Lately, Google has been exploring adding products that have also enjoyed consumer success to retail as services. It touches all cloud computing one way or another, with Google hosting the services it provides to its retail partners. At the National Retail Federation’s 2023 conference this week, we sat down with Jose Gomes, general manager of retail and consumer packaging goods for Google Cloud. TechRepublic got its insight into how enterprise cloud is changing and how the world’s largest tech companies are using it.
For example, Macy’s has been running a variant of Google Search, enhanced by Browse AI, on its own website for about a year and a half. It enables natural language analysis – to an extent. If a customer searches for a baby shower dress, the website may return results for maternity wear, which is not necessarily the right choice.
Google Glass, once intended primarily for consumer use, is finding a new lease of life as a work tool. Demonstrations at the conference included a largely seamless translation tool, and another demonstration showed how warehouse workers could use Google Glass to get hands-free directions on what item to choose and where to place it.
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Yet organizations can now be wary of making changes that don’t yield immediate results. The industry standard has moved from the infrastructure cloud, where organizations “lift and shift” to the transformation cloud, Gomes said, echoing what Neiman Marcus also said the previous day.
“Organizations are, even more than usual, focused on profitability, efficiency and the return on investment of what they have made,” said Gomes.
There is also now a sense of urgency to these processes.
“If you want to save me money, save it this year,” he continued.
As a result, Google focuses on business offerings that can be implemented quickly or are available today. Cloud use cases can still be elusive, so it’s smart to focus on what’s already being deployed today.
Implementation should be discussed in terms of weeks, not months. Gomes used Loews as an example, which started with one cloud-supported deployment for work and is now doing more on the order of 20 a day.
Retailers also want to move away from dealing with data centers, Gomes said.
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One of the themes that emerged from the conversation with Gomes was that organizations want the cloud to free them up to worry less about the technology and more about the value that can be extracted from the associated services. For example, Kroger uses Google database technology to pull together a bunch of data signals and tell an associate what their next best action should be based on the value of that action and the condition of the store.
AI/ML can also play a role to consume and mix real-time data signals that are normally disconnected. For example, one dashboard could display and possibly correlate whether someone has clocked in and also where the company car is located. AI/ML can detect patterns that can ultimately be blended to provide actionable information about where human labor is spent most usefully in the store.
The ideal path is “to move from binding diagnostic insights to predictive recommendations and ideally binding,” Gomes said. “People hope that AI and ML can lead to more automation and more predictive recommendations.”
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At what point are you in the journey?
Enterprises may see the increase in value at the end of the cloud adoption process as the most important element, but different organizations are moving closer or further to that endpoint, or are adopting it faster or slower.
However, according to Gomes, retail is ahead of many other industries because it has been exploring applications to organize that data for a relatively long time. It’s also an area that supports the right technical talent, though Gomes has reservations.
“Your organization depends a lot on the approach and how open you are to partners,” he said. “What we’ve seen is a two-pronged approach: either you move all the data to the cloud and figure out what you’re going to do with it, or the use case approach.”
The former can yield much greater cost savings as organizations can write off the technology they previously used.
“But to do it right, you have to do both,” Gomes said.
The organization must decide whether to save money by using the cloud first and then unlock use cases or have a new use case in mind.
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Customer experience top of mind for retail
Improving the employee experience and making training easier and faster were discussed several times during the show. In addition, many companies at NRF emphasized that the ultimate goal was to create a positive customer experience. In retail, the biggest barriers to doing so may arise in the supply chain or from a lack of real-time visibility on the shelves. What if a customer orders an item online that is available on the store shelf, but turns out to be out of stock? Next time, they probably won’t look for that product in that store.
Google Cloud’s shelf-checking AI attempts to address this by automatically identifying items to improve product availability on shelves and providing up-to-date information on which items are in stock. The Browse AI is API-driven, so enterprises can integrate it into their existing tech stacks and solutions.
“Every use case that someone talks about today normally requires a different piece of hardware, a different set of infrastructure that you have to put in the store,” Gomes said. “We believe you can cover that up by adding an extra layer to the platform. You can create a seamless platform.”
For more information on retail cloud, see what Neiman Marcus said at the NRF conference about his clouds transition with AWS. Moreover, Microsoft has just launched a commercial offering based on the Azure OpenAI serviceand the cloud opens doors for malware as well as legitimate actors.