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AI Innovations for the Customer Experience

Retail Tech Chat

The pandemic has completely upended the ways merchants engage their customers. Retail technology has moved to the forefront, as consumers rely more than ever on mobile apps and self-service checkouts to execute their shopping journey.

How should retailers respond to these changing circumstances? Find out in this conversation between technology power couple Sarah-Jayne and Dean Gratton, and experts from Box Technologies—a leader in customer engagement that works with brands such as Sainsbury’s, HSBC, Superdry, and Pizza Hut.

You will discover:

  • How self-service technology is being integrated with AI
  • Ways retailers can cut equipment servicing costs with machine learning
  • What digital signage can do to create an extraordinary customer experience

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, and iHeartRadio, the Retail Tech Chat is a limited-run podcast focused on the recovery of the retail and hospitality sector. Subscribe now so you don’t miss an episode!

Related Content

To learn more about recent retail innovations, read AI Innovations for the Customer Experience. For the latest innovations from Flytech (BOX Technologies), follow them on Twitter at @flytechCM.

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 2: Touchless & RFID for Safer Stores

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 3: Digitizing the In-Store Experience

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 4: Accelerating Digital Transformation

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 5: New Roles for Digital Signage

Listen to Retail Tech Chat Episode 6: Safety, Security, & In-Store Intelligence

 

(Note: Box Technologies is a subsidiary of FLYTECH, a Member of the Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance.)

Transcript

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Welcome to the Retail Check Chat, sponsored by Intel. I'm Sarah-Jayne Gratton.

Dean Gratton: And I'm Dean Gratton.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Together, we explore the world of technology and the ways it's reshaping our lives.

Dean Gratton: Okay. So in this podcast series, we are taking a new journey into retail innovation with Intel and its partners.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Today, we're talking to James Patterson and Leonard Gilbert-Wines from Box Technologies. They're leaders in customer engagement and they work with brands such as Sainsbury's, HSBC, Superdry, and Pizza Hut. Hi, James. Hi, Leonard. Great to have you here.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Hi, both.

James Patterson: Hey, guys. Fantastic. Thank you for the opportunity to join the podcast. We're really excited about delving into some technology discussions with you guys. So thank you for having me.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Absolutely.

Dean Gratton: That's weird because I'm going to kick off with James, actually, I'll ask you. What does Box do and what is your role? What do you, in fact?

James Patterson: Yeah. What do I do? So my role at Box Technologies, so I'm the strategic sales and marketing director. So really, from my perspective, it's obviously a very customer-facing role. So I look after some of our largest accounts and so our largest partners as well. So we work with end users but a lot of software partners as well. And really, what does Box Technologies do? So you guys introduced it fantastically for us. So we're a leader in technology solutions into the retail, hospitality, and gaming sector.

So some of the technologies, which obviously we want to discuss with you guys today, there's some really cutting-edge things around self-service technology with the integration of AI. But we also have been working in that self-service space as a business for sort of 20 years, so much before McDonald's had rolled out order points across all of their global businesses. Then also, the different areas such as digital signage, which is a huge, huge growth area for us. Everyone's looking at how they can stand out on the High Street and part of that digital transformation program…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Sorry to interrupt, James. I guess on the self-service side, these days self-service has never been more prevalent, has it, with what's going on in the world?

James Patterson: Oh, I know. It's fascinating. One of the things which, when the whole COVID thing took over, we sat down as a team and myself, Leonard, and the other directors at the business, and we thought, "COVID. Are customers, are consumers, are they going to be afraid to interact with touchscreens that have been shared with other people?" From our point of view, we were thinking, "Wow. This could be a big, big technology shift." But we were working in the UK with even some of the essential retailers which stayed open during lockdown and they were running self-checkouts, self-service trials. It was really interesting on the retail side of things. There was no impact at all. So people were still really happy to go into stores and use express self-checkout lanes to complete their transactions and get out and complete the transaction as quick as possible.

