Retail IT Service Provider Illustrates Changes at Work

Susan Hall

We had lunch over the weekend with a friend of my husband's who has gone from a career in newspaper editing to operating his own business. He's in town on a contract to train the local newspaper staff on a new computer system.


There's been a lot of that type of transition going on in the past few years. There's a jiffy interactive graphic at The Wall Street Journal showing the gains and losses in jobs during the recession. The big winner? Business services. A recent McKinsey Global Institute report listed business services among six sectors expected to create 85 percent of the new jobs in the next decade.


Field tech support provider OnForce, for instance, is calling it Christmas in July as retailers race to get all the tech work done before the prime selling season starts in October. It marshals thousands of local service providers to help major service companies meet the tech requirements of big-box retailers such as Walmart, Target and Best Buy. And it calls this work "a significant opportunity" for independent local service providers.


As CEO Peter Cannone explained:

A good, recent example is a major office supplies retailer that needs to replace thousands of pinpads at locations throughout the country to prepare for the busy holiday season and meet the latest security and compliance requirements by Aug. 31. The most efficient and cost-effective approach: Put the job out to bid and see which IT service provider can meet the requirements set forth, at the most attractive price.


In this case, the winning bidder is an IT service company based in New York that has about 40 full-time employees. To execute on this project in the time frame needed, it could find and hire more qualified people and fly them to all the locations or use local, certified independent contractors. That's where OnForce comes in.

Cannone said of the work being done:

We're seeing significant technology refreshes and types of work being done in retail. One is around security. There's definitely a large push now because of all the security breaches. So POS [point-of-sale] systems are being swapped out, pinpads, they're having to come more into compliance to handle the risk factors.


Another interesting line is the whole efficiency around the micro-marketing and digital signage. Apple, of course, led the way with that. They put iPads in all their stores. But you see that in national food retailers and a lot of other players that are utilizing digital signage to get their message on-demand, if you will, out. It creates a lot more ability for creativity.

The service providers don't have to hire for short-term peaks in demand and can ensure that workers with the latest skills can keep up with ever-changing technology. Speaking of new technology, Walgreens-owned Duane Reade at its new Wall Street megastore has installed a "virtual assistant" for shoppers, using holographic imaging and audio-visual technology to create the illusion of a real person that provides shopping suggestions as well as help such as instructions on seeing the "Doctor on Premise," RIS News reports.


And as Cannone put it:

One of the things that's important to these retailers is the ability to get the work done off-peak. So a lot of times, the work has to be done on weekends or at night because they don't want to interrupt the flow of the day.

With stores in many outlying areas, hiring local people helps the service provider get the work done in a more timely and cost-efficient manner.


It's among the trends noted in the McKinsey report. Director of Research Susan Lund noted that work is being split into layers and farmed out according to the skills required to do it. She says technology also allows employers to pinpoint more precisely the times when work needs to be done and more closely match staff to their needs, including the use of more temp, part-time and contingent workers.

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