The key to commerce is connection: to payments, to products, and to people. But what if they can’t connect to you? Retail relies on communications to market to customers and make the sale, and that necessitates a reliable network with technology built for the long haul.

In the 20th year of the 21st century, the industry is not just dynamic; it’s now digital – but even virtual environments can be impacted by physical circumstances. Turbulence is the new normal when it comes to doing business, due to critical adaptations for public health and safety. Customers are social distancing while shopping (both in line and online), while supply chains are still reckoning with the supply and demand shocks of early 2020.

The industry’s toughest problems are rapidly evolving, and solutions must keep pace with them. Today’s setbacks need tomorrow’s innovation: networking technology that securely supports business operations, customer needs, payments, and data, and can protect from future disruption. SD-WAN’s advanced capabilities offer potential solutions to some of these industry challenges.

SD-WAN (software-defined wide-area networking) streamlines network management operations by separating the way a network is controlled from its hardware, alleviating network congestion and freeing up capacity. Best of all, it can be layered on top of existing solutions to securely connect users with applications, including apps in the cloud.

SD-WAN is part of a wave of progress that is revolutionizing data connectivity and driving digital transformation. By adding it to existing network infrastructure, retailers can engineer the hybrid digital-physical landscape for optimal customer environments and ideal returns on investment, in three key ways.

1) Modernize & Implement New Strategies

There are only a few occasions where being retro is acceptable and your network technology is not one of them. A modern networking solution like SD-WAN can support the new strategies that will allow retailers to join the digital revolution and transform their business brick by byte.

Today’s customers are savvier than ever, and retailers must meet their expectations with digital initiatives and advanced, technology-based strategies. These may comprise cloud-based web applications, eCommerce, curbside pickup, chatbots, contactless payments and other tech-centric solutions for increasingly tech-focused customers. But these capabilities come with a cost: New innovations mean new issues to work out.

The added complexity of even seemingly simple digital options, like mobile payments, can bottleneck throughput and increase latency. SD-WAN mitigates these gaps in communication by prioritizing business-critical applications, meaning both payments terminals and new customer experience initiatives can operate at the same time at peak performance.

2) Embrace Cloud Computing Securely

Digital transformation won’t fully take shape until the cloud is a major structural component. It’s the heart of the virtual world and the engine powering the most innovative technologies used in the retail industry, like chatbots and e-commerce platforms. But while cloud services allow business-critical applications to be accessed from anywhere, they add security concerns.

A recent IDG survey found 98% of businesses surveyed said securing applications, data and infrastructure in the cloud is “very” or “somewhat” challenging. Almost all organizations IDG surveyed (95%) feel that their current security infrastructure hinders their ability to protect data — including payments data — as it moves to and from the cloud.

SD-WAN allows retailers to lock down cloud access at any location by securing access to the public cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps like Office 365. SD-WAN also adds the ability to boost capacity during times of high network traffic, or failover to a broadband or LTE network, giving retailers the ability to rapidly deploy new cloud-based apps with secure, reliable internet connectivity, at any time.

3) Strengthen Payments Security

Augmenting the retail environment with digital tools can open new doors to flexibility and convenience, but also leave your customers’ payments data – and your business data – vulnerable to new cybersecurity risks.

SD-WAN gives retailers a way to securely connect all types of payment options — POS terminals, cash registers, eCommerce gateways, in-store/in-restaurant mobile devices, automated fuel dispensers (AFD) – as well as any other devices and networks within the retail environment. Some SD-WAN solutions, like TNS’ Secure SD-WAN, a managed service powered by Fortinet, also protect sensitive card data with best-in-class security protocols like next-generation stateful firewalls (NGFW) (including IPSEC VPN tunnels), anti-virus features, URL filtering and SSL packet inspection, as well as other PCI DSS compliant controls.

For an additional layer of security, SD-WAN managed service providers like TNS offer active network monitoring services. Retailers can protect customers’ payments data without monitoring the network and all data and devices themselves, and instead focus on keeping customers happy.

Create Meaningful Customer Connections

The chaos of this year has proven how important it is for retailers to maintain connections with current customers while finding ways to grow their business. New challenges are an opportunity to become better and SD-WAN will help you get to your new best with modern strategies, high-performance cloud systems, and advanced payments data security.

John Tait is Global Managing Director of TNS’ Payments Market business. He is responsible for identifying and driving growth across the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific regions, and is focused on meeting the unique requirements of TNS’ customers.