AT&T Innovates a Software Network for Retailers to Monitor and Diagnose Connected Devices From the Cloud
Posted: 2.15.17 Innovative Technologies

AT&T Innovates a Software Network for Retailers to Monitor and Diagnose Connected Devices From the Cloud

By: Jon McDonald

The Crunch: AT&T has moved well past its origins as American Telephone & Telegraph and is now digitally connecting a retailer’s entire store over speedy and powerful wireless networks. With the architecture it has developed, AT&T leverages the cloud to keep a retailer in complete control of every device it has connected in a store. From point-of-sale systems to digital signage to smart coolers, AT&T’s connected infrastructure can dramatically reduce labor costs associated with maintenance and upkeep by showing a business owner — in real time — exactly what problems devices are experiencing. Beyond cost reduction, AT&T networks can easily scale up wifi to keep up with consumer demand, streamline ordering processes, and provide analytics to keep retailers focused on the future.

Since its beginnings as the American Telephone & Telegraph Company in 1885, AT&T has been a recognizable name in the communications industry. As the telephone exploded in popularity and the telegraph faded away as a form of communication, AT&T shifted its resources to focus on phones.

But AT&T has not just reacted to demands or industry trends. The company has been proactive about innovating and finding the new communication avenues of the future. Today, AT&T is one of the world’s leading providers of mobile phone service, internet, and even television through DirecTV.

The strength of AT&T’s network is evidenced by the more than 137 petabytes — or 137 million gigabytes — of data passed through it each day. That is part of the reason nearly 3.5 million businesses from around the world trust AT&T.

Leveraging the vast resources of its network, AT&T helps retailers lay a foundation of communication for customers, employees, and even machines. The digital architecture that a business builds will eventually decide how fast it can grow — or, in some cases, if growth is hampered.

“AT&T is all about connecting,” Michael Colaneri, Vice President of Retail, Restaurant, and Consumer Package Goods told us. “So we connect all of the architecture that unites the consumer with the retailer, with the supply chain, and with any point of sale.”

Photo of Michael Colaneri AT&T Vice President of Retail, Restaurant, and Consumer Package Goods

We spoke with Michael Colaneri, AT&T Vice President of Retail, Restaurant and Consumer Packaged Goods.

Linking processes, devices, and in-store consumers over a wireless network reduces the amount of friction throughout the business process, including customer engagement and labor costs. The many points of communication necessitate a vast digital network, which is exactly what AT&T has built with the goal of streamlining entire company structures.

Given the possibilities the Internet of Things (IoT) technology can enable, AT&T is developing opportunities for retailers to drastically reduce cost while improving ROI, and the strategy can work for businesses big and small. It takes a fast, scalable network to accomplish that, and AT&T has been building that network for a long time.

AT&T gives retailers the ability to manage their entire business, down to connected coolers and digital signage, remotely or from the cloud. Business can also benefit from the amount of network data produced when using it to make decisions that can increase revenue. But, perhaps most of all, retailers save time and money by changing processes that are currently inefficient.

Digital IoT Connectivity Helps Reduce Operational Expenses

One of the biggest costs for a business — in time as well as money — is sending a person out to assess a piece of equipment that isn’t working. With a larger retailer, that time and expense can grow exponentially.

AT&T takes on that dilemma through connectivity, even retro-fitting some devices a retailer or consumer package good company may own — like a cooler — to show what its network is capable of. When a retailer’s in-store devices are connected to a network that can be controlled from anywhere, diagnosis is easier and repairs can be made more quickly.

“The biggest cost to managing hard assets is the cost of labor dispatched just to go look,” Michael said. “If something is wrong in a store, a retailer has to send somebody out there to assess it before knowing what they might need to repair it.”

With the architecture AT&T has created, though, that assessment visit may not even be necessary, which can drastically reduce labor and other costs.

“If I can be at headquarters and look to see an alert from one of my stores that says ‘Floor 2, third cooler on the left is offline’ because it needs a certain part, that becomes much easier to fix,” said Michael. “I can dispatch someone, once instead of twice, to go to the store with the necessary part, and it can be quickly fixed or updated remotely through software.”

The dashboard allows a business owner to see — and interact with — devices connected to the network through the cloud, whether they are coolers, point-of-sale terminals, or signage. If digital displays are connected, a retailer can control content or messages remotely, providing ultimate flexibility through a wireless local area network (WLAN) that can streamline all of the connections.

Process Improvements Begin with a Responsive Network

AT&T’s network is built to cater to the customized needs of a retailer and can be optimized based on which devices are connected. With a reliable network as a basis, businesses have more construct to focus on strategies that help them better understand and engage with the consumer.

