Digital Transformation in Retail

A few months ago, I attended the ARC Advisory Group’s Industry Forum in Orlando. While I was there, I had the opportunity to sit down and interview a few ARC analysts including Craig Resnick, Harry Forbes, Inderpreet Shoker, and Jim Frazier. I also had the opportunity to sit down with Ed O’Brien and discuss digital transformation in the changing retail landscape. Specifically, I asked Ed about three main things. First, the role of digital transformation on retail deliveries, both today and in the future. Second, the role of IoT, connectivity, and interoperability in the emergence of robotics and autonomy. And third, the headwinds for machines such as drones.

The role of digital transformation on retail deliveries today and the future

In many ways digital transformation is the cornerstone of what’s occurring throughout the supply chain, not only through the manufacturing and planning phase but also into the actual delivery to the warehouses.  The next step is the last-mile delivery, and in many cases between the various phases of both semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles, they’re starting to be tested and, in some cases, putting into production.  Not without some challenges, but there’ll be some great opportunities for being able to use the digital transformation, be able to plan, to be able to route, and also, it’s kind of a cool factor too that the end users are enjoying in the pilots.

The role of IOT, connectivity, and interoperability in the emergence of robotics and autonomy

They’re central to it, but there is a wide range of issues to contend with.  Safety for not only people that are being delivered to, but also navigating through the streets, navigating to homes in the case of a pizza delivery example, but even to the point of having semi-autonomous or autonomous packages through the companies like Amazon and others that are trying to get approval, in some cases having approval. But it’s central to know what’s needed, what are the barriers on the way.

In the cases of drones for example, when and whether beyond visual line of sight will be able to be used, whether over populated areas, and in the case of sometimes the cute little delivery robots, the idea of what happens if children are in the way, what happens if pets are in the way in urban centers.  That’s why they’re probably going to more visible in less populated suburbs. But there are a number of issues that are not insurmountable, but it may take quite a while to convince the public that they’ll feel safe no matter what.

Headwinds for machines such as drones

Regulatory issues are certainly one of the headwinds for machines such as drones.  Getting the right business case for investments as well because they’re not cheap, and you’re delivering low cost in the case of pizzas, and whatnot.  Looking at packages, whether you’re looking at tests at Amazon, or UPS, or FedEx, or others, or even other services, they’re working on getting past the regulatory issues, the issues of—in drones for example, in addition to beyond visual line of sight, and being able to fly over populated areas, that’s the biggest issue for drones.

Also, the area that they could fly there are a number of those regulations.  But also, what happens if you have a failure? So, if the rotors fail, there has to be a failsafe, an audible alarm, maybe a parachute, and maybe some other feel safe way for it to land without hurting anyone.  So regulatory probably, but also the business case is going to be critical because the ones that we may see on YouTube now aren’t necessarily that big so you can’t really have a large payload to be able to pay for itself in one.

There are interesting things happening in this field of digital transformation, and although there are certain “headwinds”, it is still a major step toward the future.

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