IT managed services supplier Selection Services has embarked on a number of innovative retail projects of late, including work with TK Maxx, Liberty and Day Lewis Pharmacy.

Essential Retail caught up with Paul Boyd, retail business manager at Selection Services, to find out the latest.

Tell us about what you do in the retail space?

Selection is a managed IT services and solution company that has been in business for over 20 years and has a turnover in excess of £40 million. We work with a lot of retail companies to provide them with IT service management and delivery capabilities that they either do not have or do not want to have in-house.

For example, we provide hardware maintenance and warranty services to companies such as Silent Night, The Naafi, Scrivens Opticians, Avis Rent-a-Car, Swatch, TK Maxx and Wolverine Europe swapping out broken PCs, tills and printers under various SLAs.  For other retailers such as Grapes, Entoria Wine Cellars, Nisa and Liberty we provide third line support to their internal IT Support team as well as providing remote monitoring and management of their head office and remote infrastructure. Day Lewis Pharmacy, Turner Bianca, Edinburgh Woollen Mills, Ryan Jayberg, Aldo and Wolverine also outsource their service desk function to us as we can provide them with greater flexibility to manage and deliver varying shift patterns to provide first & second line support to their users.

On the networking side we provide in-store Wi-Fi for Liberty and provide network connectivity for all the stores in Blue Cross. We also host and manage a number of online retailers' eCommerce sites in our secure UK data centres, helping them ring fence these systems for PCI compliancy.

What retail case study can you share with us?

We work with a number of retail customers but one that illustrates a good use of cloud computing, specifically software-as-a-service (SaaS), is Day Lewis Pharmacy. The company has established itself as a nationwide pharmaceutical company, specialising in all health matters. With over 1,600 employees at 200 locations throughout the UK, remote system management posed a huge challenge for IT Director Colin Kendrick. A team of five support staff and area network managers had to install, manage and maintain over 900 desktop and mobile devices.

The IT support team were confronted with the challenge of managing, tracking and auditing work group machines in each store. This was compounded by the introduction of handheld and tablet devices. With new updates being made on a bi-weekly basis, the task of remotely installing these manually using VNC was proving very time consuming.

Simple updates, such as changing a proxy setting, would only take a few minutes but when performed twice a week on over 900 devices this equated to 100 hours per week. Due to other work the department had to do, the remote system updating resulted in Day Lewis having to pay for ten hours overtime per person per week.

According to Kendrick, the company was growing by roughly 30 stores annually so he needed a solution to manage and track the remote devices and to give him visibility of Day Lewis’ Microsoft licensing. This solution needed to be easy to use and scalable. The deployment of scripts and software across the company was looking impossible to execute and measure therefore he needed an automated management tool urgently. 

Day Lewis Pharmacy's IT department started looking at building and deploying an Active Directory solution in each store. However, having worked with Selection at his two previous companies, Colin spoke to his account manager who advised him to look at a demonstration of Selection's System Automated Management application.

Selection's cloud-based System Management Service enables Day Lewis Pharmacy to not only save time and money but also enabled Colin to use the assigned capex, for the Active Directory roll-out project, to undertake a complete desktop refresh. This would otherwise have had to wait until the next budget cycle. Updates through SAM are now completed within minutes, therefore the cost and time savings are exponential. It is the equivalent of one full member of staff.

How should retailers be setting themselves up in the multichannel retail environment?

There is no doubt that retailing has changed dramatically since the first Woolworth store was opened in February 1878. Traditional 'bricks and mortar' are now competing with 'point and click' as consumers stay at home rather than wandering down the high street. Anytime, anywhere shopping is here and consumers will begin to expect the same speed of information and service that they get online, in-store.

If the consumer does not see the product on the shelf then they will want to go online, whilst in-store, and check stock levels in other stores, the product re-order status and even reserve or pre-order for collection or delivery to their home or work. In this respect we will see 'point and click' within 'bricks and mortar', as was the case with Argos's first digital store that opened in November 2013, which was full of voice-activated computers, iPads and Wi-Fi. For multi-product retailers there will also be scope to have in-store displays showing product advertisements and demonstrations or through data analytics display specific products to the consumer whilst they are online, in-store.

One thing is for sure, technology (computers, applications, rich digital content) and networks (fixed and Wi-Fi) will be essential to enabling a more flexible, agile and responsive next-generation retailer. As such the retailer needs to put its efforts into using technology and networks to support their push to a multichannel strategy rather than implementing, managing and supporting them. A retailer should be just that, a retailer, and not an IT support company.

What are the key areas of focus for Selection in the year ahead?

For us, it's about helping our customers achieve the right balance between the insourcing and outsourcing of their IT and network service management and delivery to meet these next-generation challenges. As mentioned above, technology and networks will play an increasingly important role in supporting and delivering the multichannel capability and ensuring all web facing applications, such as eCommerce sites, intranets and extranets, are secure and PCI compliant from a data security perspective. We want to work in partnership with our retail customers by providing the right combination of our IT service management, cloud (IaaS and SaaS), networking (WAN and Wi-Fi) and on-site IT support services to complement their internal resources, skill-sets, budgets and strategic goals.

In the case of Day Lewis, IT director Kendrick wanted to retain his internal IT support team but he needed a cloud-based application to help him improve the efficiency of managing Day Lewis's remote infrastructure. Silent Night wants us to go out and replace any remote infrastructure (PCs and tills) that need fixing or replacing. Debenhams just want us to provide them with skilled technical resources that they did not have and did not want to employ.

What do you think will be the key trends in retail technology over the coming months?

That's a hard one to pin down to specific technologies but we think there are a few key areas that the modern retailer will need to be aware of. These include:

  • The management & delivery of rich digital content in-store, such as streaming Product advertising (a new income stream perhaps) or pushing staff training materials to local hand held devices.
  • In-store kiosk technology to provide virtual 3D simulations – rather than taking in multiple garments into a changing room, see what combinations work on a virtual 3D model first.
  • Combining ‘point and click’ within ‘bricks and mortar’ – the advent of the digital store
  • Preparing for the ‘mobile generation’ – tomorrow’s shoppers will do more on a mobile device than we do today.

You are a confirmed exhibitor at RBTE 2014. How do you plan to use the show?

This is the first year that we have exhibited at RBTE and we are planning to use it to 'lift the lid off' a retail organisation to reveal the various departments at the head office, in store and the IT supply chain.

We want to do this so that we can illustrate where and how technology and networking are being used to support IT service delivery to the staff in the head office and in the  remote stores and why IT service management is becoming more complex as the retailer introduces new technology and richer digital content into their day-to-day operations.

This will allow us to have more in-depth conversations with the delegates to understand their current and future IT and network service delivery and management requirements so that we can help them achieve the right balance between insourcing and outsourcing to deliver the right quality and class of service that their staff and ultimately their customers expect from whichever channel they want to interact with the retailer.

For more information on Selection, visit them on stand 322 at RBTE 2014, which runs from 11-12 March at London's Earls Court. Alternatively visit the website or call on +44 (0)844 874 2020.