At the National Retail Federation's Big Show this week, every flavor of device seemed to have its place in the enterprise management conversation. "That's because it really is a ‘bring your own device' event in retail these days," said Vivek Venugopalan, Chief Technologist, of Wipro Technologies, the global IT business of WiPro Limited (NYSE: WIT), an information technology, consulting, and outsourcing company. Wipro has spent the last several years dealing internally with their own IT complexities for 131,000 employees, plus clients, across 54 countries, developing 136 patents in co-invention opportunities. "There have been a lot of lessons learned internally from our own teams, in dealing with all types of mobile devices in an enterprise," he pointed out. The company has its largest development teams based in India, Portugal, and Atlanta, GA, with seven data centers in the US.
Venugopalan said that most IT issues tied to device use boil down to three areas of interest: (a) mobility; (b) the cloud; and (c) analytics. "To this point, most retail IT focuses on large application development, not usually at the end consumer level. Actually 2012 is going to be remembered as the year of educational applications for store associates and in-store management. Though, we have done augmented-reality educations systems even to end consumers, in some cases."
IT professionals must embrace "store associate empowerment" as a critical IT concern, he said. Yet again, what was once the marketing department's territory has entered the IT formula for enterprise process management. Shoppers are smart, and converting to sales in-store has to rely on keeping the associate tied to a device that can make him smarter than a quick search on the web from the consumer's iphone. Based on demand, WiPro has developed a Marketing Mix Modelling Solution.
Mobile devices have been in the retail industry for more than 10 years, primarily for inventory management, and supply chain functions, prompting the new WiPro ‘FLoW' solution at the show tied to Oracle's Retail Suite and a new partner announcement with VendorNet. Finer detail tracking with store functions, and task management are now required in a mobile interface. Retail IT has now entered the "enterprise social network" model. Venugopalan said this is the difference to success or failure for big chains-"How do you make the sales associate as knowledgeable as others in the enterprise? What knowledgebase can be made available in a mobile interface?"
The vastness of this equation when WiPro is engaged goes to, on average, a formula for 50 to 60 devices per retail Mall store times 1000 stores with push content. "Wifi is not a reality in many stores. The on store network has to be thought through," said Sanjay Agara, general manager and head of technology and architecture for WiPro's retail practice. Then there is the fact that there is no standardization in what devices are considered most useful-could be in the world of "i" devices (iphone, ipad, itouch) or it could be Android, or a custom device, Agara pointed out.
In comes the security question: "What happens when the device is stolen and how can you control the store network security? These are no small questions," Agara said.
IT budgets for IT tend to track in the 2% of all costs for the enterprise range, if on the healthy side, so it is a time in 2012 to do more with less.
Application interfaces for the mobile device are often tied to web applications. WiPro developed a specialty Enterprise Application Store for its clientele, that allows for complete access control for each department in the enterprise. "IT departments for retailers are learning it is easier to outsource and let us set this up, then spend the time on developing it internally," Venugopalan said.
India is the leading country for offshore outsourcing in retail IT. The offshore outsourcing industry started in India and it has been able to grow the IT and BPO export sector to $47 billion and capture more than half the offshore outsourcing industry of which retail is 8%, according to SourcingLine.
Dawn Yankeelov, president of Aspectx, is a strategic planning consultant in the areas of marketing, PR, and competitive analysis for the healthcare and IT fields.