Left to their own devices

The hype around bring your own device (BYOD) is irrefutable. Research house Gartner has described the rise of BYOD schemes as the single most radical shift in the economics of client computing for business since the inception of PCs.
We know that the impact is to be vast and far-reaching, across all sectors including retail, but debate continues to rage as to the best practice guidelines to implement a BYOD scheme.

The days when ‘mobile’ was used just to describe a phone are long gone. We now live in a mobile world. Mobile connections are used to complete transactions, send emails – it is even now possible to build a website on your mobile phone. It is easy to see, therefore, how mobile devices are becoming an ever more vital tool in the retailer’s armoury.

Mobile devices
“Mobile devices are now increasingly important in engaging consumers throughout the retail experience, from interacting with customers’ own devices and also using this technology within the store itself,” explains Gavan Egan, VP of sales at Verizon in Europe.

This increased engagement can take many forms. The mobile devices can be used to make shop assistants more productive and useful, and able to deliver a more accurate and detailed sales pitch as they retrieve information from handheld devices.

A staff member wielding a mobile device can make a real difference to the customer experience, says Mike Davies, VP at Wipro Retail, Europe. “Benefits range from being able to quickly check available stock to providing a mobile point of sale for sales not involving cash.”

Generation Y
It helps that many retailers will have a workforce already au fait with technology, says Verizon’s Egan. “Generation Y-ers are used to using mobiles in almost every situation, so if harnessed properly, an in-store mobile retail campaign may provide the ability to enrich user experience, cross-sell and offer more value to each retail visit.”

But not only does this have a positive impact on the customer experience, it can also help engage employees, says Keith Brown, managing director at mobile commerce payments company paythru. “For the workforce, having the ability to use more modern technology and have access to more information can only be a benefit. It will cause greater staff loyalty, as workers prefer to use technology that they enjoy working with.”

But that familiarity with mobile devices has its drawbacks too. One of the major causes for concern with BYOD is productivity: How do retailers know that their staff are researching customer queries and not checking up on their Farmville pursuits or arranging a party on Facebook?

‘They don’t’, seems to be the most obvious answer. Retailers are gradually waking up to the reality that it is very difficult – if not impossible to keep mobile devices out of the workplace – so they’re turning that on its head to see how they are able to reap the benefits.

“To create a blanket ban can be counter-productive and actually put more data at risk as people will find ways to work how they like to work and the company will lose visibility of how they are being used as people will not want to ‘own up\ to the fact they are using them,’ says Verizon’s Egan.

Wipro’s Davies concurs that BYOD is something of a natural evolution. “Work and life have progressively merged, with an increased expectation that work is no longer just an in-office event,” he explains.

Yet security is undoubtedly the biggest concern. “It’s no secret that security is a big challenge when approaching the issue of employee-owned devices,” agrees Egan.
“There are obvious security implications to consider when sanctioning the use of personal devices to access sensitive data in a public environment, such as a retail outlet.” Who’s looking over employees’ shoulders when they’re entering passwords, or other sensitive information, for example.

This means that education around the security piece is vital. But the education comes at a price. And despite there being no initial outlay for hardware, the increased maintenance and asset management can prove costly.

“Ultimately, any policy impacts the bottom line and profitability of the company, which in turn, drives shareholder dissatisfaction,” warns Davies. “If something is not cost-effective – either passing along that cost to the customer or assuming a loss in profitability – we will not have a happy customer nor a happy shareholder,” he continues.

This means that a clear strategy is vital if implementation of a BYOD programme is to run smoothly. “I think for many organisations today, the BYOD issue is less a matter of ‘No we can’t do it’ and more a question of ‘How do we do it? What positive, responsive actions should we take to manage the mobile device situation in our organisation?’” says Ian Foddering, CTO at Cisco UKI.
Foddering says that this partially entails achieving buy-in from those at the helm of the company.

“One common theme among organisations moving toward the practice of BYOD is that there is buy-in from top executives who are helping not only to bring the matter to the forefront in the company, but also drive it further,” he comments. “Executives are playing a lead role in driving adoption of BYOD in the enterprise.”

BYOD program
For Verizon’s Egan, readiness for a BYOD program equates to ensuring the correct security measures are in place. “Before implementing any policy around employee owned devices, retailers must ensure that they have the mobile device management tools in place to manage their network access in an effective and secure manner,” he explains.

But Egan also points out that security concerns go both ways. “Through these tools, retailers may be able to access private employee data on the devices. It is is therefore vital to implement clear and open guidelines on data privacy as part of a BYOD programme.”

As an absolute pre-requisite, retailers must have the ability to remotely access devices in the case of an emergency. “At a minimum, retailers must have the ability to remotely lock or wipe data from lost or stolen devices to prevent sensitive information falling into the wrong hands,” he concludes.

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