Then interestingly, on the hospitality side of our business, I mentioned McDonald's earlier, those types of order points, we had some pilots in play with some of the largest restaurant chains in the UK. COVID literally totally shifted that whole piece of technology. So self-service has been skipped in some scenarios and replaced with order your own, bring your own device. So what we're seeing now with a lot of customers is they've rapidly deployed either app-faced ordering systems or even Wi-Fi connected ordering systems. So when you go into their restaurants, you join the Wi-Fi, it brings up an order screen and then you can order, as the consumer, whatever you want on your own device. So yeah, it's been one hell of a year when it comes to self-service and the different changes and trends that we've seen.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, huge, huge changes across the industry. Yeah. I mean, Leonard…

Dean Gratton: Yeah, Leonard, we forgot about you.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Hi, how're you doing?

Dean Gratton: What do you do?

James Patterson: Sorry, Leonard.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: What do I do? I have the pleasure of working in our business, but in a role which gives me the opportunity to listen and interact with our retailers, our hospitality, but also our partners, the guys who write the software, the code that is surfaced on these kiosks, on those Wi-Fi order quotes and on traditional POS devices. So I do cover quite a lot of miles. But I'm in the middle of all this technology and trying to solutionize it to bring it to market. So one day I'm I'm looking at ways to keep touchscreens safe and clean, whether that's UV, whether that's compliance, so that the managers or the section coordinators within these organizations can look, at a glance, on a device whether these devices have been cleaned to the next day specifying maybe a lottery machine or some Wi-Fi technology.

Dean Gratton: So I'm aware that Box positions itself as a leader in customer experience and engagement. I mean, what does that mean to you and what are the key factors in treating excellent engagements?

James Patterson: I really think depending on the arena we're working in, it means different things. So if we take gaming as an example, customer engagement when you're in a gaming environment, whether it's a casino, or whether it's a bookmakers, whether you're in a bingo hall, as an example, they've all got different requirements for customer engagement. A bingo hall, as an example, traditionally we all have that picture in our mind of going in there and everyone's got a piece of paper with their different rows and lines on it. That's all digital now. That's all delivered via mobile devices. But on those mobile devices, it's not just your game of bingo, you can order your drinks to the table and your food and all of those sorts of things. So that's how they engage within a bingo hall, which can be very different to one of the high-end retailers we're working with.

James Patterson: I think one of the best examples personally I've seen and also Box has been heavily involved in is we work with a brand globally called Aurum Holdings, which one of the sub-brands within there is Watches of Switzerland. So it's very, very high-end jewelry and watches fundamentally. When I say high-end, these watches, some of them are a million pound plus.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Wow.

James Patterson: It's a certain customer which buys them. But their store, and one example is, there's a great case study actually on our website, which is 155 Regent Street. That was a flagship store that we worked on with Watches of Switzerland. I think it was five or six different stories. The bottom floor was, I'm not even going to call them affordable, but the entry-level brands all the way up to your fifth, sixth level floor, which was invitation only and VIP treatment. The reality is they've got a store in London, it's going to be on Regent Street. Our customer base is going to be heavily populated with tourists from certain geographies around the world: China, Russia, some of the Arabic nations as well.

So they sat with us and went, "Okay, so how can we work our digital content, our digital experience, about targeting these customers?" One of the disadvantages is language barrier. So we did something. They've got numerous screens throughout the store and throughout the different levels within the store. There's a concierge, or a number of concierges, and they have tablet devices. They can control every single one of those screens with the language. So you may have a group of Chinese customers that come in and they can change that content on level two all to be in Mandarin, as an example. So little things like that, really tailoring that customer experience.

Another great thing, sort of a technology win for us actually with that store, was we actually created a totally custom touchscreen, which was in the basement of this store. At one point, this was going back a couple of years ago, it was the largest interactive touchscreen in Europe. There's a reason behind why we did this and why the customer wanted it, actually, because it was a great piece of engagement, as in the tool for it. It really was there to basically take the, what they perceived, potential time wasters, to engage them on some technology. Guys who were going in there to buy expensive watches aren't really going to go up to a large touchscreen and start having a play, Minority Report style. They're going to sit down, they want to understand information, working with the really informative staff in there.

