A new breed of partner network on the horizon

At the recent Schneider Electric Innovation Summit in Barcelona, IT Reseller spoke with Jamie Bourassa, Vice President, Edge Computing, Schneider Electric, about the development of a new type of analytics-focused partner model, and the benefits this type of service provision can offer retailers.

With ecommerce continuing to be a hugely powerful force within retail, the pressure on brick and mortar stores has never been greater. Therefore, more and more physical outlets are looking to enhance the in-store experience for customers in order to continue to attract their business. This is being achieved through value-added features such as Magic Mirror-type digital signage within fashion retail, allowing customers to enjoy an enhanced, more personalised shopping experience.

There is also a need for a robust and resilient infrastructure platform in order for the computer technology and appliances to work efficiently and be protected from operational failure. For solutions vendors such as Schneider Electric, their channel partner network is invaluable in ensuring this technology both delivers what retailers need as well as ensuring it remains operational with little or no downtime.

Analytics

The channel partner network able to provide this type of installation, integration, operation and service support mainly comprise hardware resellers, managed service providers and independent software vendors. However, as Jamie Bourassa, Vice President, Edge Computing, Schneider Electric, points out, research conducted by Schneider Electric last year shows there is an additional partner business model that is fast developing. “Hardware resellers, managed service providers and independent software vendors provide an invaluable service to retailers,” he said. “But there is now a whole new model emerging.

This type of partner doesn't have a name yet, but they are essentially analytics companies that will increasingly play a central role in threading all of these pieces of digital technology together. Retailers investing in technology may manage some of it themselves, but much of it is usually outsourced to partners as part of a service model; or they might outsource holistically. And our partner network plays a key role in keeping all these systems running efficiently. Now, with the emergence of this new type of partner network things get even better. They can take all the linked pieces of the technology journey from multiple companies and build data models that give retailers the analytics needed to exploit these systems to the full.”

The item/location relationship

Bourassa stressed that it’s still early days for this type of model but points out that there are already case examples of companies that are actively benefiting from it. In real terms, Bourassa explains that this type of analytics provision can, for example, tell retailers that if they place a bag on a particular shelf it can generate X amount of revenue, if they move it to another particular shelf their store can generates more, if they move it to another it will likely generate less revenue. “So, this is literally looking at the relationship between physical locations and the items you are selling,” he says.

Competitive advantage

Nevertheless, Bourassa emphasises that most retail companies will not be able to do that themselves. “This is where this new type of partner network will play a valuable role,” he says. “Last year we could only find five companies in the world who had the capability to tie together all these systems in the value chain to create the analytics needed for this type of value-added service for retailers. But they are growing all the time. This type of service can really provide retailers with a major competitive advantage. Having all the key technology pieces is part one, being able to use all the pieces to exploit value is a whole new level of maturity.”

A new level of maturity

Bourassa reflects that most retailers are placed at levels 1, 2 or 3 in terms of technological maturity. “However, with this analytics layer we are really talking about reaching levels 4 and 5,” he explains. “And if we look forward and consider what Schneider Electric is doing at the edge and what we’re doing with data, and look at the companies we partner with and look at what they’re doing at the edge and with data, then this next piece is really coming together.”

Better insight

Bourassa points out that his team engages in hackathons on a regular basis. “If we look at our hackathons from three years ago compared with those we’ve run more recently there have been huge shifts,” he says. “Three years ago we were talking about how we could get two sensors to move a small amount of information to each other in order for one to turn off a light, for example. Now, we're actually talking about how we can maintain the satisfaction volumes of people in a room as people enter and leave it – ensuring the optimum temperature at all times. Similarly, analytics will play a valuable role in enabling retailers to increase sales through understanding the relationship between customers, locations and items better.”

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