Technology Record - Issue 31: Winter 2023

144 FEATURE The key to success for any retail organisation lies in understanding its customers, product, supply chain operations and changing market trends and demands. To do this, they need access to data insights. However, getting this information has historically been a time-consuming and expensive process, according to Shanthi Rajagopalan, Microsoft’s head of solutions strategy, worldwide retail and consumer goods. “In the past, getting insights out of your data required you to have access to and gather unstructured data, clean and organise it, then have a highly trained professional execute and interpret statistical analysis and pass this on to be further interpreted by the user of the insights,” says Rajagopalan. “This process requires specialised resources, and it also leaves businesses constrained by the quality of the data as well as their talent and the tools they possess. “We see a lot of retail and consumer goods organisations that just ‘make do’ with the insights they have, which typically consist of simple regression, retrospective analysis and limited data exploration. In short, static reporting which serves up static insights.” This type of data analysis is no longer sufficient for retail organisations contending with fluctuating market changes, supply chain disruption and customers seeking more streamlined shopping experiences. To stay ahead of the game, retailers need to be able to predict the future with more accuracy than before. Generating innovation Innovations such as generative and predictive AI are leading a technology revolution in the retail and consumer goods industry, enabling organisations to introduce solutions that deliver smarter and easier ways for customers to shop and for employees to operate the business. Generative AI also enables retailers to better understand their data and get meaningful insights into their business operations. “Generative AI provides the ability to unlock insights from new sources, or unstructured data that has long been dark for the organisation, and access them using just natural language,” says Rajagopalan. “Imagine the wealth of customer insights hidden in customer service call transcripts, for instance. You can find out what customers like and dislike about products, why they break, what else they would like to see – all these are forward-looking, open-ended insights.” Microsoft’s Shanthi Rajagopalan shares how generative artificial intelligence is driving innovation in the retail industry and improving supply chain operations, customer experience and predictive analysis BY AMBER HICKMAN Reinventing the world of retail