So they actually created this touchscreen where they would purposely go and get groups of people and say, "Oh, do you want to come and interact with this screen? We can show you all these different videos," to then isolate the customers which were going to spend the money and obviously to give them that VIP treatment. So yeah, I think that's a great example, if that answers the question.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, it does. Moving on from that, in terms of digital transformation, you mention the movie Minority Report, which I know is still flying around at the moment and with the way that those augmented reality, the way that interaction in the High Street is really taking on these days, as you say, it's a whole new world. I mean, how do you think these technologies are changing the way that retailers and, for example, the hospitality markets, are doing business?

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Yeah. I can answer in probably the way you're not expecting and that is, there are technologies which are available to us that we have chosen not to productize because it may be too much of a shift for the general public. VR and AR, virtual reality and augmented reality is kind of on the…

Dean Gratton: They have been around for some time.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Yeah, is on the border because there is that vulnerability that someone may feel by having their vision impaired in a public place. So you do need a very specific setting for that immersion and…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Is that also a degree of subtlety as well in the way that it's delivered?

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Yeah. But we have produced similar examples with digital signage and having trigger points with maybe perfume bottles. You pick up certain scents and then the visuals on the screen in front of you change depending on which scents and which bottles and which combinations you lift up. So, that's what came to mind when you asked the question there. I'll hand over to James for your example.

James Patterson: Yeah. I think the Minority Report, the thing for me, I remember when I first watched that film and I can't remember when it came out, maybe 10 years ago or something, and I was like, "Wow. This is a thing of the future." And then…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah. Dean and I were watching it and thinking, "This isn't going to happen." And it's here, isn't it? It's here!

Dean Gratton: [crosstalk]

James Patterson: And that's the thing…

Dean Gratton: ... in terms of the modality.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Yeah.

James Patterson: We did a big project in the UK recently with Pizza Hut. It was around optimizing their kitchens. The sort of big tagline around it was "Deliver pizza." I think it was "faster, hotter and smarter." It's all about giving that better customer experience so when you're delivering a pizza, making sure it arrives hot, not cold, etc. But anyway, going back to the Minority Report thing. In their kitchens now, they installed a capacity of touchscreens where they now have a guy in the kitchen who, he zooms in on this interactive map to find the local drivers on their mopeds to call one back to make sure he can come and get his pizza and stuff in time.

It's not that exciting, but that's a real-life example where this type of interactive touch technology is being used in a Pizza Hut delivery site. We wouldn't have guessed that 10 years ago when Minority Report came out, for sure. It does, it just shows you how quickly it moves on, doesn't it? I think we as consumers, the way that we interact and consume technology now, it plays the biggest role in that, right? I've sat here with my smartphone in hand and everything you can do on that device now, including touch, is just, we wouldn't have thought that 10 years ago, for sure.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: It's just amazing how things have just evolved and moved on.

Dean Gratton: And so quickly as well.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yes.

Dean Gratton: Yeah, what's next in the new Box?

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: It's a whole new world of innovation or, well, where innovation is actually taking its stance and making strides forwards, whereas perhaps this time last year, we wouldn't have envisioned where it would be today. So with that in mind, I have to ask you guys, how do you work with Intel to help retailers deliver these cutting-edge technologies?

James Patterson: Yeah, literally, I was just going to mention that, actually. So yeah, so Box is the European entity of a much larger sort of technology group, which is called Flytech Technology. But Intel, by far, are our biggest technology partner. We sell hundreds of thousands of Intel-based products a year. But also, we work very, very closely with the guys, locally and on a global scale, looking at how we can innovate within our marketplaces. I think one example which, Leonard, you were obviously heavily involved in with the guys locally at Intel. There's been a big demand from our customers over the years, in retail specifically, to mobilize the point-of-sale journey.

So as an example, if you're in a fashion or a department store, the ability to go on an assisted selling journey with that customer throughout the store and then complete the transaction, our customers have been talking about it probably for seven or eight years. There's always been some real technology limitations to it. One of the big ones being was that whenever you undocked, let's take that as the example, whenever you undocked this POS tablet device, it was always basically one-to-one paired. So you'd start at that customer journey, but this might be on floors, if you're in a department store. It might be one to three. But then you'd always have to return back to that same docking station to complete the transaction, which just totally vetoed the whole customer experience and what you're trying to achieve.

