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Four digital transformation challenges faced by businesses at the network edge

Tue 20 Aug 2019 | Hubert Da Costa

Organisations and remote sites operating at the network edge face a unique set of challenges when adopting the latest technologies

Digital transformation impacts every aspect of our lives—how we work, shop, connect with family and friends, stream entertainment, and pay for things.

Thanks to digital disruptors like Amazon, Uber and Netflix, today’s connected and smartphone-wielding consumers have high expectations. For them, the rules of engagement have changed, with ease and convenience becoming a ‘must have’ whenever they enter a store or head online.

Little surprise, then, that the rapid adoption of technology to transform their operations has become a top priority for enterprises of every size and in every sector. But nobody feels this imperative more keenly than small businesses and franchise owners.

For them, adapting to this new digital dynamic represents a commercial imperative. By failing to keep up with digital trends, these businesses risk missing out on important opportunities and getting left by the wayside in an era that’s characterised by fast-paced disruption.

These organisations – think petrol stations, convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, and GP surgeries – operate away from the main HQ, right at the network edge, in this case at the periphery of the network in the remote location away from HQ.

Because of this highly distributed setup these organisations face a unique set of challenges when adopting the latest technologies. Let’s explore some of the top transformation challenges they face:

The move to the cloud

The pervasive nature of digital real-time interactions means modern businesses are moving to digital-first strategies that accelerate innovation, drive growth, and improve efficiency.

In bid to connect people, things and locations, they’re turning to the cloud to access a rich choice of applications that reduce operational expenditure, while enabling new and agile ways of working.

Cloud computing delivers numerous benefits – especially for small business and franchise owners. It provides a low-cost way to access the infrastructure and IT resources needed to drive digital business advantage. British SMBs have been quick to seize the opportunity — according to the British Chamber of Commerce, 69 percent of SMBs now harness some form of cloud computing service.

As the cloud becomes the gateway to utilising cutting edge technologies such as analytics, AI and automation, small businesses are set to benefit as these capabilities become democratised and accessible.

By being able to compete on a level playing field with much larger enterprises, they’ll leverage these advanced technologies to develop new improved products and elevate how they engage with customers.

However, all this adds up to a growing volume of business-critical network workloads that will need to be protected from any potential failure in network availability, performance or reliability.

To deal with this challenge, many businesses are turning to Software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) — the application of software-defined networking (SDN) to the WAN connections that connect a company’s geographically disparate sites.

According to IDC, the dynamic management of hybrid WAN connections afforded by SD-WAN enables enterprises to “guarantee high levels of quality of service on a per-application basis.”

As implementing SD-WAN can be costly, it might not be the right fit for every business. But organisations should always consider the long-term savings that can be gained.

“All this adds up to a growing volume of business-critical network workloads that will need to be protected from any potential failure in network availability, performance or reliability”

Digitising every channel

Today’s consumers expect an integrated omnichannel experience, no matter who they’re interacting with. Moving seamlessly between the physical and digital worlds, they expect services like click and collect, reserve in-store, and more.

It’s not just the retail sector that’s been impacted by this trend. Just about every consumer-facing business or brand needs to connect, serve, support and deliver services in the channels their customers are using.

Enabling consistent and personalised interactions across every channel and touchpoint will prove critical for small businesses and franchise owners looking to gain a competitive edge.

But this can prove particularly challenging for those based in remote or geographically dispersed locations, looking to deliver the same level of digital sophistication as larger, metropolitan based commercial entities. To enable exceptional web and mobile experiences, they’ll need a high-performance network that ensures the internet doesn’t slow down their business.

Cybersecurity and compliance

To earn and keep customer trust, small businesses and franchises need to balance these seamless digital experiences with the provision of fail-safe security that keeps customer personal and payment data safe and protected.

Today’s small business owners have to comply with a slew of regulations that extend from GDPR to PCI security standards. The proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) means the amount of contextual customer data is set to explode, compounding the cybersecurity and compliance challenge.

Add a rapidly changing cyber-threat landscape into the mix and digital transformation can seem like an uphill task for the smaller enterprise.

Fortunately, cybersecurity technology for the digital age is rapidly becoming available for small businesses. Security measures such as multi-factor authentication, multi-layer security and advanced encryption, put differentiated and secure digital experiences within the grasp of all businesses, no matter their scale.

Further, new adaptive networking approaches make it possible to easily separate traffic into distinct networks, so that each application and its associated data has its own space and doesn’t infringe on other applications in the system. All of which makes it easier to keep attackers away from valuable customer data, stay compliant, and protect vital business infrastructure and assets.

Customer experience management

Running a small business in the digital age isn’t easy. Customers are increasingly harder to please and expect a superior experience that’s connected, intelligent and personalised.

To stay relevant in a modern marketplace, small businesses need to listen and respond to customer needs. That means using digital tools to gain a clear picture of who their customers are, what turns them on and off, and engage in personalised relationship marketing that resonates with existing and new customers.

For example, loyalty programmes can be integrated with a customer’s mobile device and point-of-sale systems, including mobile point-of-sale. It’s an approach that makes it possible to track customer preferences, monitor which discounts and offers incentivise purchases, and can even be integrated with a customer’s preferred digital wallet app.

For local businesses that want to create an affinity with their brand and extend their awareness and reach, taking advantage of such tools produces a sense of trust and connection that goes beyond the physical location alone.

Facing the future with confidence

Digital transformation is proving a gamechanger for small businesses and franchise owners who operate at the edge, but it brings with it a distinct set of challenges. Those that can combine digital tools with their existing strengths and local market knowledge will be well positioned to compete and win.

Experts featured:

Hubert Da Costa



edge networking retail SD-WAN
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