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Tips on How to Deploy SD-WAN Effectively in Distributed Retail Environments

Meeting the demands of tech-savvy customers when you have hundreds of branches is tough for a retailer. Consumers expect technology to make their experiences easier, faster and more fulfilling whether in-store, online or on the go.

Software-defined wide area networking technology (SD-WAN) is a necessity, enabling networks to support the growth in cloud-based applications on which efficiency and success now depend.

SD-WAN managed by an experienced provider will eliminate the problems of network overloading, employing advanced software to maximise capacity through intelligent bandwidth prioritisation. It is by far the most efficient method of supplying the heavy amounts of bandwidth that cloud applications require.

With managed SD-WAN available and ready, here is a set of tips for distributed retailers contemplating the technology.

1. Think of managed SD-WAN as the catalyst for a new, more efficient and profitable operating model

A fully managed SD-WAN solution can provide the game-changing increases in broadband speed that enables retailers to employ an entire suite of new applications that increase efficiency and ramp up revenues.

It is important to be ambitious, but also to engage a provider with the know-how and experience to transform network through SD-WAN implementation and then to manage it effectively.

For an organisation with hundreds of convenience stores on its petrol station forecourts, for example, speedy transmission of data across an SD-WAN network with 4G backup has enabled applications such as advanced predictive analytics while coping with payment security and big increases in data traffic from higher volumes of transactions.

Advanced basket-analysis can be conducted centrally for each store, leading to rapid decisions about what to stock, when and where in each branch.  Increases in the volume of transactions are handled without any effect on other applications.

Through one managed network solution, SD-WAN makes deployment of further cloud-based applications more straightforward, while reducing management overheads.

The big gains from SD-WAN come from thinking about it holistically.  

2. Consider how SD-WAN will enable you to interact directly with thousands more customers

Ambition is important, but with SD-WAN a single application can transform a business. Distributed retail businesses should consider which internet or cloud-based technology they want to prioritise.

Take a financial services business with hundreds of retail branches providing mortgages or financial products and advice. Like many companies it has to accept that today’s customers want direct access that is convenient. They are not prepared to make repeated phone calls or wait on-hold.

VoIP technology in this instance has proved to be a great facilitator enabling advisers to talk directly with thousands more customers over the internet from the office.  Customers can obtain the access they want from their homes or workplaces using their own PCs.

For the retailer however, increasing the use of VoIP in every branch can place a big strain on an existing network developed through acquisitions. The answer is to implement fully-managed SD-WAN solution that covers every aspect of the project, guaranteeing that business-critical applications are prioritised and always available, achieving near-100 per cent uptime at each location.

From being unable to support digital ambitions because of constrained connectivity, a company can quickly move to a network that carries millions of voice calls per week without difficulty. Even when individual circuits are experiencing problems, voice calls are not affected.

An organisation considering one application at a time can quickly move on to the next innovation.

3. Use fully managed SD-WAN to ensure a cost-effective outcome when upgrading connectivity for hundreds of branches across a large geographical area

Managing costs can indeed be a problem when upgrading a continent-wide network that has multiple network access providers (NAPs) that supply the last-mile connectivity to branches.

SD-WAN, when fully managed by a provider with expertise in implementing the technology across wide geographical areas and national boundaries, will enable a transformation in connectivity without busting budgets.

Through managed services provision, a retailer will enjoy the ease of dealing with just one highly experienced organisation while continuing to benefit from the connectivity and services provided by all the underlying NAPs.

The managed services provider will ensure greater path diversity, designing and implementing a single high-resilience SD-WAN gateway to automatically streamline functionality while maintaining compliance with data and payment regulations.

Where the legacy network is based on MPLS connectivity, there should be little or no increase in costs.

4. Consider how much more creative your business would be if your IT department did not have to solve connectivity problems

When contemplating SD-WAN it is important for retailers with big networks to think hard about what it can do for the IT department and how their resources can be redirected.

SD-WAN is a catalysing technology, but if implemented on a managed services basis, provides near 100 per cent uptime in tough environments such as quick-service restaurant chains that have hundreds of branches. Automatic configuration, bandwidth configuration and backup switching remove the pain.

The amount of time a chain’s IT team spends on network problems, providing a dedicated service to monitor and support every branch can be a real drain on resources. Being free of such infrastructure concerns enables a chain to devote more resources to improving customer-engagement and staff training, future-proofing it for the addition of further cloud-based applications that are essential revenue-drivers.

Not only is connectivity made infinitely more resilient, security is taken care of through next-generation firewall technology.

This handful of tips act as a guide to how distributed retailers should think about SD-WAN. It is a technology that has the power to transform retail, enabling fast, resilient and unified networks fit for the digital era, if organisations think carefully first and engage a provider with the requisite expertise and scale.