So we took that as a challenge. Leonard, it's probably worth saying how you worked with the guys at Intel locally to come up with a solution and some technology which we're actually just bringing to market next month, which is a first as far as we're aware in that sort of retail space. So yeah, Leonard, do you mind just giving the technical side, if that's all right?

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Dean Gratton: The technical bit, is it? We'll be back in a minute.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: So we're aware of the wireless technologies Intel's brought to the office. So there's WiDi and WiGig. This allows you to place your laptop down on a desk and you're instantly connected to your monitor, to your printer, your mouse, your keyboard, any other peripherals. There's no wires, essentially. We wanted to bring this to retail. But an office environment, where you're talking, you're working in maybe one or two meters around a desk, is very different to a retail environment where even the structure of the building you have many customers with their Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, a lot of radio, a lot of noise there.

So we couldn't lean on those existing technologies. So we actually worked closely with Intel's innovation division in Swindon in the UK and we tested many different solutions. We actually landed on something which passed the test, essentially. Our test was to take the solution to a motorway service station, in the UK we call them motorway service stations, which are the busiest. These are areas where people stop off the freeway, off the motorway, for their coffee. But they're also logging onto the Wi-Fi, they're checking... So it's a very busy, noisy environment.

The task was to have a tablet, undock that tablet but maintain the ports, the connected devices that are connected to the hub, so the retail software doesn't have a break. There's no disconnection. So it's a seamless transition from physically connected to connected over Wi-Fi. We achieved that using firmware level optimizations and also drivers which we leveraged as well as a custom EC chip within the hub which hosts our Wi-Fi connectivity.

Dean Gratton: You developed the software there on-site with your guys?

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: We developed the concept and then the brief went into our R&D within Taiwan, which came out with the concept which we tested, as I said, in the real-world environment. We've kept tuning and tuning and getting feedback from our partners to the point where we're ready to launch the product in the next couple of months.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Also, it's all about mobility and connectivity within the hospitality industry, I guess.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: It is. It is. The challenge set to us, as James said, is that, again, if you have a tablet docked and you undock it, you lose connectivity. Those comports or USB connections disappear. So you lose the scanner, you lose the printer, you lose any other peripheral you're connected to. POS software traditionally does not like that. It will crash and you have to reboot the device to bring them back. So we have to make that a seamless connection.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Okay.

James Patterson: I think any listeners that have worked in this space will understand probably very, very well. They'll be like, "Okay, yeah, we know that technical challenge." It's been on the radar for a while. So it's great to work with Intel to solve it. I think another recent example we've been collaborating with Intel is around Intel's OpenVINO platform and, again, within the Flytech group, we've got a sister company called Berry AI, which as it says in the brand name, they're a computer vision AI business. We work very, very closely with those guys.

One of the solutions we came up with as a collaboration was around automating the experience within a post office, as an example. People don't go to post offices as much as they once did. But when you typically do go there now, you end up waiting in a queue. I don't know, guys, Sarah, Dean, if that's your last experience, but I know it is for me personally. I arrived and I thought, "Wow, I know why I don't come here anymore, because I don't like waiting."

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's just, oh, it's snail pace. Working primarily sort of online where I will do things and it's all kind of need it, click it, get it. It was stepping back in time. It was quite depressing. It was a bit Last of the Summer Wine-esque.

James Patterson: Yeah, I think that's a fair assumption. Part of the challenge there for any postal company across the world is that there's still a very manual human interaction process between saying, "I've got this parcel in my hands. What size is it? What weight is it?" which means, "This is how much I need to pay for, if it's a letter, it's a stamp. This is how much I need to pay for shipping." It's a process which, if it takes five minutes per customer and you've got five people in your queue, that's 25 minutes. We're not going to wait as consumers now for 25 minutes…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Exactly.

