Averting the Digital Dilemma

This article originally appeared in a print edition of Convenience Store News, written by contributor Thomas Malloy. Convenience Store News’ online content can be found here.

Most c-store operators are by now already familiar with the Internet of Things (IoT). Small sensors and tiny tech machines talk to each other and to us via our cell phone apps, alerting managers and associates that a cooler’s temperature is too high, a fountain drink flavor is low or any number of situations within a store that need attention.

All of these small instruments are collecting data — massive amounts of it. So, what is a c-store supposed to do with all of this information? 

I recently spoke about that with Ed Collupy*, c-store industry veteran and an executive consultant with consulting firm W. Capra, who noted that, while organizing IoT data is key, it can prove a difficult undertaking. 

“With all these devices, you can’t expect an operator to go to a dozen different apps or a dozen different websites to figure out what each device is telling them,” Collupy said. “You really need a single view at a place where all the data would feed into, and then report — on the one view — all of your Internet of Things’ devices and what they’re trying to tell you.”

Collupy said several c-store companies are working on ways to better corral all of the IoT data streaming in from a multitude of devices. 

Whichever way it’s organized, operators must also have a plan to act on the information they’re collecting. 

Collupy pointed to how, when a fuel pump is low on receipt paper, the pump sends out an alert to refill the paper, but the alert is often ignored. Stores get busy, workers get busy. Now, imagine dozens of alerts like that sent out to store staff while they’ve got their hands full with customers.

The lack of a plan undermines the very reason the store invested in the technology in the first place.

Network Security

Let’s not forget; improved technology doesn’t come without risks. All of the information traveling wirelessly from device to device could also represent an opening into a retailer’s data system.

The Ponemon Institute’s “The Third Annual Study on Third Party IoT Risk: Companies Don’t Know What They Don’t Know” found IoT-related data breaches from unsecured devices has risen from 15% to 26% since 2017. Those numbers may, at least partly, be self-inflicted. 

The same study found that less than one-third of respondents said that no one person or department is tasked with managing and/or correcting IoT risks; only 9% said they inform and educate staff and third parties about IoT risks.

The lesson is c-stores shouldn’t skimp on security, and should be sure to perform due diligence into how to securely incorporate any IoT devices into their network.

Own Your Data

Retailers I’ve spoken to have said they overwhelmingly believe they should retain ownership of their company’s data. Collupy agreed.

“Any time you’re working with data of any type ­— whether it’s IoT data, scan data, transaction data or loyalty data — ensuring that you, as the retailer, own that data is critically important,” he said.

What you can learn from that information is valuable. If your IoT vendor controls that data, then that vendor can capitalize on it, using it for its own purposes — such as selling it to a third party — or in a way you don’t want it to be used, like selling it to competitors.

While it seems that, when it comes IoT, it’s all about the data, it’s really about customers — the life blood of the business. The key is using that data to help best serve your customers so they continue to return. 

*Ed Collupy is an executive consultant at W. Capra Consulting Group. You can reach him at ecollupy@wcapra.com. Mr. Collupy has IT leadership and business team experience, providing strategic, operational and project leadership to retailers, emerging businesses and technology companies.