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Solving the Challenges of the Modern Retail Industry with SD-WAN

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Solving the Challenges of the Modern Retail Industry with SD-WAN 1

Three key benefits of SD-WAN can help retailers solve new and old challenges and prepare for an uncertain future

By John Tait, Global Managing Director, TNS Payments Market

As customer needs and preferences change, and as technologies disrupt formerly effective strategies, retailers are confronted by continuous challenges in the modern era.

But no year has been quite like 2020. Mandates ordering the public to stay at home crippled foot traffic earlier this year and, even when physical stores were able to open, social-distancing measures have limited the numbers of customers permitted indoors, while fears of the virus have driven others away.

With new and old challenges impacting the industry, it’s time to think differently. Retailers need to look closely at how technology can support their operations and their customers, secure customer payments and business data, and help them adopt the digital strategies that will be vital in an uncertain future.

One network technology, software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), can offer a host of benefits for retail businessesAt its core, SD-WAN is a way of simplifying the management and operation of a network by decoupling the networking hardware from the way it is controlled. This gives a business the ability to manage network traffic to and from data centres and retail sites or offices, which alleviates network congestion and keeps the network from becoming overloaded. It can be layered on top of any connectivity solution to securely connect users with applications, including apps in the cloud.

But that’s not all it is. Here’s how it can help retailers navigate an ever-changing business and economic climate.

It can support new strategies and modernises operations

Many retailers will have heard the term ‘digital transformation’ and their stores may even be working towards it. The basic premise is that all businesses can boost their overall agility, flexibility, and customer service experience by adopting digital initiatives and technology-based strategies.

For retailers, this can mean creating online storefronts to connect with customers, instead of face-to-face interactions, with cloud-supported e-commerce options and curb-side pick-up options for pandemic-friendly buying experiences. Alternatively, it could mean adding chatbots and customer data management solutions to a website for ways to support customers with a leaner staff. Or implementing contactless mobile payment options for the first time, supported by secure, high-speed connectivity. It can even be as simple as adding a separate Wi-Fi network for customers to use then they’re in a store.

The possibilities for digital transformation are practically endless within the retail space — it all comes down to how daring retailers want to be and how much tech they want to add. But even the more accessible parts of digital transformation incorporate devices and apps that can strain traditional networks and add new levels of complexity around network management. Even simply adding digital displays to stream promotional videos in a store can stretch a network’s bandwidth.

That’s where SD-WAN can come in. Because it can improve network uptime, performance and redundancy, it gives a business the ability to support new strategies and add the latest cloud-based apps while also prioritising business-critical applications like payments. In other words, retailers don’t have to worry that their payments terminal might slow or go down just because they’ve added in-store digital features that also require connectivity, such as customer-facing tablets that let them place orders or view different options, or customer Wi-Fi.

For shops that have shifted to more of an e-commerce/delivery/pick-up strategy, SD-WAN supports secure digital payments while connecting an inventory management system to a payments system and online/mobile ordering portal, so customers can have a smooth experience, and their data remains protected.

It helps retailers embrace and secure the cloud

The cloud is a big part of digital transformation. Retailers’ own operations, like their databases or servers, might not yet be based in the cloud, but they almost certainly use services that are. Tools such as Office 365 and Google Drive, or payments apps like Square are all cloud-based.

Even if retailers aren’t there yet, their vendors are most likely going to push them there. Plus, cloud isn’t just good for the vendors they use; it’s good for retail businesses, too. Many of the aforementioned digital services like e-commerce and chatbots need the cloud to run optimally.  Once they’re in the cloud, retail organisation will have a world of possibilities, but to adopt cloud, they need to solve any connectivity issues they may have.

While cloud services allow business-critical applications to be accessed from anywhere, it does add security concerns. A recent IDG survey found 98% of businesses surveyed said securing applications, data and infrastructure in the cloud is “very” or “somewhat” challenging. Almost all of the organisations that IDG surveyed (95%) feel that their current security infrastructure hinders their ability to protect data — including payments data — as it moves to and from the cloud.

