The management of a retail chain involves many stores in different regions with many equipment units, a great number of commodities, a vast logistics and distribution network, huge cash flows and commercial promotions based on knowledge about consumer behaviors.
As we move forward into Internet of Things (IoT) Era, retailers now are able to connect up all the devices and people involved in their business, realize machine-to-machine and machine-to-people communications so that they can better understand their equipment and their consumers, implement more efficient management, and upgrade consumer services.
Take convenience stores as an example; when devices in stores are connected to an intelligent network, many potential applications can be developed—by connecting lights, refrigerators and air conditioners, retailers may develop a cloud-based equipment management system to implement remote diagnosis and preventive maintenance, or an automated lighting and air conditioning system that achieves optimal indoor air quality and energy conservation.
In addition, by installing video cameras in and around the stores, the captured images can be streamed to the cloud to implement image analytics for security purposes or customer behavior analysis. And, by connecting the POS system to the cloud, sales and inventory can be monitored and retailers can develop a bird’s eye view of cash flows at all stores.
Taking it a step further, by utilizing digital signage, kiosks, or mobile device apps, marketing campaigns or sales information can reach targeted consumers in more interactive and effective methods that are shaping new business models for new generation of retail.
For each such smart store, at least one gateway is required to connect field sensors and equipment, so as to collect data and push it to the back-end servers or cloud-based platform. Video data preprocessing could be completed at the gateway in order to reduce network and server loading, depending on application designs. The data gateway can also serve as a Wi-Fi gateway to provide a wireless access point for store customers and to send apps carrying promotional messages to customers’ smartphones or other mobile devices.
Operating system (OS) needs to be deployed at data gateway, kiosk, interactive digital signage and POS to enable applications and data flow. For implementing big data analyses on customer age, behavior, people counting and movement flows, cloud-based analytic services are required.
Advantech collaborated with Microsoft to serve customers with an integrated IoT solution, combining Windows 10 IoT, Microsoft Azure cloud services, and Advantech’s market-proven expertise in ensuring connectivity and device compatibility.
Windows 10 IoT was designed to power a wide range of intelligent devices, from small gateways to larger and more complex devices like point of sales terminals and kiosks. Combined with the latest Microsoft development tools and Azure IoT services, retailerscan gather, store and process data, creating actionable business intelligence and effective business outcomes.
Designed to work well with other devices and cloud services, as well as to leverage existing investments, Windows 10 IoT enables the creation of Universal Windows apps and drivers that can target every in-store device, inheriting connectivity for device-to-device, sensor-to-device, and device-to-cloud.
On the other hand, Microsoft Azure is a ladder that provides a wealth of tools and building blocks for users to reach their creative cloud-based applications.
For example, Azure IoT Hub helps users to connect devices and send data to the cloud; Azure Storage provides space for big data accumulation; and Azure ML (Machine Learning) provides analytic tools that retailers can use to analyze customer ages, genders and behaviors so as toextract intelligence that can improve business.
Azure Marketplace is a platform of application resources where users can shop for ready-to-go apps or IoT solutions to facilitate and enrich their applications. They can also develop their own IoT solutions and sell services on the Marketplace, creating new business models and opportunities and transforming retail practices.