspect of a store is technology enabled. Point-of-sale devices, self-checkouts, scanners, weighing scales and many other devices are expected to work every time, as well as the network technology and systems that support them. Adding another dimension to this is that this technology environment is multiplied many times, with over 1,000 stores for the bigger retailers such as Woolworths and Coles. So if for example there are 500 devices in a typical supermarket, this translates to around half a million devices under management for one retailer alone.
To add even more complexity, the coverage retailers need to provide is not limited to capital cities. Retailers need to cover every postcode in Australia. This means providing the same level of service to a customer in a remote location on the Nullarbor Plain as they would for a customer in inner-city Sydney or Melbourne. In supporting three of Australia’s largest retail organisations – Coles, Woolworths and Australia Post – Fujitsu has a mature field services organisation that ensures that we can get the people with the right skills to any retail outlet in Australia to ensure the seamless delivery of technology.
Support infrastructure. It is not just getting the right people to the right location at the right time that is the challenge. If a field engineer attends a service call it is essential that the right parts are available at the same time. This relies on a complex ecosystem of interconnected services including a Service Desk, Remote Field Services Operations, and relationships with many different vendors for spare parts and warranty arrangements. There is also the need for a comprehensive hardware storage and logistics system, as well as remote infrastructure management and inventory management. It also helps to have warehousing facilities in place and the ability to repair and service components.
With an expectation of a 24x7 capability and often a 2-hour response time, Fujitsu accomplishes this with a field services workforce of over 250 people dedicated to keeping Australia’s retailers operating. As we have over 850,000 ‘touches’ with retail customers across our field, warehouse and repair network we also maintain a spares inventory of over 221,000 spread across 90 locations in Australia and New Zealand.
A key consideration in keeping such a complex operation running is to ensure that the latest technology is utilised effectively. One such technology that has the potential to provide real improvements in efficiencies is the ‘Smart Hands’ augmented reality system, which allows on-site engineers to gain real-time assistance from experts throughout the organisation without having to travel to remote locations.
Seamless deployment. As you can see there is a lot to keep a retail infrastructure running, but it adds another dimension when technology needs an upgrade. Conducting a major Point-Of-Sale refresh for a large retailer is somewhat like ‘changing an aeroplane engine in mid-flight’. The challenge is to perform all the hardware, software, network and infrastructure changes while allowing the store to operate and able to keep their customers satisfied. The key to successful deployments is to have the people, processes and tools aligned to complete the job effectively. This includes thorough deployment planning and scheduling, and precise logistics management through the process from warehousing, staging, through to delivery and installation. There is also coordination of installation and testing to consider while allowing the retailer to provide a seamless customer experience.
Care for the environment. Another aspect to consider in supporting a major retail infrastructure is how to do it in a responsible way. There are many things to consider including electricity usage, efficient travel, safe disposal and recycling of packaging, responsible e-Waste disposal and protection of data during the process. Fujitsu has a strong commitment to sustainability and works closely with customers to identify how they can reduce their environmental impact in a way that makes sense for business.
So as you can see, technology plays a big part in keeping retail customers happy, and the expertise, processes and tools needed to pull it all together and keep retail technology running seamlessly cannot be duplicated overnight!