SD-WAN allows retailers to lock down cloud access at a branch or location by securing direct access to the public cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps like Office 365. SD-WAN also adds the ability to boost capacity during times of high network traffic, or failover to a broadband or LTE network. Retailers can quickly deploy new cloud-based apps with secure, reliable internet connectivity.

It boosts security, including customer payments security

SD-WAN allows retailers to deliver alternative payment options such as self-service kiosks and mobile POS. For example, outdoor terminals can be used for restaurants serving patio diners, or tablets that allow staff to check out shoppers from anywhere in a store.

This flexibility regarding where and how payments can be processed is ideal for the consumer, but it can create cybersecurity risks because of more devices and more points of interaction to and from apps or internet breakout. No retailer wants to be featured in the next headline about data breaches or other cyberattacks. This means properly security controls, especially for payments, are critical.

SD-WAN gives retailers a way to securely connect all types of payments options — POS terminals, cash registers, e-commerce gateways, mobile devices, automated fuel dispenser (AFD) pay-at-the-pump systems and more, as well as any other devices and networks within a retail environment.

SD-WAN can also protect sensitive card data. Retailers should opt for best-in-class security protocols like next-generation stateful firewalls (NGFW) (including IPSEC VPN tunnels), anti-virus features, URL filtering and SSL packet inspection. Regulatory compliance with PCI DSS security credentials is, of course, also critical within a retail environment, and some SD-WAN solutions available today have been designed to incorporate PCI DSS requirements.

While SD-WAN does offer an upgraded, secure technology that can bolt on to another connectivity layer and reduce the complexity of network management, retailers that don’t have in-house IT staff may still be challenged to successfully implement one. Fully managed solutions remove the hands-on work while giving a business access to all of an SD-WAN’s capabilities. They also add an extra layer of security: with a provider actively monitoring threats and keeping an eye on the network peripherals — all the data going back and forth, and what devices are using them — retailers can keep their network, and their customers’ card data, locked down.

Solving existing and future Challenges

This year has challenging in many ways and surprises are likely to continue for the next year or so. This uncertain new reality is understandably unsettling for many retailers, but it’s also an opportunity to rethink the way they do business to ensure long-term survival and drive growth, even in a volatile environment.

Implementing an SD-WAN solution can help retailers support digital initiatives and new strategies, deploy and secure modern cloud applications, and secure payments data. With the option of a managed service provider behind the SD-WAN, stores can focus on boosting the customer experience and modernising retail operations instead of managing payments terminals or troubleshooting a network. This will save time and money at a time when everyone needs more of both.

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Take Five: Davos goes virtual

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Take Five: Davos goes virtual 2

1/NON-DAVOS DAVOS

It is the end of January, so time for the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF), and Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde are among this year’s big-name speakers.

But Davos was not spared the pandemic hit; instead of gathering at the Swiss ski resort, the world’s great and good will do so virtually.

With the global economy deep in crisis, there is no shortage of topics: soaring unemployment and debt levels, growing income inequality and climate change.

And, like everyone else, the WEF is pinning hopes on normality returning – it plans a face-to-face meeting in Singapore in May.

2/FAANGS RETURN

Outpaced by a late-2020 surge in so-called value stocks, tech shares have roared back amid the pandemic’s unrelenting march. That is reflected in recent hefty gains for Russell’s 1000 “growth” index versus its value counterpart.

The gains could extend when Apple, Microsoft and Facebook report earnings. Also on deck is Tesla, which recently joined the S&P 500.

The results could push the combined market capitalisation of the FAANGs – Facebook, Amazon, AAPL Netflix and Google-parent Alphabet – back above their all-time peak of $6.16 trillion.

Netflix has done its part; robust subscription numbers reported on Jan. 19 have boosted its shares 17%. Now there are high expectations for the rest. Morgan Stanley has boosted the price target for Apple, declaring themselves “buyers ahead of what we expect to be a record December quarter print”. Microsoft reports on Jan. 26, followed by Apple, Facebook and Tesla a day later.