As shoppers demand more in-store connectivity, retailers are left to search for the most efficient ways to offer it. More connections could mean more devices consumers can interact with or just faster wifi signal for customers to connect to. Either way, AT&T’s network can scale, keeping those connections smooth.

Businesses Must Continue Scaling Wifi to Meet Consumer Demand

There was a time when entire businesses could be run and connected over a single phone line. But now those days seem like centuries ago. With the sheer amount of data being produced by sales terminals, consumers, and devices, retailers have to have enough bandwidth to support it all. Which is why wifi is becoming one of the biggest building blocks of any network.

“The absolute biggest push in the market, across all segments, is wifi,” Michael said. “Even as recently as two years ago, convenience stores would not be tracking dwell-time or in-store experience. But now, when you take all of these capabilities that are connected by our intelligent architecture — like a connected cooler, POS system, or digital signage and bringing all of these pieces together over a centralized WLAN— wifi becomes critical.”

Another recent trend is the customer expectation to be connected. Now, when a company has a network that can support its technology, but not connect consumer devices, that becomes a problem.

“When a consumer walks in, they expect to be on the network, which is a big shift,” Michael told us. “The upside is that when a customer is connected, conversion rate and basket size increase, and there is no arguing with that ROI.”

Because of that shift — and the bandwidth it takes — wifi is expanding fivefold, and that kind of network power comes with other perks, like the ability to easily consolidate some tasks.

Single-Order Strategy Builds on the Omnichannel Approach

When retailers speak of “omnichannel,” technically they typically think of all of the different ways they have to reach and sell to customers, but that also means many different transaction points for them to integrate.

By using connected hardware and the cloud, AT&T can help turn all of those separate transactions from the same consumer into just one order. That means tracking transactions from any channel that may have a separate processing method and converting them into a single order simply by integrating their connectivity methodology.

“Omnichannel was about connecting points of sale for consistency: e-commerce, in-store, catalog, over the phone, any way they could purchase,” Michael said. “But that means I could have four different orders for the same item. Now, retailers want to create a single order, even if the same consumer is using multiple channels, which can cut costs, streamline inventory tracking and make the process and consumer experience more efficient.”

Those channels can be integrated through AT&T’s network connection, and many contacts can be identified as one order. And with streamlined processes, the data that surrounds those orders becomes easier to analyze.

Real-Time Data Analysis Empowers Retailers to Plan Ahead

Consumer data can help a retailer understand everything from market penetration to what services they can provide to surprise and delight their customers. A retailer can also leverage the vast mobile network AT&T has to glean insights even beyond its own store.

“Analytics are everywhere, and privacy is a huge concern, so we have found a way to aggregate anonymous mobile subscriber data to learn about communities of people, demographics, in-store patterns and out-of-store patterns, and provide a consumer perspective,” said Michael.

Researchers predict that by 2025, IoT connections will be more than four times what they were in 2015. With all of these connected devices comes data that can help a retailer see more of what is happening around them. That is, if their network can handle it all.

Graphic of IoT traffic predictions

Traffic from IoT connections is set to explode in the next decade, and retailers need a network that can handle the data.

Adding those new layers of data can allow retailers to see out to the periphery of their business, and AT&T can help businesses make analytical links they may have never made using their own or other analytics.

“One retailer we worked with found that a large majority of their target market was having a coffee immediately before or after shopping in the store,” Michael said. “So, they put a popular coffee kiosk inside their store, which increased dwell time and their conversion rate.”

AT&T Creates Solutions for Any Size Business — Startup to Enterprise

AT&T has come a long way since a big part of its business model dealt with sending telegraphs, but it has always evolved to make communication easier.

And the company continues to introduce ideas that are as innovative as they are necessary, like AirGig, which uses power lines we see every day to guide data signals. The signals actually travel around the power lines, not through them, allowing for the potential of multi-gigabit internet speeds.

The networks and technologies AT&T is innovating can help businesses from startups to Tier 1 retailers, and they enable scale for businesses sized anywhere in between. The foundational network architecture AT&T helps companies build will help them connect even more devices and assets by incorporating IoT capabilities that will surely be necessities in the future.

“If you look at the future of IoT, there is a connection to your foundational architecture that should be associated with how you design and think about connecting your assets,” Michael said. “You’re solving multiple business problems, and you’re also reducing costs from labor, to operational efficiency, or inventory management. But the network supporting the business and their consumers has to be built to handle it.”

The AT&T network is built to handle just about anything a retailer can connect to it, and the company remains focused on helping usher in advancements for a connected future.