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September 19, 2016
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Future of Retail:  5 Quick Insights From Top European Retailers

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Last week I had a unique opportunity to present to a group of C-level retail industry leaders. Here are five stories I heard that you might find interesting.

These are leaders in Merchandising, Marketing, Infrastructure and IT in top European companies.  The common link was dinner and retail.

I spoke briefly about my experience in retail and adoption of open source big data, such as Hadoop. What was fascinating was hearing the stories about technology and how it impacts their organizations.

At the highest level, my first insight was that they all had a common goal – creative use of technology to drive key business initiatives.

VR Retail: Wave For Bacon

One architect from a well-known restaurant chain talked about the ordering process. Traditional counter sales and drive-through is now changing in fascinating ways. Eventually he believes they will use kiosks to place custom orders, and even wave our hands with Virtual Reality.

Remember Tom Cruise in Minority Report “directing” his report like an orchestra conductor? Consider reaching out to “build” your sandwich in virtual reality, and the final product is delivered to your table! What a fascinating way to get a personalized order in a “hands-on” fashion.

We also discussed biometric identification. Who needs usernames and passwords if your biometric fingerprint is unique and unhackable? By simply providing a view of your fingerprint, your past orders can be displayed, and you can easily repeat orders or get other personalized treatment.

Embedded Wearables … in The Skin!

IoT has become the trending acronym. Impacting everything from vehicles and telemetry, to plant automation and tracking human behavior via wearables. The concept of wearables providing feedback about our bodies is a brilliant way respond to trending issues.

Apparently the latest wearable tech is capable of predicting a heart attack three hours in advance of it happening. This has incredible value to those at risk, and can be used by insurance companies, physicians, and of course patients to track their health and help maintain good practices of exercise and healthy eating.

Wearable tech can also detect alcohol in bloodstream and determine when it is safe to drive, and send haptic feedback with vibrations to the skin, indicating when to relax, reduce stress, and exercise. This fascinating tech was worn as an arm band, but can actually be embedded subcutaneously, simply slipped beneath the skin. A poll was taken to see who was interested in pursuing procedure. We have a candidate and look forward to reports and updates afterwards!

IT Inertia Restricts But Doesn’t Stop Innovation

I was inspired by the concept of “Pioneers, Settlers, and Town Planners” in a reference to this blog.  As tech is created and consumed, we move from the forward thinking ‘tech pioneers’, to the ‘settlers’ who arrange new tech for their business, and the ‘city planners’ who in turn create governance structures and operational guidelines.

Sometimes IT is seen as a force of inertia and can reduce momentum. One interesting part of our discussion addressed when delays are used to manage deployment without risk. This was balanced with the excitement about new tech and how new value received can drive excitement to fuel adoption and business enablement.

Open Hadoop and The Competing Appliances

From an analytics perspective there are now many appliances on the market. Memory-based, columnar, and modified schemas have all recently been introduced in order to provide rapid-response, sub-second performance. Teradata and Netezza are just two companies doing this. When combined with Oracle Exadata, SAP HANA, and IBM Blue, there are now many commercial offerings.

As much of the conversation was focused on technical collaboration, we spent a great bit of time talking about Spark, Hadoop, and the importance of open source and leveraging the power of the community. A quick back of the napkin architectural design showed how any of these in-memory appliances could easily co-exist and actually benefit from a Hadoop Distribution with connections to appliance in order to “right-size the spend, and protect your data.”

Open Source is a Positive-Sum game

As I was thinking about these conversations, I noticed a tweet about the ‘positive-sum game’ with open source.  See this article on ‘Everyone Wins With Open Source Software’

They net of this is that, rather than the zero-sum game of proprietary software, open source provides a positive-sum for retail, and everyone wins. It’s a beneficial way to focus on mutual benefit and common interest. By adding new open source data, organizations can participate as much as they wish in shaping the future direction, leverage the community to drive success and accelerate innovation and collaborate with existing systems to drive business value.

As part of my role managing Industry Solutions for Hortonworks, I see this frequently with our customers. Such an approach can dramatically impact any company. As retailers struggle to engage Millennials and compete with Amazon, this creative approach to tech via open source is even more appropriate. Over time the organization evolves to become more agile, nimble, and responsive to the true business goals.

The stories I heard this week were fascinating, and show a wide variety of technology trends, coupled with a conservative approach to deployment. There is no question that tech can assist the business in creative ways. I would love to hear your opinions on where you are going.

Comment below or connect online to continue the discussion!

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