Real intelligence – Blend the human and machine for business advantage

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Predictions of how technology will continue to impact our lives in the future are highly contested – but there is no doubt that the roles of humans and machines are adapting and evolving at pace. However, despite the rise in automation of tasks, we think the future of smart work will be more Tony Stark than Terminator.

BCG labels the company of the future as ‘bionic’ – organizations will successfully blend the capabilities of both humans and technology. The effective integration of the two will be the deciding factor between businesses that can establish a sustainable competitive moat and those that cannot, ultimately delivering improved profitability and growth. Businesses will leverage these new capabilities to ‘super suit’ their employees like never before.

However, the desire for the further implementation of new technology into business and process is not a new one. And yet much of the economy is still shackled by outdated ways of working, as new software and solutions are not effectively integrated into operational processes, instead existing in isolated silos. This erodes the potential value creation that the combination of these technologies and human capabilities could provide.

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What are the barriers to a bionic future? 

A prime example of this is seen in food and grocery retail – how many businesses have actually demonstrated the application and use of data at hourly-paid associate level? Store associates often still lack connection to enterprise information, from strategy to data and analytics, that would help improve their performance and liberating them to better serve and sell. Huge investments have been made in Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, but the one retail asset class that is so often disconnected is the store associate group.

Store associates are expected to manage the replenishment of thousands of items across thousands of square (and cubic) feet of space, prioritize their efforts, fix every gap on the shelf at all times, set up promotions and features, manage stock rotation and waste whilst using little more technology than a metal roller and cardboard cutter. And this is whilst dealing with important customer inquiries and issues that help to further build loyalty every day.

Such an example brings to bear the reality that whilst technological innovation has rapidly advanced in recent years, the processes that support it have not. This is the true challenge that company leaders face, how can you empower your people to take advantage of retail technology innovations and breed a culture of real, bionic intelligence?

Combining people and retail technology to gain a competitive advantage 

There is likely no better case study of a business effectively leveraging the relationship of human and machine than Amazon. In his 1997 letter to shareholders, CEO, Jeff Bezos, described how ‘urgency’ would be the key in how Amazon would establish a competitive advantage whilst continuing to meet the ever-changing customer demands of the future. This urgency would focus them on investing in their human capabilities, through recruitment and training of the best talent, alongside harnessing the latest innovations available to power them in their roles. This has been a winning formula for the Seattle-based giant, and it is what has propelled Amazon from an online bookstore into one of the largest and most dominant companies in the world. The combination of people and retail technology, all connected to the vision and mission.

At Retail Insight, we have a first-hand view of how advanced analytics and domain expertise can come together to create value and competitive advantage. Our product set empowers store associates and head office teams by delivering actionable insight for performance improvement and it has always been the driving force behind our solutions.

We can take broad and deep datasets and build from them the most sophisticated algorithms and analytical tools, but the beauty is in making them useful and useable at all levels across the organization. Only by fully connecting the insight to the associates that can execute against them will we be able to say the enterprise is truly digitalized.

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Written by Paul Boyle

Paul, a Master's graduate in Engineering, became CEO of Retail Insight in 2011 having previously served as COO since the business was founded in 2005. He enjoys everything about Retail Insight; our people, products, and partners. Prior to Retail Insight, Paul worked at P&G and HJ Heinz in Commercial and Strategy.