One important benefit of intelligent devices is the more of them you have, the more data you collect. Of course, this data is only valuable if you do something with it. And I can think of few other industries where that is as important as retail. Being on the front end of the customer relationship, it’s important for a retailer to understand everything they can about that customer, engage them in every way you can, and continuously build on that relationship.
This year is full of talk about “big data” and how deriving real meaning from the increasing amount of data everywhere could provide richer insights into business patterns and trends, drive operational efficiencies, and improve competitive advantage. Big data refers to huge data sets characterized by larger volumes (by orders of magnitude) and greater variety and complexity, and generated at a higher velocity than organizations have faced before.
In retail, all kinds of connected devices generate this flood of complex structured and unstructured data.
Sources can include:
- Point-of-sale (POS) devices
- Mobile commerce solutions using near field communication (NFC)
- Websites (both external and internal)
- Social media sites like Facebook
- Customer loyalty programs
- Digital signage using anonymous video analytics such as Intel® Audience Impression Measurement (Intel® AIM) Suite to collect metrics on interactions
- Touchscreen kiosks that track every interaction
- Video surveillance systems with video analytics that record store traffic patterns, employee-customer interactions, and customer-merchandise interactions (such as the dwell time around an end cap)
- UPC and RFID readers
- Employee devices, including PCs, smartphones and other handheld devices
- Virtual dressing rooms that remember a customer’s measurements with a 3D body image so customers can continue trying on store merchandise using a home PC or smart phone
Some retail devices collect structured data that retailers may or may not be using. Sales and inventory data are naturally always tracked, but it can be surprising how many retailers don’t use the data they collect from loyalty programs for a lack of a way to correlate it to anything.
Big data also includes unstructured data that is variable in nature and comes in many formats, including text, document, image, video, and more. This unstructured data is growing faster than structured data. According to a 2011 IDC study, it will account for 90 percent of all data created in the next decade. As a new, relatively untapped source of insight, unstructured data analytics can reveal important interrelationships that were previously difficult or impossible to determine. In retail this could be a chance to see why a sale didn’t occur—whether it was product selection, pricing, store display, or ineffective promotional material. It could also point to new ways to attract and keep customers, as well as move product.
Big Data technologies such as Hadoop (an open-source framework that uses a simple programming model to enable distributed processing of large data sets on clusters of computers) are ideally suited to collecting and analyzing unstructured data types like the web logs that show the movements of every customer though an online storefront. This data can then be combined with existing business intelligence and sales data to provide new insights.
Connecting the dots like this is what the future of retail looks like. In fact, online companies like Amazon are already heavily invested in it (Amazon product recommendations are a result of big data analysis), and Walmart and other retailers are busy putting in place big data tools. But big data depends on the collection and transfer of data, including initial analysis or analytics by edge devices, and then the ability to deploy solutions based on big data business intelligence through these or other edge devices. For example, an intelligent touchscreen kiosk could enable a customer with a loyalty card to swipe their loyalty card and begin a customized experience that recognizes every business transaction and web search they’ve done with that retailer and is able to give them recommendations on everything from items they once looked at but didn’t buy to new merchandise they should have a keen interest in.
Fortunately, developers and system integrators interested in serving this market can meet the additional needs these devices will have in performance, connectivity, security, and manageability by working with the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance. This ecosystem of more than 200 member companies specializes in the hardware, software, firmware, tools, and systems integration services for intelligent systems designs. These companies benefit from early access to Intel roadmaps, test platforms, and design support, enabling them to better help you innovate with the latest technologies and deliver first-in-market solutions to stay ahead of your competition.
For retail intelligent systems, Alliance members are currently introducing products using 3rd generation Intel® Core™ processors. With improved performance per watt, enhanced integrated graphics, NFC support, and improved I/O throughput for faster data exchanges, these processors can run everything from advanced POS systems, to 3D digital signage systems with anonymous video analytics, to video surveillance network video recorders running advanced video analytics software.
Some of the key advantages of these processors which make them great assets in the data chain include:
- 20 percent faster performance in the same thermal envelope as the previous generation for excellent responsiveness in fanless designs
- 2x boost in 3D performance and ability to run three independent displays (eliminating the need for a separate graphics card and reducing BOM and power needs)
- Intel® Clear Video HD Technology, which enables rich media experiences by using advance graphics technologies to optimize HD video playback
- Intel® vPro™ technology, a suite of hardware-assisted security and management technologies that can reduce IT costs and provide security over and beyond ordinary software solutions
This latest version of the Intel® Core™ platform also includes some new security features that are important when handling customer data constantly like retailers do.
- Intel® Secure Key, a hardware-based random number generator works with Intel® AES New Instructions to protect media, data and assets from loss.
- Intel OS Guard, a solution that protects an operating system (OS) from applications that have been tampered with or hacked by preventing an attack from being executed from application memory. Intel OS Guard also protects the OS from malware by blocking application access to critical OS vectors.
Obviously, connectivity is key to big data systems and these new processors deliver. They bring new levels of connectivity performance and enhancements to connected devices, such as:
- Support for PCI Express* (PCIe) 3.0 and USB 3.0 that can more than double I/O throughput.
- Intel Smart® Connect Technology that enables the processor to periodically wake from sleep mode so applications can stay synchronized with the network.
- Intel® Rapid Start Technology that speeds up resume time so devices are quick to respond when it’s time to collect and transfer data.
Many Alliance members are now offering products with 3rd generation Intel Core processors or soon will be. One member I’d like to point out here that can supply systems integrators ready-to-go intelligent solutions for almost every component of a retail operation looking to take better advantage of its data for business intelligence is HP.
Figure 1. The HP rp5800 POS System provides the performance and connectivity to be an important component in collecting data for business intelligence and acting on it through customer interactions.
HP offers a range of POS solutions, including the HP rp5800 POS System, as well as a number of digital signage players, like the HP SignagePlayer mp8200, that use Intel Core processors. The latter is perfectly equipped to run Intel AIM Suite to collect and analyze audience metrics. For digital surveillance solutions with comprehensive video analytics capabilities, HP teams up with another Alliance member, Milestone Systems, an open platform video management software company. The result is a robust, scalable physical security system using Intel® architecture (IA) for everything from the recording servers and storage to the client (see this solution brief). Then to help retailers move into the era of big data business intelligence, HP offers a portfolio of IA-based solutions for Hadoop, providing pretested, preintegrated, preoptimized solutions that deliver fast time to value and risk-free scalability. In essence, HP is almost one-stop shopping for IA-based solutions that developers and system integrators can use to move retailers into the era of big data.
Figure 2. HP is helping retailers use sophisticated technologies based on Intel® architecture to gain business intelligence and capitalize on customer feedback gained from social media, point of sale, and everywhere in between.
Granted, many retailers currently have a combination of legacy and new applications running on disparate, proprietary networks, which can hinder their ability to collect and analyze data. But that’s precisely why it’s so important for developers and system integrators to help them make the move soon to open, standards-based architectures based on Intel platforms that enhance interoperability, security, performance, reliability, and affordability. For these developers and system integrators, working with intelligent devices from companies in the Alliance provides a great shortcut for helping retailers accelerate their efforts to build out their multi-channel strategies with intelligent systems that can collect and harness all the data that will be critical to being competitive in the years ahead.
For more on connecting intelligent devices, see intel.com/p/en_US/embedded/innovation/connectivity.
To learn more about bringing intelligence to retail devices, see intel.com/go/embedded-retail
Milestone Systems is a General member of the Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Intelligent Systems Alliance
Associate Editor, Embedded Innovator magazine