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Tech Talks: IT Networking Tips for Retailers Today

Ryan Hall Manager, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 8 May 2019

Now more and ever, IT-networking solutions are a legitimate cornerstone of the retail business.  Not only is the network responsible for ensuring ubiquitous uptime of critical operations and assets, but it also enables digital services and initiatives for customers; this is especially important for brick & mortar stores who are in the midst of transforming the in-store experience.

To learn more about central role of IT networking solutions in industry, and understand what retailers should be thinking about when evaluating these technologies, I sat down with Patrick Groot Nuelend, Solutions Architect in EMEA at Extreme Networks, who has over 20 years of experience in the IT and Enterprise Networking field and has spent extensive time working with retailers.  He shed light on the exciting, evolving dynamic in retail today – and how we got here.


My questions for Patrick and his answers are below, in an edited version of this conversation.  

Question 1: How critical is a purpose-built networking solution to supporting and enabling retailers as they embrace digital transformation?

It’s critical to the success of every retailer’s digital transformation to have a purpose-built networking solution.  IT and network infrastructure are no longer limited to ‘keeping the lights on’ for the business, it’s a strategic technology.  Key ingredients for any networking solution are scalability, security & visibility;

    • Scalability is important to support the sheer growth of connected devices and applications as well as the number of remote locations (stores, warehouses, distribution centers, etc.) which need to be supported by the central headquarters.
    • Security to protect the users, devices, and data which are critical to the organization and its protection.
    • Visibility to know what’s going on across the network, in terms of applications and users, and to measure the quality of experience for customers – as well as make adjustments if this experience isn’t being met.

Question 2: How are retailers scaling their digital strategies up through the org, across the org, and out to external platforms and ecosystems?

In terms of IT platforms, virtualization and cloud have proven to deliver the scale and flexibility that retailers require. Through the migration of pure hardware platforms to software solutions and services delivery, IT organizations require less resources and can be more agile (e.g. supporting new applications) than with traditional technology.

Question 3: The Internet of Things (IoT) can bring transformational applications for retail environments (some of which we already discussed), but it also leaves businesses – and their customers – susceptible.  How can retailers protect themselves?  What technology/networking best practices would you give to retailers? 

Retailers today are faced with a dilemma when it comes to IoT: on one hand, they want IoT to be integrated as simply and seamlessly, while on the other hand, they understand the risks that (not well-protected) IoT devices can bring. From a security perspective, it would be advised to segment IoT traffic from the rest of the network, through a separate dedicated infrastructure. Of course, this would mean substantial overhead in terms of costs and complexity. Therefore, retailers should consider solutions that can enable and support IoT devices on their existing network infrastructure, with appropriate segmentation and security, without adding the cost and complexity. A solution such as Extreme’s Defender for IoT is exactly designed to provide this functionality.

Data is becoming the retailer’s lifeblood to support their business. AI/ML technologies put the data into action. They can help optimize the customer experience and drive personalization, based on the profile and shopping history of the customer.

Patrick Groot Nuelend Solutions Architect, Extreme Networks

Question 4: Personalization is a word that’s often mentioned in retail.  Why is this important, and what are some technologies and methodologies that retailers can employ to increase personalization for customers?

Through the rise of online and e-commerce, shoppers are accustomed to receiving tailored messages, advertisements and discounts, which are relevant for them as individuals. It contributes to the overall convenience and experience that customers value when they want to buy something, and they expect a similar experience when they go to a brick-and-mortar store. Technology such as Location Based Services (or LBS) -through Wi-Fi and beacons – can assist here to (first of all) understand who is entering the store or where they’re located, the preferences of that person and the products that they’re interested in. In combination with the retailer’s app, the customer can locate the nearest expert in store for assistance, access wayfinding, then scan and pay at the end of the shopping trip. LBS can also help the retailer to plan for enough staff at the shop floor – it can detect an event when there are not enough store associates to assist customers, so it can send an alert to the manager to provide more assistance in that area.

When the retailer is using an app, the information in the app can be tailored to the individual customer and provide relevant content, at the right spot (e.g. a discount for a particular product in the area).   Personalization can also be driven through the Guest Wi-Fi network. For example, customers can authenticate to the Wi-Fi by providing their mobile phone number, email address, a small questionnaire or a social media platform. The retailer can then follow up later with a thank you note or a daily special discount.

Question 5: Artificial intelligence and machine learning also seem to be gaining more attention and excitement for its potential benefit for retailers; what are some real-world applications of AI/ML in retail?

As we discussed earlier, data is becoming the retailer’s lifeblood to support their business. AI/ML technologies put the data into action. They can help optimize the customer experience and drive personalization, based on the profile and shopping history of the customer. Another example, related to networking, is the operation of the Wi-Fi network. One of the challenges with Wi-Fi in retail is to cope with dynamic RF situations, as many stores are in densely populated areas with potential for high levels of RF interference. ML/AI can constantly monitor and optimize the RF settings, to ensure that the network is performing at its best level.  This particular use cases can alleviate a substantial amount of time and resources usually dedicated to day-to-day network administration.

More about Patrick Groot:

In his current role as Solutions Architect EMEA at Extreme Networks, Patrick advises strategic customers and partners how they can leverage Extreme’s Software-Driven Networking solutions to support their Digital Transformation initiatives in order to achieve an optimal business outcome. Patrick gained over 20 years of experience in the IT and Enterprise Networking field in services, pre-sales & product management roles at different companies such as Symbol, Motorola and Zebra Technologies. Patrick holds a BS degree in Computer Technology at the Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen. In his spare time, Patrick enjoys playing keyboards in his amateur rock band.

To touch base with Patrick, or follow his work in IT, retail, and more, connect with him on LinkedIn.

Learn what Patrick thinks about the digital trends shaping retail today in my previous Q&A.

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