Whether it is Amazon delivery drones, Fidelity’s digital wallet, Microsoft’s AI lab or Google self-driving car or glasses, from concept to development innovations are held close by organizations till they engage in co-development with customers or launch products commercially.
In retail and consumer industries innovation and collaboration always began outside of the lab. For decades, innovation in retail and consumer goods has been done through feedback from their own customers and employees, call it a type of co-development. But, today companies are taking big risks and making big investments across a variety of technologies that span beyond cloud, digital, into wearables, drones, and artificial intelligence (AI).
But unlike other industries, in consumer industries process automation is perhaps more important than new technology induction. Technology is a by-product to enable better process automation. Undoubtedly, such innovation is pursued with the help of new technologies. But, these tools are applied towards bringing about new process automation and efficiency in areas such as customer engagement models, fulfillment or delivery nodes, visual merchandising props, employee empowerment, and store execution, among other areas. According to data from EnsembleIQ’s July 2018 Retail Technology Innovation Index, the top three functional areas where retailers are innovation initiatives today are: customer loyalty (56%), e-commerce (51%) and marketing (48%).
In order to gain some empirical innovation lab experience, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Digital Software & Solutions Group (DS&S) invited us to visit their innovation lab and executive briefing center based in Mumbai, India. This is one of the seven labs located in India in major metro cities. In the United States, TCS operates two dedicated innovation labs, one each in Peterborough and Cincinnati. Each of these labs focus on an industry domain such as retail, travel & hospitality, insurance, among other industry domains.
At the very outset, TCS’s lab and briefing center houses several impressive digital display screens, pods and drag & drop self-service tools for displaying multiple digital-first (customer commerce, experience and engagement) use cases that are currently in varied stages of co-development or co-innovation at different retail customer sites. These digital-first retail transformation use cases adopt TCS’s proprietary “agile” rapid technology innovation and customer collaboration principles. Such principles are based on a retail business 4.0 strategy that follows a four-fold innovation paradigm:
- Embracing risk which manifests in the form of varied new innovation constructs within the cloud.
- Tailor or mass-customize solutions using intelligent platforms and delivery models.
- Leverage a global partner ecosystem to drive increased levels of process automation.
- Create exponential value using agile development methodologies.
There were two interesting use cases on display at the lab. The first innovation collaboration program displayed by TCS was its Amazon Alexa-based integration of voice shopping and customer journey specifically for home entertainment and electronics. TCS developed these solutions for a leading multi-national consumer electronics retailer. But, what is even more impressive is the mobile and digital store co-innovation work that TCS is doing for a leading do-it-yourself (DIY) retailer. Not only has TCS assisted in developing the augmented reality and visual recognition search feature for an often complicated DIY shopping experience, but it has also developed a virtual tool box for the retailer within its mobile app. This retailer’s app based feature helps a customer search for household nuts and bolts using a unique and easy visual recognition feature. This feature allows customers to measure the nut on the app, find it and then suggest the exact match so that the customer can buy it. TCS has also assisted the DIY retailer to deploy an in-store mode to the mobile app when a customer is at the store for aisle navigation, assisted selling and other features.
Outside of these digital-first innovation concepts, TCS showcased some pretty cool new innovation lab use cases such as:
- Emerging use of advanced Li-Fi technology for wireless communication between devices using light to transmit data and position.
- Clicking a picture of a fashion product on a flat panel television using a mobile device that takes the customer into an ad and a subsequent shopping page to place an order.
- Automated shelf-level product information in a grocery or apparel/fashion store using a mobile app.
- A grocery example of a product allergen scanner and related alerts for customers via a mobile app.
In the area of digital-first, customer engagement and marketing, the TCS innovation lab showcased some real-life practical and emerging retail use cases. In the next go-around, I would be keen to learn how TCS is helping retailers in exploring next generation business process automation and technologies that can help unveil the future retail store experience, digital experience or even a supply chain efficiency model.
To discuss, retail and consumer industries innovation issues, trends and technologies, please contact Sahir Anand at [email protected] or @sahiranand.