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Gabsten Technologies is an established data management consulting company, based in Johannesburg, South Africa

Managing data is critical to maintaining a competitive advantage in retail

Managing data is critical to maintaining a competitive advantage in retail
27 Nov 2023

Adaptability is critical in the retail space, and in today’s world, if you do not have an online presence, you are losing out on a significant opportunity. When making the move online, it is essential to deliver a consistent experience for users – as there is nothing more frustrating for a customer than an online channel that is out of sync with the physical store presence. The challenge is that this seamless experience is almost impossible to create if you have siloed data, but the nature of retail stores and their system of geographically dispersed branches means that siloes are the standard state of data. This in turn also creates compliance and data security risks. Enabling the seamless, omnichannel experience, customers expect both a holistic data management strategy and the right solution in place to meet their evolving data needs.

Business unusual

The retail landscape has evolved dramatically in recent years with external events, like Covid-19, acting as catalysts to drive the move toward an online presence. While this offers a number of opportunities, it highlights some distinct weaknesses as well. A digital strategy obviously relies on data, but the ability to make better business decisions requires that all relevant data be considered in the analysis, and herein lies the challenge. In a siloed data environment, not only is it difficult to pool all the data together and without classification of data, it is impossible to know what is relevant or even what data exists, or where it is being stored, or if this is even actually necessary.

This is a major problem in an industry that is as heavily regulated such as the retail sector. Not only do retailers need to comply with the Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA), they also must meet Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS) across physical and online stores at risk of extreme financial penalties. The move online also opens retailers up to the growing threat of cybercrime and ransomware, which has become a multi-billion dollar industry that is continuously growing in velocity, volume and sophistication.

“We need to ensure customer data is protected, and to do that we need to know where the data sources are and understand how we can link them together, then ensure it is always available, effectively protected, and readily recoverable. All of this rolls up into a better customer experience,” says Hemant Harie, Group Chief Technology Officer at Gabsten Technologies.

Branching out

In a digital landscape, retailers now have access to massive amounts of accurate, real-time data and greater visibility into the competition. This means they can build data-driven processes that align closely with consumer demands and market trends, rather than making decisions based on intuition.

A driving force behind retail customer data strategies is the diversity of data across various locations, both physical and infrastructure based. Each of these will have their owngaps and points of vulnerability that can be exploited in different ways.,

“When you look at security, it needs to be about the whole business, with online systems integrated into stores as well as head office systems. This is the only way to get the holistic view that is critical to understanding what data exists, what systems are in place, and what systems need to be in place. Once this has been addressed, it is essential to put comprehensive data management and security in place with next-generation technology like cyber deception, and artificial intelligence to detect threats and take action before an attack can occur,” says Iniel Dreyer, Managing Director of Data Management Professionals South Africa (DMP SA).

Beyond tradition

The reality is that a traditional data management strategy is not sustainable anymore – the unexpected growth of data, the need to be always online, the changing regulatory landscape and increased need to drive a competitive edge are all changing the game. Instead of retaining all information indefinitely and archiving data after a certain number of years, data now needs to be contextualised and given a lifespan, which means it needs to be accurately classified so that only what is needed is stored, and what is critical can be effectively protected.

“To do this we need to understand what, why and where – what data do we have, what data is critical to decision making to both the business and the IT department, why do we have the data, and where does it reside. Data management needs to be centralised with visibility across all data in the entire organisation. An effective data management strategy and solution is the cornerstone of this, which in turn not only forms the foundation for data analytics, improved decision making and competitive advantage, but is also critical in protecting the data and aligning with a growing body of compliance regulations,” Harie concludes.