By Ravi Balwada, CTO of Guitar Center

In retail, we don’t have the luxury of thinking about security as an afterthought. We have to think about security early in the innovation process and make sure our security best practices, governance and architectures are taken into account when we are designing our solutions—everything from defining what a container needs to look like when we deploy something to what sort of access controls we have.

With modern cyber security technology, we have better tools and instrumentation to monitorenvironments more effectively, to change the security posture very rapidly and meet the changing needs of the company—whether it is adapting to a new wave of mobile devices or introducing a new population of workers to information that is sensitive.

Also thanks to modern cybersecurity, new use cases have become available in retail that were never possible before. Many retail leaders talk about the changes being enabled for their customers, but it’s also vital to explore the exciting new ways retailers can empower their frontline workers.

Three areas cybersecurity is helping to supercharge our frontline workforce

When you focus on cybersecurity in an environment like Guitar Center, you have the power to do amazing things—for your sales associates, customers and overall business. Here, digitization and cybersecurity are empowering our sales associates in three major aspects of our business:

  • Customer service
  • Back office functions
  • Efficient, individualized, business management

Securing a new level of customer service and relationship

Our mission is to build a lifetime relationship with our customers on their musical journeys. Whether it’s lessons, product, repair or rental services, acquiring or selling used equipment, technology connects how we build our relationships with customers. Customers can start online and finish in a store; start in a store and finish online; or any combination they choose.

As a result, we’re shifting the engagement with the customer to the aisle instead of at the point of sale. In a previous incarnation of our business it was: “What do you need? Let me ring you up.” Now we are about: “Let me work with you collaboratively. I understand who you are, your needs, your aspirations. Let us brainstorm and together we can find the best solution. Let’s move this conversation to the isle where I can help you make good choices.”

Our sales associates leverage information across all channels, which changes the conversations we have with customers. If you’re a salesperson, you actually know if the customer has been browsing certain items online. You know what the customer has purchased in the past. You can make recommendations for equipment, lessons, sheet music. You can help them complete their purchase and you can help them take advantage of other things that might make their musical journey more fulfilling.

For our almost 12,000 frontline sales associates, it’s no longer a world of post-it notes and pieces of paper. We are bringing a massive amount of information and insight. They have full visibility into supply chains, status of inventory, deep insights into each customer, and much more. They are dealing with volumes of information around dozens of variables. There is far more data and activity at the edge and a much larger one attack surface.

This requires cyber innovation and evolution. You now have multiple places where data is residing that have to be secured, which means you need cybersecurity with visibility and granular access controls to ensure that the right people are accessing the right information at the right time. There is also the challenge of forensics and investigation of security incidents. We need systems that have amazing logging and automation for us to be able to react very rapidly to any security incidents. That requires us to work with modern technologies that are agile and can very quickly be swung into action.

Our data management is a key focus, including building data lakes and visual analytics capabilities that we are introducing across our entire enterprise. We also have to make sure we have a secure platform. We are replatforming our firewalls and leveraging new technology around identifying threat patterns—isolating problems when necessary, isolating our environments so they are more effective. Only through these kinds of moves can we support our associates to build those deep customer relationships that fuel their success.

Supporting the latest back office functions

Our associates have new frontline tools that enable not only customer relationship management but back office function. For example, every associate will have a mobile device. If associates need to perform actions such as pick up from a store, ship from a store, or access inventory, they have the information at their fingertips using their mobile devices. This provides a tremendous benefit for each of our people, but it also means our endpoints will increase ten times versus what we have today.

With each new device and endpoint, we put powerful capabilities in the hands of associates. You have to have amazing security—with isolation, compliance, controls, encryption, edge protection, and more. We are giving associates the ability to process payments on mobile devices. As you run financial transactions on mobile devices, on wireless networks, you need to prevent associates from compromising personal identifiable information. Another important factor is the ability to board people quickly and efficiently, especially with our seasonal workforce. Technology compresses time to value so they can be productive faster with information that is readily available and tools that are highly intuitive. And this speed only becomes possible when all of those interactions are properly protected.

Bringing new levels of management to the business

At a time when retaining and motivating workers is paramount to business success, Guitar Center has been executing operational advancements that are geared toward empowering and engaging our associates in new ways. Today, sales associates can run their own businesses from their mobile devices. They can view status on commissions; access training; get real-time information on promotions; collaborate with colleagues and peers. It’s not enough to just build an application that works on mobile devices. It has to be engaging. We’re building experiences across the enterprise that are more gamified.

It is an important, fundamental change—knowing that we have a security posture to support this kind of innovation. We continue to harden our security to ensure all of our 12,000+ sales associates can be more and more digitally enabled.

Enabling workforce satisfaction, innovation, and long term success

The value of empowering sales associates with robust, secure, digital experiences cannot be overstated, especially in today’s environment where workers have more options and are seeking jobs that are more enriching and satisfying. There is, however, one caveat. The kind of data-driven frontline innovation I am describing is only possible when we invest in and treat cybersecurity as an enabling technology, and a nice-to-have. At Guitar Center, we are always aware that we can only do the things we want to do if we have the security that we need.

About Ravi Balwada:

Security Roundtable author, Ravi Balwada, is the chief technology officer at Guitar Center, the world’s largest musical instrument retailer.

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