Graphic: The return of the FAANGs – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/oakpeyelnpr/Pasted%20image%201611266376120.png

3/RED ENVELOPE FOR HONG KONG

Record amounts of Chinese money are flowing into Hong Kong stocks, pushing the Hang Seng index above the 30,000 mark, making it a global top performer and putting a floor under Chinese companies blacklisted by Washington.

The inflows have also pushed Hong Kong interbank rates to multi-year lows, meaning authorities may not even need to inject cash, as they usually do in the run-up to February’s Lunar New Year holiday.

An upcoming $5 billion IPO from Chinese online video company Kuaishou may draw in even more mainland money.

For a city rocked by pro-democracy unrest since 2019, this endorsement of its markets is a positive. Unless, that is, one views this as another sign of China’s growing political and financial stranglehold on the special administrative region.

Graphic: Mainland investors hunt for bargains in Hong Kong – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/buzz/xlbvgylqevq/mainland%20investors%20hunt%20for%20bargains%20in%20Hong%20Kong.jpg

4/DRIVING OUT EUROPE INC BLUES

Europe’s STOXX 600 firms are expected to report a 26% earnings drop during the Q4 season which has just got under way. But that is history – let’s look instead at the January-March 2021 season when a 44% profit jump is predicted.

Such a surge seems intriguing given new continent-wide lockdowns. The explanation lies in consumer cyclicals, which Refinitiv I/B/E/S predicts will post an eye-popping 3,118% profit gain, versus the pandemic doldrums of Q1 2020.

Drilling down to single stocks, Daimler (1,471%), Fiat Chrysler, now Stellantis (177%) and Volkswagen (602%) turn out to be the largest contributors. Carmakers have seen their biggest earnings revisions in a decade and boosting shares to 14-month highs.

Graphic: Autos – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/qzjvqmnwxvx/Autos%20hold%20key.JPG

5/SILVER LININGS

The coming week brings prelimary Q4 GDP data from France, Spain and Germany. Okay, the data is outdated and we already know the first quarter will show an activity dip from lockdown extensions. But let’s not be too hasty in dismissing the end-2020 numbers.

If the economies fared better than expected, it provides a cushion for the blow coming this quarter – that is the conclusion some reached after 2020 growth in powerhouse Germany turned out less bad than feared.

Also pay attention to Germany’s January inflation numbers, out Thursday. Those could show that a reversal in VAT cuts is easing the downward pressure on prices. In short, amid the pain inflicted by lockdowns, some positives might well lurk.

Graphic: Germany’s GDP data set for a bumpy ride – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xlbvgyjmmvq/theme2201DR.PNG

(Reporting by Ira Iosebashvili in New York; Vidya Ranganathan in Singapore; Karin Strohecker and Dhara Ranasinghe in London; Danilo Masoni in Milan; compiled by Sujata Rao)

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Hisham Itani and Resource Group Recognized in the 2020 Global Banking & Finance Awards®

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Hisham Itani and Resource Group Recognized in the 2020 Global Banking & Finance Awards® 3

Global Banking & Finance Review has awarded Hisham Itani the Chairman and CEO of Resource Group, Technology CEO of the Year Middle East 2020 in recognition of his vision, strategy and strong leadership that have contributed greatly to Resource Group’s success in winning the Most Innovative Holding Group Middle East 2020 in this Global Banking & Finance Awards®.

 

Resource Group is an investment group with a portfolio of diversified businesses that capitalizes on technology and human talent for value creation. The company has proven that it has gone the extra mile to develop innovative solutions aimed at improving people’s lives and helping Lebanon transition toward a knowledge-based economy. Global Banking and Financial Review, the renowned online and print magazine identified a number of areas that Resource Group has excelled. The company has been awarded Most Innovative Holding Group Middle East 2020, and Hisham Itani the Chairman and CEO, receives the award for Technology CEO of the Year Middle East 2020. Under his leadership, Resource Group has grown from a family security-printing business to a diversified international investment group, with a portfolio of companies across 10 sectors in over 75 countries.

