Enterprise hits and misses - Bed Bath & Beyond hits the retail wall, cloud vendors meet headwinds, and the generative AI era rolls on

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed May 1, 2023
This week - it's curtains for Bed, Bath & Beyond - but why? Cloud vendors face the macro-economic headwinds, while consumer sentiment is a mixed bag. The enterprise continues to grapple with generative AI. As always, your whiffs.


Lead story - Bed, Bath & Bankruptcy - what went wrong?

Readers, the day has arrived. Stuart gave Bed Bath & Beyond's retail transformation every chance - taking them to task while keeping a bedside lamp on. Well, as Stuart writes, that lamp got snuffed this week:

Last weekend the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Its 360 stores and 120 buybuy BABY outlets remain open for now as the retailer looks to liquidate its assets. It’s the latest big scalp in a turbulent retail sector, although others in the home furnishing space are plowing on, most notably Williams Sonoma with its pragmatic ‘digital-first, but not digital-only’ operating model. [Bed, Bath & Bankruptcy - cataloging the multi-year failure of an omni-channel retail transformation]

So what went wrong? Stuart quotes retail pundits, then reviews Bed Bath & Beyond's turbulent history on diginomica. He concludes:

It’s not the tech that was the issue - the latter day investments in Google and Oracle as transformation platforms were sound moves. The problem fundamentally lay in lack of vision early enough. Target is often cited as a retail brand that saw the way the wind was blowing and made what many commentators at the time saw as counterintuitive strategic decisions. In his turn as Bed, Bath & Beyond CEO, Tritton, a Target alumni, tried to do the right things, but the pace of change was just too lethargic.

The pandemic provoked change in many retailers, Bed Bath & Beyond included. But being reactive has its pitfalls. Stuart:

The fact that it took COVID to get the firm to a place where BOPIS was a reality speaks volumes. There was a disturbing reliance in the dying days on rolling out calorie-free mission statements and not enough on keeping the corporate foot on the transformation accelerator.

The obvious "don't get comfortable" lesson doesn't quite satisfy here. I derive a different lesson: stay creative, and always push harder - no matter the macro-weather outside. Oh, and go easy on the mission statements.

Diginomica picks - my top stories on diginomica this week

Vendor analysis, diginomica style. Here's my top choices from our vendor coverage:

  • Google Cloud turns in its first quarterly profit, but growth slows as the macro-economic crisis tightens - Google Cloud is getting its (financial) act together, but as Stuart reports, it's happening in a difficult economic context. He quotes CFO Ruth Porat: "The point we are trying to underscore is there is uncertainty in the economic environment. And so we saw some headwind from slower growth of consumption with customers really looking to optimize their costs given that macro climate."
  • ServiceNow hits first $2bn quarter, beats expectations and raises guidance - Derek on a milestone quarter for ServiceNow. How is ServiceNow thriving where other vendors are struggling? Derek quotes CEO Bill McDermott: "When you filter all that noise, it comes down to one simple reality: there is an app for everything, but nobody wants every app. This consolidation is a tailwind for ServiceNow, as the intelligent platform for end-to-end digital transformation."
  • OneStream in the new ML-powered CPM World - Brian's back with fresh tarmac burn from the OneStream's Splash show, where the Sensible ML news grabbed the headlines: "OneStream’s Shea also used some of his opening keynote time to describe how recent innovations in large language models, ChatGPT, etc. have left him pondering a number of thoughts re: how and what applications will be in the coming months or years. For example, he showed how an AI tool trained on OneStream’s documentation can answer far more specific questions, offer multifaceted answers, etc. than any prior generalized chatbot. On stage he asked the utility to show how a customer could create new working capital functionality in one of their CPM applications. The software didn’t just return a canned response. Instead, it formulated a 5-step method for him to follow and even suggested some highly accurate code to insert in the recommended solution."
  • Early AI adopter Informatica is set up for the generative age, but not profiting yet - Chris looks at how one of the data platform stalwarts is approaching generative AI.

A few more vendor picks, without the quotables:

Jon's grab bag - Madeline continues her "What I'd say to me" series with a leader I've been personally impressed with: What I’d say to me back then – SAP’s Etosha Thurman on dealing with micro-aggressions, hair anxiety, and colleagues ignoring her emails. George takes a different AI angle in Built-world AI start-ups lead investments overtake FinTech and marketing. Are we at the quantum tipping point? Chris takes another look in Quantum commercialization – softly, softly towards the inevitable future, says backer.

Finally, I continued my deep dives into automation maturity and roadblocks in Debating the automation skills paradox - can we democraticize enterprise automation? Automation Anywhere weighs in  Is the automation skills paradox a thing? It all depends on whether the democratization of automation tools is a reality on the ground.

Best of the enterprise web

Waiter suggesting a bottle of wine to a customer

My top seven

Ten Things about AI - another crucial voice in enterprise tech weighs in on AI: RedMonk's Stephen O'Grady. My stance on AI job loss has changed. Why? Because over the years, I've gone much deeper into the tech, and seen its limitations. Automation eats jobs, but doesn't necessarily swallow job markets. As for O'Grady, tying AI into his prior analysis of "cloud primitives" is revealing. As he points out, crucial LLM questions are not yet answered:

The question facing the industry at present, then, is not whether generative AI can serve as an abstraction over various primitives, but what the appropriate level of abstraction is. How much specificity and guidance is required? What can be left to the AI, and what has to remain solidly in the hands of humans?The market is, as might be expected, aggressively experimenting with this question at present.

Overworked businessman


The coveted Styx "Too Much Time On My Hands" award goes to the Newfoundland man who documented a phallic iceberg. By the way, via this all-time-food-failures list, di did you know Colgate once made a lasagna?

Another week, another helping of AI snark:

A double dose, actually:

I'll save further vinegar for ChatGPT life hackers for another time - it's hard enough keeping up with their mind-blowing personal efficiency gains (and play-by-play updates about those gains) as it is. For now - parrots are smart! See you next week...

If you find an #ensw piece that qualifies for hits and misses - in a good or bad way - let me know in the comments as Clive (almost) always does. Most Enterprise hits and misses articles are selected from my curated @jonerpnewsfeed.

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