The Record - Issue 20: Spring 2021

36 www. t e c h n o l o g y r e c o r d . c om I ’ve never seen anything like what we had last year,” says Shelley Bransten. The corporate vice president of global consumer goods and retail at Microsoft has worked in retail for over 25 years, the last seven of which have been at the intersection of retail and technology. “This intersection continues to be one of the most exciting places to be. The retailers and brands who laid those digital tracks early will actually come out of this stronger than pre-pandemic. I’m incredibly optimistic in spite of all the things that we’re seeing around us.” Almost every person on the planet buys and/or sells goods. This vast customer base for retail is likely a factor in its rapid innovation during try- ing times. “There was a 10-year leap in e-commerce in 10 months,” says Bransten. “The pace of adoption of things like kerbside pick-up has emboldened the industry to go faster and be more nimble and agile. It is something we’ve been talking about for a long time, but this was the shot in the arm to go.” At the 2021 iteration of the National Retail Federation’s annual ‘Retail’s Big Show’, Microsoft private previewed its new Cloud for Retail. The industry-specific platform has been designed to help retailers address business needs by turning data into insights. “My job is to make sure we’re listening to our customers about the problems they face and use Microsoft solutions to address them,” says Bransten. “Our customers have consistently said that they need our technology to connect across and around the shopper journey. They also need our help to adopt technology faster, for example by bringing together our technology and that of our partners to make it modular and interoper- able. And that’s what Cloud for Retail really is. “It brings together the best of everything we have, whether that’s Azure, Power Platform or Dynamics 365, as well as solutions from our incredible ecosystem of partners. It’s what our customers asked us to do and means we can pro- vide great solutions, for kerbside pick-up, better personalisation or a retail media centre.” The Cloud for Retail private preview received over 30,000 blog views, which Bransten believes is an indication that the market is ready for this level of technology. “Four or five years ago, we were still convincing retailers that they should feel comfortable put- ting their data in the cloud,” she says. “We’re not having those conversations anymore. Now our customers are most interested in how to future- proof and how they can access our technologies more easily and in a more modular way.” Microsoft Cloud for Retail is a key enabler of innovation for the partner community – and it is this partner-centric focus that Bransten believes sets Microsoft apart. “Our partner ecosystem is one of the elements that truly differentiates Microsoft when I’m talking to retailers or consumer packaged goods businesses,” she says. “The customer wants the best solutions from really interesting partners and start-ups who are exploring, for example, autonomous stores. But they also want our reli- able technology. Our partners bet their business on Microsoft and it’s our job to help them get out there and show up for customers.” Covid-19 has accelerated this level of part- nership, community and innovation across the E X E CUT I V E I NT E R V I EW We spoke with Microsoft’s Shelley Bransten about the new Microsoft Cloud for Retail, the importance of the partner ecosystem in meeting the needs of end consumers, and how the Covid-19 pandemic has helped progressive retailers to drive sales Adversity breeds innovation BY ANDY C L AY TON - SM I TH “