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Connect for growth: are you overlooking the importance of your network?

(Image credit: Image Credit: Ra2Studio / Shutterstock)

Are you unleashing the full power of your digital network? Do you use secure and scalable network solutions to supercharge staff productivity, boost customer experience and grow revenues? Or do you consider your network infrastructure just another lights-on cost base?

Businesses across retail, hospitality and leisure have a real opportunity to gain competitive advantage over their peers by investing in these digital networks. Here we outline seven ways your business can meet its connectivity challenges with secure scalable solutions.

1 – Gear-up for growth

Future-proofing your network infrastructure is an essential step for any brand on a fast-growth trajectory, but it’s not always easy balancing current and future needs, particularly when international expansion is on the cards.

One essential step is to ensure your premises are ‘always on’ in terms of connectivity and this means market-leading management of your MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) high-performance network communications infrastructure. Increased connectivity means an increased cyber security risk, so protecting your network with a next generation firewall (NGFW) and advanced security solutions are  essential.

With these foundations in place it’s possible to safely incorporate a wide range of applications to your network, including connecting in-store EPOS systems to your head office, as well as providing Wi-Fi, (or 4G wireless) connectivity to enable your staff to advise customers on product or service availability and ‘order on premises’ via their tablets.

2 – Supercharge your Wi-Fi to boost customer engagement

Today’s increasingly hyper-connected consumers expect fast, safe, reliable and free internet access wherever they shop, dine or enjoy their leisure time. Businesses that achieve this will drive customer engagement, on-premises dwell-time and ultimately spend on premises.

The solution is a robust on-premises Wi-Fi IT backbone that enables you to balance connection bandwidth between staff and customer usage depending on demand. This can mean increasing bandwidth for staff training, for example, or allowing customer devices to stream live feeds from events. Market-leading Wi-Fi solutions can also enable you to engage with your customers via digital signage and social media as well as educating staff on these subjects.

3 – Upgrade to a modern cloud-based telephony system

Modern, cloud-based voice-over-IP (VOIP) telephony systems can provide a single, unified voice network across your estate, which provides clear benefits for staff productivity and customer service. When customers call your business, for example, a unified communication system can direct them to the right department quickly and efficiently without being redirected manually several times. VOIP solutions are often accompanied by the addition of 3/4G wireless backup providing resilience and continuity of critical applications, upgrading premises with higher bandwidth connections along with a router hardware refresh and wireless access points can enable businesses to deploy the digital technology they require.

This system enables staff to contact other departments, including head office, quickly and easily, ensuring customer and staff queries can be answered quickly and keeping the wheels of commerce running smoothly.

4 – Enable expansion in support of your brand

As retail, hospitality and leisure businesses expand, either organically or through acquisition, it is essential that they can grow their network capabilities rapidly, while also ensuring they don’t dilute their brand recognition or values. This means that any network expansion or upgrade needs to be carried-out with minimal disruption to the business, while processes remain streamlined and customer-centric.

Mergers and acquisitions often require ambitious roll-out plans with network models being extended across the estate as fast as possible. One example is the need to provide fibre connectivity to support a retailer’s wholesale management system. This can be achieved using MPLS to direct data from the existing network to the cloud. This can ensure that all premises are using ADSL broadband, delivering cost savings by streamlining processes and simplifying a company’s data input.

The goal for any expanding brand should be to upgrade legacy network infrastructure systems and ensure a one-stop-shop approach to network management, while further supporting the brand’s expansion.

5 – Integrate on-premises and online operations

Customers are increasingly seeking seamless interactions with brands, whether they’re on their premises or online. This means that multi-channel brands must have reliable and secure networks to ensure the safe and speedy flow of data between premises and departments, while also enabling customers to browse their products online – even when they’re on their premises. A fast and effective MPLS network solution, deployed across your business’s entire estate, should be the cornerstone of any integration project, followed by a secure and effective on-premises Wi-Fi network enabling customers to browse your website or app as well as using third party online resources to validate their purchasing decisions.

A managed network can remove the burden of ensuring connectivity away from your in-house team, speeding up problem resolution, boosting network connectivity and giving your team an opportunity to focus on innovation instead.

6 – Ensure the visibility of your network’s performance

Modern commerce can take place at a punishing pace, and that means businesses need to understand and control their network traffic better than ever before. Many companies are adopting active network monitoring to ensure stock and resources are correctly allocated and it enables brands to take remedial action quickly when problems occur. Active network monitoring involves real-time testing, performed by software engineers or hardware sensors, on the network infrastructure, to verify that the network is performing as required. 

Active tests report real-time data such as end-to-end reachability, packet loss, jitter, bandwidth, and HTTP response time. One of the most common tests run by active network monitoring tools is the ping command, which verifies round-trip time to remote host as well as packet loss. Such rigorous testing is essential if you don’t want critical customer-facing systems to fail during peak trading or any other time. The evolving requirement for real time data and always on applications means that premises need 100 per cent connectivity to be able to trade and serve customers therefore higher bandwidth and store resilience has never been more important

7 – Supercharge head-office-to-branch communications

Ensuring reliable and integrated communications between a brand’s branches and head office is essential to the success of any business. It allows a company to make informed decisions, monitor sales, assess performance in real time and provide superior customer service. Managed communications can also boost staff productivity, liberating them from admin tasks to spend more time with customers.

This can be achieved by connecting branches with Private Access Broadband, FTTC/P while Ethernet connections with backup   can cater for the more data-hungry sites and head office. A fully-managed solution with managed security solutions will ensure service levels and keep confidential customer data secure.

Paul Leybourne, Head of Sales, Vodat International (opens in new tab)
Image Credit: Ra2Studio / Shutterstock

Paul Leybourne is a leading commentator and expert on network security at Vodat International.