James Patterson: ... in a shop. That just doesn't happen. Yeah. So what we've created is basically a self-service kiosk with integrated AI, which basically takes out that requirement for this human interaction. So the AI algorithm and also obviously the camera in the sense of Intel, we have a platform which you can put any letter. There's different sizes of these kiosks, depending on the parcel size, but let's take the one version. So this is any letter and any parcel which is up to a large shoebox size of any material as well, because that's a key thing as well. Sometimes letters are paper, cardboard. Packages could be different types of plastic.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah.

James Patterson: We take any of those parcels or letters, you place it on our kiosk platform and then within seconds the camera, the AI, kicks into place and comes up on the screen and says, "By the way, Sarah, you owe us 50p to send this parcel. Please tap your card. We'll print you off a label. Stick your label on your parcel and just please put it in that dispatch bin over there." And you've cut down that process, which at minimum, I'm probably being cautious here when I say five minutes. You've cut down that process to 20, 30 seconds.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: That is a great example of leveraging that computer vision with OpenVINO, pairing with a weigh scale and then essentially just giving a location for a customer to place that parcel and then giving them those options, "Do you want silver service, next day, three-day service?" Prints a ticket. It allows the counter, then, to spend the time for maybe checking my passport application, insurance documents. They're the skills which the members of staff want to spend time with the customers for those…

James Patterson: [crosstalk].

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: ... extra services.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, yeah.

James Patterson: That's a great point. I think that's a great point just to sort of wrap that bit up on the postal side of things. Post offices now, with their retail spaces, to survive, they don't make much money on returning parcels or letters. That's just the service that they provide. Where they make the money is things like holiday insurance, passport returns, all of those services which they offer to the customers. In the UK, it's expensive. They'll probably offer 150 different services, too, but they're the ones which take human interaction and it's like you said, it frees those people to make those profitable service engagements.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, yeah.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Then just channel that successful eBay-er with 50 parcels to the kiosk.

James Patterson: Yeah.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yep, yep.

Dean Gratton: You touch upon artificial intelligence, James, and that's something I want to touch upon with you. Of course, it's enduring a load of hyperbole at the moment because it's been exaggerated as being bloated out of all proportion. But in terms of Box, what does artificial intelligence mean for you?

James Patterson: Yeah, I think when we look at any technology, and I think let's bring AI into the mix as well, we always start off with: What is the problem we're trying to solve? And can we use elements of our technology suite to help solve that problem, not just for technology's sake? So I think the AI piece, for us, those two examples that we've used, it's about using computer vision and a camera combination technology to automate a process that improves the customer experience, is probably how I would summarize that.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Do you see your use of AI learning from what it's doing and evolving for consumers?

James Patterson: 100%. I think like going to the postal side of things, it sounds really simple to be able to measure any parcel with any type of material. That sounds like we just tick a box. But there's a lot of work our teams have to go into. Train the algorithm, go through that process of understanding that, "Okay, I have a letter. This is paper material. This is a shoebox and this is made out of cardboard." So I think 100%, there's a lot of energy. Leonard, you could probably touch on the technicalities. That's definitely Leonard's forte. Then again…

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, I think that…

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Yeah. I think when we talk about AI, we also put in there machine learning and deep learning. And as well the customer experience, the retailer also gets the efficiencies and accuracies out of the technology. So instead of using a tape measure for the customer to manually type in the dimensions and you would want to err on the side of smaller to get a better price, they actually get an accurate dimension there with the camera, which is trained.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: In terms of a society in general's special needs, I know when I queued, again, we talked about when I queued at the post office on that particular day, I saw an awful lot of elderly people with special needs worrying about how they were going to handle their packages, who was going to help them. To have something where, basically, everything was done for them through technology, yes, it might be a little bit scary for them, but I think, ultimately, it's a great enabler.

James Patterson: Definitely. What we say to any of our customers which are going on pilots or even adopting this type of technology at scale, it's not just about the technology. You have to go through an implementation process as a business with your customers.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Absolutely.

