IT needs to play critical role in branch - say retailers

New research identifies gaps in resource, support and infrastructure

An overwhelming 97% of businesses see IT as a strategic asset when it comes to branch retailing, according to the latest research from Zynstra, an enterprise-grade IT software provider. Seven in 10 respondents said IT could enable them to meet future demands by helping to reduce operating costs, speed up roll-out of new stores, support new business opportunities and streamline IT management.

Despite this view, only 48% of those surveyed said they had the proper resources, support and infrastructure to meet their current demands.

The research, conducted on behalf of Zynstra by survey consultant Censuswide, polled IT managers and C-level professionals in the retail space across the UK and US.

When asked about current challenges, respondents cited budget, security and lack of skills most frequently — cost and effort of managing remote systems was the most identified issue (55%), followed by keeping systems up to date and secure (48%) and a lack of in-branch IT skills (35%).

“In the retail branch IT space, technology is playing an ever-more important role in helping businesses meet both current and future demand; not only from an operational point of view, but also in enhancing the customer experience. However, as the research points out, the application of this technology, or the readiness to adopt it, can be a challenge. This resonates 100% with our experience working with customers across the US and UK, all of whom are challenged to deliver a better user experience whilst reducing the operational costs of remotely managing a highly distributed branch IT environment,” says Nick East, CEO, Zynstra.

The most in-demand new technology for retailers is mobile payment capabilities (65%), followed by self-checkout (49%), scan as you shop (44%), click and collect (41%) and in-store customer analytics (37%). The research shows that click and collect is more in demand by UK retailers, while in-store customer analytics is a more prevalent requirement in the US.

“There are many similarities between the US and UK retail branch IT markets, but our research has uncovered some significant differences, particularly in the types of technologies that are being implemented. The increased demand for in-store customer analytics in the US, for example, is a strong indicator of what UK retailers will soon be demanding in terms of functionality as well as the underlying technology needed to support that. Our experiences of working with customers in both countries shows a common theme – traditional IT infrastructure and processes are not fit for purpose to support these changing demands of retail branch IT.”

There are, however, also challenges in meeting these future demands — lack of technical infrastructure (37%), network connectivity issues (36%), lack of IT capability in branch (25%) and incompatible legacy IT systems (21%) being the most notable. Network connectivity was more of an issue for UK retailers, while their US counterparts cited lack of IT capability in-branch as a bigger challenge.

“Retailers, particularly those with remote branches and offices, will always have issues related to budget, skills and IT infrastructure,” says Tim Peters, Vice President and General Manager, ProLiant Servers and SMB Solutions, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “Importantly what the research shows is that retailers, with their unique technical requirements, are constantly striving for solutions that help them not only be more efficient today, but will help them meet future demand and evolution of branch IT.”

In March 2017, 300 IT managers and C-level professionals were surveyed online by Censuswide. Respondents were drawn from retailers across the US and UK, from companies of all sizes.

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