Digital transformation is an existential necessity for retailers, according to Walmart’s president and CEO. That’s because implementing real-time analytics and other technology can help organizations better compete in an increasingly high-tech market — and (continue to) put people first.

“Data is the thread that runs through everything,” Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon said at GRC 2019. (Kristen Hanning, University of Arizona)

“Data and tech that are now available to us as tools are going to determine […] survival — and whether or not you can thrive,” Doug McMillon said onstage at GRC 2019. “The complication isn’t in one area of technology; it’s in how they collide with each other.”

These colliding technologies include advanced analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI), as well as robotics, virtual reality (VR), and others that “are in some state of being already,” McMillon noted. Retail executives needn’t understand the intricacies of these systems, but they should definitely understand how to use them.


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Keeping People at the Center

“Think about what use cases are you solving for,” McMillon said. “What are you trying to do for customers, either in terms of innovation … or the removal of friction and solving problems?”

Technology has helped Walmart turn its focus on the customer into a practical strategy, according to McMillon. And a top-down approach to innovation has also encouraged formerly siloed teams to work holistically.

“You identify the specific customer journeys or problems that you want to solve, and you work with product management, design thinking, engineering and other parts of the business to solve them in a faster cycle — so that things get done that you couldn’t otherwise get done,” McMillon said. “And at the same time, you’re deploying hardware and technology that helps bring the whole thing to life.”

The right data analytics solution can be a crucial part of that process.

Embracing All Kinds of Data

Real-time data analytics can help people throughout the organization — from executives to store operations — drill down into relevant data across multiple dimensions, such as regional performance, product categories and departments. This up-to-the-minute information empowers users to build on what’s working, fix what isn’t, and predict future outcomes.

“What’s really new and exciting about how SAP Digital Boardroom is evolving is [its compatibility with] additional datasets,” Dan Moran, pre-sales for SAP Retail, said during a demonstration at GRC 2019 (see video above). “So we’re really marrying the operational information with the experience data.”

Experience data offers insights into how customers feel about overall brand, products, styles, in-store experiences and more. You might gather this data from Qualtrics, an experience management software provider that evaluates customer satisfaction based on surveys, online comments and other interactions with shoppers.

Analyzing operational, sentiment and other data will be key to a smoothly running retail machine, according to Walmart’s McMillon.

Remembering Who’s in the Middle

“Data is the thread that runs through everything,” McMillon said. But data isn’t at the center. “There’s a life and a customer in the middle who is surrounded, not only with data and technology, but people.”

Digitally transforming the way Walmart conceives of and operates its business was a big change, according to McMillon. But the retailer’s commitment to low prices helped it optimize its supply chain, which helped it lower costs, which helped it lower prices. And, through it all, Walmart has kept people at the center of everything.

“We’re not a tech company; we’re people-led and tech-empowered,” McMillon said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have cool tech… We do, but we also care about people — and it’s a people-first business.”

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