How Starbucks Canada brewed the right plan for Wi-Fi/POS convergence

In today’s culture, great customer service is second only to great coffee. The company’s manager of IT infrastructure explains

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Starbucks is committed to bringing the latest service innovations to our customers. We’ve supported always-on connectivity for our customers’ smartphones and other devices  for a while now, and we know how important it is to getting customers into the store, keeping them there and making them happy. This type of service is no longer a luxury—with the vast majority of today’s customers carrying at least one mobile device, and sometimes more, staying on top of the connectivity challenge is critical.

With this business imperative looming large, our Canadian stores were facing something of a conundrum. While our point-of-sale (POS) network was extremely robust, it wasn’t integrated with our Wi-Fi services. We had separate vendors providing our POS network and Wi-Fi access, which meant we were doubling everything, including costs, and had to deal with separate vendors for basically the same thing. This was not only unwieldy, it also meant that we couldn’t effectively integrate the customer information our POS system was designed to gather with our Wi-Fi network to drive sales. So we knew we wanted to integrate our  POS system with our Wi-Fi services, but at the same time, we were changing vendors, so the solution became part of an open RFP—and our timeline was tight, as our existing contract was expiring.

In a sense, the business case was already built because we had already undertaken a similar project in the US. We knew it could be done—we just had to get the right solution and vendor to make it happen. The solution was solid: to extend functionality, we switched from an MPLS network to Allstream’s Internet-based VPN WAN network, got 3G wireless backup support from Rogers and partnered with BOLDstreet for managed Wi-Fi delivery. The rollout covered over 900 stores across Canada, and we’ve already realized cost savings, improved productivity and higher customer satisfaction. Going forward, we also plan to back up our Wi-Fi on a 3G network so it can be safeguarded in the same way our POS system is now.

Getting up and running was fairly straightforward. We had to train about 100 people plus our help desk staff. This required several sessions because our helpdesk is 24X7, but overall, people were good to go with about 90 minutes of training over two weeks. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, of course. (What project is?) The timing between our previous vendor contract ending and Allstream being engaged wasn’t quite right. As a result, Allstream had to develop a quick-deploy solution that would let us accelerate the implementation of our stores’ POS networks and Wi-Fi access.

Now that the solution is up and running, we feel we’re well set for the future. We’re looking at adding resiliency and redundancy by having a second aggregate point in the west to further ensure that our POS system doesn’t go down, and at adding WAN optimization appliances at high-traffic stores to reduce latency without adding more bandwidth.

In retrospect, the time constraints we ran into certainly gave us some good insight into the process. Any company looking at a project of this size should be sure to leave enough time. The slow start was hard on everyone involved, and it left us wishing the proof-of-concept period had been longer. It would have allowed us to iron out more issues and refine more processes in the planning stage rather than solve them on the fly. That’s what the situation dictated, though, and all credit to the parties who worked so hard to bring it off. In the end, we’re very pleased with the results. In fact, we are now looking at the Canadian network as a true proof-of-concept and preparing to take it back into the US, where we anticipate smooth implementation and equally successful results.

For more on Allstream’s work with Starbucks, download the complete case study


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