Retail Technology-When IBM CEO Ginni Rometty spoke about artificial intelligence (AI) in a keynote address last year, she pointed out that handing out more technology to companies isn’t useful if you don’t change their workflows.
But what does that mean? In my industry, retail, poor workflow is a symptom of disconnected processes. Processes across the supply chain — from warehousing, delivery, and stocking to merchandising, customer experience and checkout — all influence one another, yet they act independently.
At my company, we’ve seen how AI can be used to autonomously identify and prevent loss in stores and throughout the retail supply chain. Smart technology can work across processes to remove the silos that separate them and lay the groundwork for a more unified workflow. But there are some variables technology doesn’t control — namely, the human ones.
Humans have the unique ability to send even the most meticulously organized processes into sheer chaos. We jump over gates in the subway. We take an item from one shelf and then put it down on another. We forget to scan items at checkout. All of this introduces unstructured data into process models that thrive on order and predictability. This is what new technology must address before its usefulness is fully realized.
Here are five ways retailers can use computer vision and AI to address the human problem as their digital transformation continues:
1. Don’t just predict actions — see, understand and act on them.
While a large part of AI’s promise is its ability to “best guess” the optimal next action, using predictive technology to understand how individual humans, store-wide, are going to react in the moment to a seemingly finite set of variables is a fool’s errand.
An AI can’t predict, for instance, that the child in aisle nine is going to pick up a candy bar, eat half of it and then drop it off in the cereal section. And it doesn’t intuitively know who in the supply chain “misplaced” yet another box of Viagra before it could make its way to the pharmacy. But technology doesn’t need to be able to predict these things in order to act on them. It simply needs to see and understand them.
Retailers can account for all of these things by pairing predictive technologies with autonomous ones. Think of predictive technologies as tools for long-term planning and autonomous technologies as your on-the-ground floor manager, monitoring and reacting to stimuli in the moment.
2. Gain insight into what’s happening across the entire supply chain.
No matter how many thousands of hours of observation, interviews and documentation go into companies’ expertly designed systems, there’s no way to account for or predict every possible combination of object-to-human interactions or human-to-human encounters. But for the first time ever, we can see entire processes as they unfold using advanced networks of interconnected technology.