James Patterson: I think one of the biggest shifts that we saw in our core markets was when supermarkets suddenly decided that they were going to introduce self-checkouts. Everyone stayed, I was one of them. I would literally avoid them like the plague. It was like, "Wow, what is that? What is that thing?" Then suddenly supermarkets went, "Okay. Initially, what we're going to do is we're going to put a couple of people around the technology. We'll show you how to use it." Then human beings are quite adaptable, right? Once we've seen and once we've done something once, twice, three times, it becomes second nature and then we adopt it. So yeah, I think it's as much about the technology but how you implement that and how you take your customers, whether they're elderly, whatever the generation, really, take them on that journey. Technology, just put it out in isolation, never has the success which people hope it will.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah, because education is so important, I think. We're not all digitally knowledgeable.

Dean Gratton: True, that.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: The technology isn't everything. People still do still expect that human touch and I can give an example with one of our self-checkout trials. One of the regular customers, elderly lady, she did come in essentially crying because she's saying, "This is my one interaction a week, talking to Mavis over here. Don't allow her to lose her job." So there is a balance around not making our environments clean and cold and blue and actually still having that human touch. I think that's where technology allows that. It does allow us to release resources to give that better interaction and experience.

James Patterson: That's important for the elderly, yeah.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: So important, and actually, you probably all know as well, I think I heard somewhere that people, the elderly, will actually go to a supermarket not necessarily to buy anything, just to have a conversation.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So I think as well as technology being scary for the elderly, we're all getting older and we have got an upside-down triangle in the UK as a population tree. So there will be, in the next 20 to 30 years, a lot more elderly people than there are younger people. So we will be leveraging that technology and AI. But also, I can't wait until my car can act as my payment gateway when I'm going through a drive-through. Why leaning out to tap a payment device on a stick? I want just the presence of my vehicle to authorize a transaction. I think that is very close. I'm not sure.

Dean Gratton: I think so.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Tesla's working on that right now.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: The use of Intel, we've talked about the post delay, iKiosk. Also, let's talk about how you're using it in retail in terms of Intel technology on a daily basis for retail organizations.

James Patterson: Yeah. I think one of the most exciting things that, to be honest, I've personally ever been involved in from a technology perspective was, yeah, we took a mission as a business a couple of years ago after customer demand, really, where if you have a store, so whether you're a retailer, whether you're a restaurant, whether you're a bank, whether you're a gaming business, the way that service is delivered to those stores hasn't innovated for years. What I mean by that is there is still so much human interaction.

So, if I play out a scenario here. So let's take a said supermarket. So said supermarket has all of these devices, all of these computer devices, whether they're till points, whether they're mobility tablets, whether they're digital signage screens, whether they're back-office workstations. Now, any of this computer device, they've got thousands of these across their estate. Currently, a lot of them don't have a single view, a basic form, of all of their connected devices. So when something goes wrong, so supermarket one, let's say till point one has an issue, the current process is someone in that store has to, one, notice that there's a problem and then they'll ring up their service desk and they'll say, "Till one in London Mayfair store, we have a problem." There's a bit of human interaction, a bit of triaging: "Let's go through these five steps. Let's see whether we can fix it."

Then they can't fix it over the phone, so then they migrate to, "Okay. We need to send an engineer to that site." So they then log a call with the engineering team. They then put a part in their van and they drive to the store and fix it. That is the process which, like I said, has been carried out for a long period of time. The reality is, just throwing more people at it, one, adds cost to the service, which in this current climate, everyone is looking at how they can save costs. But also there's no use of technology there, really. How can we use technology to improve this?

So we basically took a mantra which was totally out of our markets, really. We looked at the automated space and we went, "Okay, so we get into our cars each day and we are totally connected." If my left brake pad, if that's reached its limit, I get a pop-up on my dashboard which says, "You need to go and see the local garage." If my oil's running low, if my tire pressure is not what it needs to be, all this information is proactively presented to me. So totally polar opposites to artificial markets, and if something goes wrong within a store environment, there has to be that human intervention.

So we were looking in January at a software application, which fundamentally converges those two worlds. Some of the features within the software, we discussed about AI earlier, so there's going to be an AI feature within there, which it will be continuously monitoring the supermarket's connected estate. Before there's any human intervention, if it notices that something's wrong, let's just take an example, till one's screen's not turning on for whatever reason, before the human intervention, there'll be a number of steps that the actual application will go through to try and fix that problem. Obviously, with machine learning over a period of time, what it will do, it would start to prioritize those steps depending on what are the common trends which the application sees within that particular retailer. So, that's one side of it.

