How digitisation of IT infrastructure is transforming the retail industry
The proliferation of digital devices and services in the age of the Internet of Things continues to gather momentum at a truly remarkable pace – and the retail industry, like many others, is facing seismic changes as a result.
The rise of disruptive technologies such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and WeChat wallet coupled with consumers’ voracious demand for smart and wearable technologies have brought financial transactions to consumer fingertips in a way that wouldn’t have been imaginable a few short years ago.
Retailers and e-commerce companies must now deal with the rapidly increasing number of consumers completing transactions on their mobile phones via apps and online stores. In the US alone, Forrester projects that the mobile payments market will hit $142 billion by 2019. Meanwhile, according to Adobe Digital Insight, global online sales during the most recent ‘Cyber Monday’ in November 2016 reached $3.45 billion – smashing the previous year’s total by 12.1 per cent.
The benefits to retail businesses are myriad, from driving sales in new markets to enabling direct interaction with customers. But this dramatic shift also brings with it a number of complex challenges – and those slow to react to this rapidly shifting landscape face an existential threat.
Larger market incumbents are facing stiff competition from lower-cost competitors that have been born digital, for whom online and mobile transactions are the lifeblood of business. Traditional retailers such as Zara and H&M have had to swiftly improve their online offer in order to compete with specialist e-retailers such as ASOS, Gilt and Nelly.
Whether born a digital business or reinvented as one, all retailers face huge pressure to continuously reinvent their business models to keep pace with technological change and consumer demand.
While events such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Alibaba’s single’s day festival steal the headlines when it comes to online retail, few understand the real impact these major events, or the general trend towards digital shopping, places on retailers and their IT infrastructure. Alleviating this pressure requires a robust digital infrastructure and a collaborative approach across the digital supply chain that can be hard to achieve for retailers finding their feet in the digital age.
It takes a host of elements – mobile, retail, finance, advertising, to name just a few – all working in concert for mobile payments to be processed at the level consumers have come to expect. Retail companies who want to capture the increasing market share of mobile payments have to make sure they have the digital infrastructure in place to facilitate these elements coming together in harmony.
Many retailers are finding the answer to this by moving their digital infrastructure into an ecosystem which accommodates every part of the digital payments supply chain, including network and mobile carriers, cloud service providers, banks, e-commerce providers and programmatic advertising companies. We are seeing a huge upturn in interest from retailers wanting to use our data centres to secure direct interconnection to these disparate players – consolidating and expanding their network.
Because there is no connection more secure than a direct connection, this directly interconnected approach also offers significant security benefits. Bypassing the public internet can eliminate many of the data liabilities which keep company bosses awake at night, while also cutting latency times and boosting infrastructure reliability.
A digital future
Demand for innovation in mobile payment and online retail is only going to grow. With Ovum predicting that by 2019 there will be 1.09 billion mobile proximity payment users globally, companies that fail to respond are putting themselves at serious risk of irrelevance.
It is easy for retailers to focus on the headline-grabbing aspects of online shopping and digital payment, but the key to long-term sustainable success is a robust, scalable and flexible digital infrastructure – one which allows direct interconnection to key partners and which streamlines and optimises the digital supply chain. Retailers that can move to an ecosystem which provides this will find themselves at a distinct advantage as this burgeoning global trend continues to evolve.
John Knuff is Vice President of Global Ecosystems at global interconnection and data centre company Equinix.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”