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MNSP: Preparing for C-store Digital Transformation

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“You don’t always control how much capacity is available at a particular store. You always control how you use it.”

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In late July, I participated in Conexxus’ monthly webinar series along with several industry colleagues, where we discussed Managed Network Service Providers, or MNSPs – and everything you need to know about them. We covered a lot of ground, but I wanted to recap some of the main points here.

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The Typical C-Store Network

Even before the pandemic, we were seeing that convenience store networks were undergoing a dramatic digital transformation. All kinds of technologies have become integral to their business operations. Now, with the realities of COVID-19, mobile payment apps are even more important, given they can enable customers to activate the dispenser while still inside the car, which minimizes physical contact and reduces health risks – for customers and employees alike.

Unfortunately, many C-store operators are still reliant on antiquated, legacy network technologies. Some still use dial-up phone lines to enable remote access for Point-of-Sale (POS) helpdesk support. Others use the cheapest internet connection they can find to support their mission-critical business applications. A typical store network will use any number of broadband internet connections, including DSL, Cable, Fiber, Ethernet, 4G/5G LTE, and satellite. And many have only a single connection to support their POS transactions.

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Enter the EMV Transaction

Of course, the adoption of outdoor Europay, Mastercard, Visa (EMV) payment options will introduce new network requirements. Why? Because the EMV transaction involves more data (and more handshakes) across the network. That makes the EMV transaction sensitive to network congestion. That problem worsens when the new generation of POS apps perform software updates over the network or when firewalls are deployed to keep the network safe.

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What’s the Impact?

Whether it’s from buying the lowest cost internet service or using outdated technologies that contribute to network congestion, slow POS transactions cause long checkout lines, which lead to unhappy customers and employees. As we think about what the c-store needs, it is vitally important to realize that its network infrastructure provides the critical foundation for all its digital initiatives, particularly those that affect the customer and employee experience. That includes protecting the c-store against criminal cybersecurity threats, which is a sizable task given there have been multiple highly public c-store data breaches compromising information for more than over 30M customers.

Why the MNSP Program?

The primary purpose of the MNSP program is to protect the c-store against criminal cybersecurity threats while still enabling secure remote access for legitimate business needs such as remote POS helpdesk support, automatic tank monitoring, and many others. This is essential since criminal threats evolve constantly. For example, today, hackers steal customer data, as well as infect back-office systems with ransomware and demand tens of thousands of dollars be paid before they will restore a c-store’s access to its mission-critical application data. Operators who have not properly prepared for such events often have no choice but to pay the ransom. So, the MNSP program not only supports the Outdoor EMV upgrade, but also substantially improves the cybersecurity posture for a c-store.

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How to “Fix” the Network

For some operators, upgrading their internet service is not an option. They are already using the best service available in their region. For others, even upgrading and increasing bandwidth at a store won’t always fix the problem; they still find themselves stuck in a state of “sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.” In such instances, when network congestion issues undermine an operator’s ability to complete POS transactions, Software-Defined Wide Area Network (SD-WAN) solutions are worth considering. SD-WAN combines advanced traffic shaping with application prioritization to achieve consistent POS transaction processing and clear VOIP calls – even across congested internet connections. In other words, while you can’t always control how much capacity is available at a particular store, you can always control how you use it. With SD-WAN, the end result is that the c-store is able to protect both the customer and employee experience.

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Is Upgrade Enough?

As I stressed during the webinar, many c-stores are “single threaded,” meaning they are completely dependent on the availability of a single internet connection. If that connection goes down, they may be able to process credit card payments offline, but customers won’t be able to redeem loyalty points and their many back-office applications may go dark. With more business applications moving to the cloud, fewer applications can be run without connectivity. That increases the risk that an outage will negatively affect the customer experience and operational efficiency. For these reasons, the new norm is not only to upgrade the store’s internet capacity so transactions and processes run faster and more efficiently, but also to back-up that connection with a second, independent one. In other words, upgrade alone just isn’t enough.

Perhaps the single greatest takeaway from the Conexxus webinar for viewers (and blog readers!) to understand is this: investing in the availability of a store’s network and its connectivity will improve the foundation for all customer- and employee-facing applications — all of which can greatly improve and protect the overall in-store experience.

Want to watch the full webinar? Find it at https://conexxus.org/events/managed-network-service-provider-mnsp-what-you-need-know

For more digital transformation thought leadership (exec videos, articles), please visit: http://hughesbusiness.hughes.com/TimTang.html

 

About the Author

 
Tim Tang

Tim Tang helps distributed organizations achieve the promise of digital transformation by sharing ideas across industries and helping customers stay ahead of the ever-increasing pace of change. Follow Tim Tang on LinkedIn and Twitter @TimTang4Retail.