Wanda Rich, editor Global Banking & Finance, said “Mr. Itani took the security printing business to another level and expanded into different technology verticals in an impressive list of success stories”. The list includes digital security, smartcard manufacturing, mobile value added solutions, cyber security and secure communication solutions, telecom infrastructure and managed services, elections supply chain services, lottery systems and operations, mobile and virtual reality games, among others.

Resource Group’s focus on technology has had a constructive and tangible impact on government automation and on citizen experience in target markets.

Editor Wanda Rich says “We are proud to offer Resource Group these prestigious awards and wish them continued success and growth into 2021 during these challenging economic times”.

Global Banking and Finance Review is a renowned online and print magazine. The magazine’s website alone receives over 7 million page views annually. Global Banking and Finance Review provides a balanced view with formative and independent news from the financial community. The Global Banking & Finance Awards® were created to recognize companies of all sizes that are prominent in particular areas of expertise and excellence within the global financial community. The awards are known throughout the global banking and financial community. They reflect the innovation, achievement, strategy, progressive and inspirational changes taking place within the financial sector.

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Bouncing back in 2021: Digital Transformation is no longer a choice as dependence on 5G, IoT and Data increases in society and business

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5G and Open Banking: Explosive growth or business as usual?

By Ivan Ericsson, Head of Quality Management, Expleo Group Limited

The global pandemic has put enormous strain on businesses and brought into sharp focus the importance of being agile, adaptable and able to increase the pace of innovation and change at short notice – catapulting technology right to the top of the agenda for many organisations.

As the economy works to get back on its feet, technology is only going to play a bigger role in our lives. At Expleo, as experts in digital transformation and the reliable implementation of technological innovations, we’ve outlined the biggest tech-driven trends that we expect to see in 2021 and beyond.

1)     “Digital transformation” no longer a choice

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught businesses anything, it’s that they need to be poised to respond to abrupt market disruption at any moment, making digital transformation mandatory overnight.

With no room for delay, hugely complex corporations – that have historically been slow to adopt technology – have had to accelerate their reliance on technology just to keep afloat in recent months. Digital change, at speed, has become the norm.

Even last year, the idea of an unscheduled video conference call might put people on edge – now most of us wouldn’t think twice about calling a colleague over Teams or Zoom even for a 2-minute conversation. At the same time, social infrastructure has moved with the needs of its users, with telecoms giants strengthening and opening up networks so we can keep communicating despite social distancing.

There are now very few excuses left for operating in a non-digital way. All businesses need to be intelligent businesses that can change direction nimbly, with speed, confidence and composure. As we see more businesses putting this into practice, it’ll likely result in an increased number embracing and normalising some of the behaviours of tech-savvy giants like Apple and Amazon, who have no doubt thrived during this period.

Their success can largely be attributed to normalising an agile approach. By ensuring all applications have testing facilities built in – a “quality shadow” if you will – it allows for continuous improvements, and the ability to change direction quickly and confidently, when needed. This is particularly valuable today as the world becomes more fast-paced and increasingly unpredictable.

2)     Big data/AI/predictive analytics

We’re moving into a space where big data can be extracted from the most seemingly innocuous places. In a hyper-connected world, a move as simple as a dog walk could offer huge swathes of data to the right companies. Many businesses already realise the benefits of capturing and utilising big data, but not all have taken advantage of it. The businesses that move quickest are most likely to reap the rewards in a more impactful way than their ‘data shy’ competitors. Where data used to be a side effect of business operation, it is now the driving force.

As businesses begin to rely more heavily on data to make critical decisions, independent assurance becomes increasingly important to get those decisions right. Forward-thinking, data-driven organisations must therefore assure that the data is correct in the first place, to avoid giving businesses false confidence and risk them moving in the wrong direction – something that is rarely affordable in today’s competitive and fast-paced environment. If businesses are not 100% confident in assuring the quality and accuracy of their own data, they should look to a third party for support.

A key data trend we expect to see moving further into 2021 is the increased use of predictive analytics. At the moment, businesses will often use data analytics to give us insights into our past activities, or to tell us where we are right now. However, the real value lies in knowing where we are going and how we are going to get there. Data analytics will help to identify the optional levels that can be pulled to drive change and realise business benefit.

