In today's society smartphones and cloud apps are embedded in most people's personal and work lives.
This change has been both a blessing and a curse. While the productivity perks of smartphones and cloud services have made it easier for employees to stay connected and productive during all hours of the day, they come with some serious trade-offs.
For many years we've heard IT managers complain employees' use of the technologies has made it harder for them to know what devices are being used for work purposes and where company data is being stored at any one time.
This is certainly true for coffee chain Starbucks, which has had to weather the technology storm on two fronts, dealing with the back-end IT issues any big company faces alongside a radical shift in customer buying habits and expectations.
Eager to see how Starbucks is dealing with these changes, we sat down with EMEA IT director Robert Teagle (pictured left) to talk about the firm's current and future plans.
Teagle joined the company seven years ago and is currently responsible for ensuring the firm's use of technology aligns with its business strategy.
Changes in retail
Teagle said customers' increased familiarity with smartphone applications and mobile payment solutions is having a profound impact on consumer-facing companies like Starbucks.
"The change in shopping behaviours to a more omni-channel approach is affecting all bricks and mortar retailers. This is probably the biggest impact to our industry and the way we do business," he said.
"We need to provide a compelling reason for customers to come into our stores and we see multichannel as a means of doing so - across store experience, products and ordering channels.
"The continued use of mobile will broaden, particularly with regards to payment, and this will enable customers to reduce the payment time whether this is in store or out of store."
As Teagle is well aware, a number of technology companies are putting a lot of investment in supporting and promoting mobile payment solutions. Apple, for instance, unveiled its Apple Pay NFC payment technology alongside its flagship iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus handsets in 2014.
The feature was developed in partnership with major credit card brands, notably Visa and American Express. Visa has announced plans to launch Apple Pay in Europe later this year.
Samsung subsequently announced similar plans, unveiling its own Samsung Pay service, alongside the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, at its Unpacked event at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Samsung Pay is similar to other payment services, but is based on NFC and MST.
Teagle told V3 Starbucks is already taking steps to ensure its stores are primed to take advantage of these emerging mobile payment systems.
"For Starbucks, the store is a place where we see mobile having a profound impact on the way we work and interact with our customers. This is particularly true for the store environment, where the introduction of mobile devices can deliver a significant improvement in the efficiency of the store partners," he explained.
"Customers are becoming more and more comfortable with mobile, and expecting to find brands they want to interact with in this medium; so for Starbucks this means doing more and more with mobile."
He added the firm is also exploring the potential of other mobile technologies to further enhance the experience of Starbucks customers.
"Recently, we announced the launch of wireless charging rings, in partnership with Powermat, across 10 central London stores and we are proud to say that we were the first on the high street to offer this type of technology," he said.
"Having introduced free WiFi to all UK customers in 2011, Starbucks now hopes to do for wireless power what it did for wireless data: solve a real problem for customers."
Interestingly, despite the firm's forward-looking strategy regarding wireless charging and mobile payments, Teagle was guarded on the firm's wearables plans.
"At Starbucks, we're continually looking for technology that will improve the customer or partner experience but we have nothing to announce at this stage," he said.
In store and around the office
Teagle said the firm is equally interested in taking advantage of the productivity benefits of mobile devices in its stores.
"Most of what is shaping our strategy at the moment is focused on digital, social and mobile. While we need to pursue both elements of a bimodal IT function, the operational aspects will remain critically important for a retailer like Starbucks," he said.
"From a workplace perspective, we see more partners moving their working environment from a laptop to a smartphone and/or tablet environment.
"So this means being able to deploy technology onto these devices, either through native functionality or by developing applications that sit better on these devices than on a laptop or PC."
However, Teagle said the firm still uses traditional desktop machines and laptops in its offices and keeps critical, sensitive processes in-house rather than in the cloud.
"We use Windows 7 in our offices, a few departments use Mac OS, but these are limited to creative functions and sit largely apart from the corporate systems," he said.
"We use cloud solutions in a number of areas within Starbucks, these range from products such as Office 365, CRM, property management, business intelligence etc. [But] our core systems, such as ERP and PoS, are on premise run by Starbucks.
"Security is one of our top priorities. The safeguarding of our environment, both for internal and external data, is critical to the success of our business."
Security has become a top concern for retailers as over the past few years hackers have targeted point of sale systems with increasing vigour, with 2013's "mega data breach" at US retail giant Target being a prime example.
BYOD, shadow IT and flexible working
The bring your own device (BYOD) trend has seen employees increasingly use their personal devices and applications for work purposes, with or without the IT department's approval.
University of Surrey Computer Science professor Alan Woodward warned that businesses that ignore the trend are putting themselves at unnecessary risk, during an interview with V3 in February.
Interestingly, Teagle said most Starbucks employees prefer to use separate work and personal devices.
"We started with a BYOD policy a couple of years ago, but saw very little take-up - in fact we've noticed more recently that partners [staff] want to have a separation between their corporate and personal devices. So most people are taking the corporate devices rather than using their personal devices," he said.
He added that when it comes to what applications staff can access at work, "we don't have technology that isn't passed through the IT organisation first".
"Regarding flexible working, partners in the support centres can opt for a portion of their hours working from home. Therefore, all the technology that is available to them in the office can be accessed from home, or an outside location."
Starbucks is one of many firms working to adopt a flexible working model. The move is a reaction to June 2014 government legislation granting employees across the UK the legal right to ask for flexible working.
With Starbucks on track to adopt a mobile-centric customer and office environment, the US chain is certainly ahead of many with its willingness to experiment with emerging technology.
However, the move comes during a turbulent time within the world of IT and a multitude of disruptive technologies are set to arrive later this year.
Chief among these are new technology and service solutions from Microsoft, with its fast-approaching, converged Windows 10 platform, as well as the Internet of Things revolution.
It will be interesting to see how Starbucks reacts to these technological shifts. But if its reaction to mobile payments and enterprise mobility is anything to go by it will likely be among the early adopters on the high street.
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