Also, taking it further sort of beyond that is looking at predictive analytics. So every computer device, whether it's a piece of memory, an SSD, a touchscreen, all of these things, they all have a what we refer to as an MTBF figure, a mean time before failure. We're putting that data together in our system and then basically what we can then do is rather than when something goes wrong, there'll be alerting parts of the system which will say, "Okay, actually, till number one within Piccadilly store, that's coming within 5% of its recommended service life. Do you want to swap that out?" as an example.

The other part which it brings, because everything is connected, is life cycle management of those devices. We can then look at, if you took a traditional supermarket, they may have 10 rows of tills. Row one to three are probably used 75% of the time because they're the ones that are open, they're the ones that the customers tend to go to. Three to six may be 50% of the time. Six to 10 is probably only 25% of the time. Currently, it's very, very difficult for any retailer or any customer to actually look at that, all of those devices, and go, "Okay. This is the life cycle I've got left." Our system gives you that. So then you can actually, rather than go and buy all new devices, you could swap tills six to 10 with one to four and get more out of your hardware platforms.

So that's a couple of things which we'll be delivering in the software application, but our mission for this is to change the game, the way that service is delivered to retail sites. We're a service company ourselves, so we've looked at customers’ real life data. Where we're at currently is we know that we can solve 36%, at minimum, of what would have been engineers arriving at site with a part in their van. We all live in an environmentally friendly world now. The less we can do that, the better. We can basically reduce that number down by 36% by having a system and our software application sitting on these devices, having remote fixtures, having fixtures by AI, creating uptime. So it's really, really powerful and, really, a start of a journey for us of where we're going with this.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah. So obviously Intel, that's helping you become this game changer.

James Patterson: Yeah, definitely. So, Leonard, you can obviously touch on some elements here as well, but we work very, very closely with Intel. Intel have some technology around vPro and various other things, which we're closely sort of integrating and partnering with as well. So yeah, a huge, huge part of this development. And you…

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Yeah. I think just to add to that, James, is the key role of that service is the investment in these devices, they need to work. So we want to maximize that uptime. Anytime a device is removed from site, which is faulty, in quotation marks, it goes on its own journey to a repair center then has miles in carbon footprint added to that. You mentioned vPro and AMT technologies. There's a part to play with those technologies. But we do have devices that don't qualify for those technologies. So we are writing our own custom firmware to surface that information. So it's not as shallow as a utility on Windows. It goes up to the cloud and right down to the metal on our devices.

Dean Gratton: Is there anything else you guys want to touch upon before we conclude?

James Patterson: No. I'm trying to think if there's anything else. No, I think we've covered a really broad area across the self-checkout side of things and innovation there. AI through self-service kiosks. We're also developing certain AI cameras for vertical markets as well. The engagement around mobilizing devices and point-of-sale devices, and what we said there around changing the game, delivering smart service to our customers. I think, really, it has been a fantastic session, really, with you guys. Is there any other questions you've got for us at all?

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: There's elements of what we talked about that I'd love to drill deeper with you guys into a…

Dean Gratton: Yeah, I would certainly like to drill deeper with you guys about artificial intelligence. That's going to be whole different sections, yeah.

James Patterson: Yeah.

Dean Gratton: And open lots of one, I guess.

James Patterson: Well, we don't discriminate and I'm certainly a big fan of wines, so be in anytime.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: We have had a fabulous time talking to you guys. It's been so insightful and so informative. I hope the listeners have learned something from this. It's just been wonderful.

Dean Gratton: Let's keep in touch.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Yeah.

Dean Gratton: Until next time.

Leonard Gilbert-Wines: Absolutely. Thank you for having us. It's been a pleasure.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: That's it. Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode.

Dean Gratton: If you've enjoyed this podcast, you can find out more about retail innovation at insight.tech.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: On behalf of Intel, this has been Sarah-Jayne.

Dean Gratton: And Dean Gratton. Until next time.

Sarah-Jayne Gratton: Until next time.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and served as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

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