Secondly, as intuitive technology advances and becomes more accessible, we expect over the next 12 months to see companies of all sizes begin to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) to drive intelligent analytics. In this context, AI refers to various technologies that allow machines to learn, sifting through ‘messy’ big data in order to find and unlock valuable predictive insights into future events. This allows businesses to better adapt their strategy to likely future outcomes and get a head start in the market.

However, with this ever-increasing emphasis on data and data protection, ethical AI will have a more prominent role to play in 2021 and beyond. Protected, usable Data is a by-product of good data security and privacy measures; however, the public remain wary of how their data is being used, particularly after the fallout from Cambridge Analytica’s use of data to influence an election[1]. Businesses, therefore, must give their customers confidence that their data is secure and protected.

3)     Moral relevance/corporate altruism

Research shows that young people are increasingly researching and considering the ethics of brands they’re purchasing from. And it won’t be long before this attitude starts seeping into every other aspect of their lives, with more and more people wanting to work for what they consider to be “purpose-driven” businesses.

Talent is the lifeblood of any company, so for big corporations, many of whom were born to create profit, this could put them in a tricky position. They might already be influencing society in a positive way – but this is unlikely to have ever been their main goal.

Moving forward, however, all organisations will have to start thinking about the “Triple Bottom Line”. That means considering the environmental and social impact of your business, alongside your commercial imperative.

We’ll soon see a mindset switch across businesses, from ‘competing’ to ‘advancing’. Instead of wanting to be the “best,” the question will be, how can I better serve the world around me?

In line with this, businesses will have to start thinking more about how to use tech for good, as we’ve seen with the likes of Microsoft Teams connecting tens of millions of people every day, during this very dark time[2].

2021 is likely to bring even more inroads when it comes to using technology to improve society, whether it’s developing bespoke problem-solving technologies or using IT to ‘eco-proof’ existing sectors, the goal for businesses is to rise to this challenge and build a better future for people and the planet through the use of technology. But all organisations will continue to need to be able to justify technology use and prove that they’re using it ethically, and in a secure manner.

4)     5G new networks – just about all big trends are driven by/reliant upon faster networks – particularly relevant for a more distributed workforce

Greater access and utilisation of 5G networks across the country will underpin and accelerate all of the key trends discussed. Everything we do on our smart devices we can expect to do at higher speed, greater capacity and with lower lag times.

As our digital footprints extend beyond simple web browsing and into our daily lives through smart technology, we are creating huge amounts of data every minute. This vast flow of data is increasingly dependent on new high bandwidth networks to facilitate it. Therefore, the merging of technology and engineering will become critical in ensuring big data is carried successfully to drive analytics and drive business.

The fact we have managed to successfully work from home during COVID is a glowing recommendation for the quality of the networks as they exist today, and they will only get better.

The telecoms industry is already working overtime to ensure that people all over the country get reliable access to the internet – and the fact that there is still inequality in this area proves just how challenging this is. But, in line with this trend toward hyper automation, which will make data extraction and analysis a part of everyday life for businesses, the consolidation of tech and engineering will be ever more important.

Forward-thinking companies will look to incorporate 5G networks into their business strategy. This could be from an internal perspective to enhance the abilities of their remote workforce. Alternatively, this could relate to their own products or offerings – developing an internet of things (IoT) strategy, improve user experience, or bring products to market faster by analysing big data and adapting quicker. Either way, with increasingly improved networks, businesses are expected to take advantage of the huge increase in accessible and usable data.

Concluding comments:

For businesses to truly reap the benefits of these new technologies, they must be developed and adopted in the right way.

Quality assurance, trust and security are three key requirements that the technology of the future depends on to succeed. Having these requirements at the heart of any digital transformation will ensure that systems perform reliably, having been tested and assured.

By prioritising a seamless customer experience combined with an ability to create, test, and scale digital solutions and operationalise at pace, businesses will be in the best possible position to take advantage of the potential being unlocked by these new technologies.

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