Q&A: Spotlight on enterprise IoT deployments for retail

By: Stacey Ramos

Unless your retail store is located on the dark side of the moon (what’s the rent like up there?), chances are you’ve heard of IoT and the many benefits it offers your business: Inventory insights and accuracy, reduced inventory audit costs, improved automation, even managing the footfall traffic in your store so that you know where your customers are spending their time—the list goes on and on. But none of these benefits can be realized without successful deployment at the enterprise level.

IoT proof of concepts and pilots are common, but many IoT projects never leave the discovery phase or fail entirely. With the 2019 National Retail Federation (NRF) conference coming up, IoT is sure to be a topic on everyone’s mind.

IoT isn’t exactly a new concept. What’s changed?

The cost of the underlying hardware and capabilities continues to drop, making IoT deployments more widely accessible. Just two years ago, individual telematics devices might cost as much as $200-300; now those exact same devices cost closer to $50. So now, instead of only using telematics to track things like cars, it’s becoming more feasible to use them to track anything.

However, the reduced cost of IoT devices doesn’t negate the need to deploy and manage them at an enterprise level. Say you’re deploying RFID sensors and temperature sensors at 15,000 restaurants. You might only have a handful of these devices at any one restaurant; but across all locations, you’re suddenly looking at 50,000-60,000 devices floating around. All of those devices are corporate-liable, network-connected devices, so must be monitored, managed and supported.

What are the most important things for retailers to look for in a solution provider?

Enterprise-grade IoT deployments—deploying tens of thousands of IoT devices across hundreds or thousands of locations—requires four specific capabilities:

1. Procurement and logistics: Manage vendor relationships, device staging, kitting and configuration, and long-term spares warehousing.
2. Installation: Perform onsite surveys, compliant installations and system testing, and long-term field maintenance.
3. Connectivity: Connect devices through cellular networks (both MNO and MVNO) to manage costs, manage SIMS and protect data with global coverage.
4. Monitoring and management: Provide cognitive lifecycle management, predictive failure and a service desk.

What are three questions retailers should ask when looking for a provider?

1. Are they device-agnostic?

This is critical point to manage both enterprise risk and cost. Will you be able to use any manufacturer device that meets the device type you need? Rather than being locked into a specific manufacturer’s devices, you want to be able to use whichever device offers you the best price point on any given day. And what if a device breaks or a manufacture goes out of business or a new player enters the market? With the ability to choose and replace your devices, your entire enterprise solution isn’t restricted to a single manufacturer.

2. Can they support multiple devices on the same pane of glass?

An IoT solution used to be restricted to just one type of device, like RFID readers. A single IoT solution today might include five or six different types of devices. You want to be able to manage all of those devices simultaneously through a single pane of glass, with a single set of service-level agreements (SLAs) and capabilities.

3. Are they geographically limited or can they provide a single price no matter where a device is?

If you have 35,000 stores worldwide, you don’t want to end up with a different price for each store. A single price per store will help you make both your business case and budget work.


NRF 2019 takes place January 13 – 15 in New York City. Come visit the IBM booth to see demos, meet with experts and learn more about how IoT capabilities from IBM can help your business realize the growing value of IoT.

Not registered yet? Sign up now and save with discount code 582.

Not attending NRF this year? You can still set up some time to discuss your IoT needs with an IBM expert.

About The Author

Stacey Ramos

Master Inventor and Associate Partner, Digital Workplace Services, IBM GTS

Stacey focuses on creating innovative solutions using the newest technologies. He works with industry leaders to examine industry trends and pain points. He is responsible for integrating IBM's full portfolio of products and services with business partner assets. Currently, he is focused on how IoT solutions providing automation, increased capabilities and analytics can solve industry... Read more