A Renaissance in Retail Technology

Charlene OHanlon
The National Retail Federation Conference, held this week in New York, had a decidedly technological bent, with major IT players coming out in full force to demo their latest wares to the retail sector. But rather than merely rehashing their latest bar scanners or point-of-sales (POS) systems, tech firms have shown some real innovation.

Motorola, for one, unveiled new technology that allows retailers to send coupons and other messages to an end user's smartphone. Designed to be used as part of customer loyalty programs, the smartphone coupons can be redeemed at the retail store by the customer simply swiping the smartphone in front of a scanner.

Such a technology could have enterprise implications as well. HR systems could use the swiping technology to provide employee self-service for such functions as time-off requests or changes to personal data.

Building security could use the swiping technology to enable access to secure areas. Or IT departments could use the technology to enable general use of computer kiosks-employees could simply swipe their smartphones and voila! All their applications appear on the desktop. When they're done, the employees simply swipe again to log out of the network.

Microsoft and Intel, meanwhile, announced a partnership in which Microsoft would provide an optimized platform for the digital signage industry. According to the companies, the platform would support features such as user touchscreen and gesture input Web browsing, video analytics to allow signs to display tailored ads based on customer attributes, remote deployment and management, and conditional power management that reacts to the surrounding environment for energy savings.

Again, some-if not all-of these features could be used in some way in the enterprise. Think of interactive company directories, customized heating and cooling based on individual preferences, controlled by a touchscreen, and company announcements tailored to a specific group of employees or location and delivered via the network to, say, a screen set up in the break room.

IBM, not one to let an opportunity pass, has announced a competency center for retail, in which the company will help retailers better use technology to interact with their customers. The center was conceived after a survey of consumers found they want to use their smartphones more in their retail experience, such as couponing, deal-finding and inventory locating. Such a move piggybacks existing IBM technology and gives it a retail spin, but it, too, signals that the retail industry is thinking forward-which means that technology can't be too far behind.



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