Enterprise hits and misses - taking stock of AI in retail, Black History Month's tech voices, and the COVID-19 data challenge

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed February 8, 2021
This week - AI in retail gets realistic; Black History Month brings needed scrutiny to diversity in tech. COVID-19's data challenges get a tech boost, and Google makes enterprise moves. Your whiffs include Amazon's (lack of) employee experience, and my no-blockchain show rule.

King Checkmate

Lead story - AI in retail - realistic use cases

MyPOV: If you're like me, you dread the "shiny new AI tool is a game-changer" powder-puffery marketing schlock that threatens to turn our social feed into a game show.

But AI-in-action use cases, warts and all? Count me in. Stuart put retail AI in focus, starting with AI in Retail - automating supply chain management and fulfillment at Wakefern and Loblaws:

One of the benefits of tapping into AI and machine learning for store replenishment has been freeing up store associates as well as ensuring the shelves are full, says Wakefern CIO Cheryl Williams.

Madeline documents retail AI benefits in AI in Retail - Ocado goes bananas for robot food pickers - but Ocado's AI adventures are a work in progress. Example: Ocado is still working out how robots can "pick":

Ocado still faces a challenge with the robots over their limitations as item pickers. While they’re capable of swiftly locating the right storage container to fulfil customer orders, they can’t yet be trusted to pack the items themselves.

Black History Month - tech voices speak up

Black History Month isn't necessarily about looking back for inspiration. It's also about addressing the disparities and misconceptions that make our tech industry bland and exclusionary. Ergo, Madeline's Black History Month - SAP's diversity chief busts the talent pipeline myth. As for employers who claim there isn't enough minority tech talent:

Not so, says Judith Michelle Williams, Head of People Sustainability and Chief Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) officer at SAP – and she has the stats to prove it.

Such as: African-Americans make up 5-6 percent of the talent in the tech sector. So why are we only at 3 percent of the employed tech workforce? Madeline quotes Williams:

I'm a data person, I always look at the numbers. If we are at three percent [of Black employees] - which we are - it means that we have not exhausted the pipeline. If we were sitting at six percent, I might say it's going to be a challenge to double that, but we're not. So any of those pipeline discussions, you have to make sure that you're actually getting the representation of the existing pipeline.

Madeline also looked at how Salesforce is doing it: Black History Month - being a force for change as Salesforce seeks to elevate Black voices - including training 7,500 racial equality allies, and overhauling recruitment practices.

In Black History Month - checking in on the tech sector's Black equality commitments, from watches to OneTen. Stuart examined Apple's commitments (beyond fancy watches, which is surely not enough). He also takes an unsparing look at where the industry stands now:

But however commendable such actions may be in their own way, the elephant in the room still remains that of 'putting your own house in order’ in terms of Black representation in the workforce, particularly in leadership positions. Nearly 57 years after the Civil Rights Act, only four CEOs in the Fortune 500 are Black.

Yep, we have work to do.

Vendor analysis, diginomica style.

A few more vendor picks, without the quips:

Jon's grab bag - I know what you're thinking: you'd rather browse floral arrangements on Pinterest paint a wall and watch it dry than read about tracking time with precision in ERP. But as Brian explains in  Time changes & the impact on ERP, accounting and business practices, this is a core issue for modernizing ERP systems - and factories of the future.

Cath raises the necessary in: AI - wealth generator for some, systemic inequality enforcer for others? Meanwhile, Kurt surfaces new enterprise issues in Bitcoin in your portfolio - why more corporations are adding cryptocurrency to their balance sheets. I also recommend Kurt's open cloud vs. open source reveal from last week, Shots fired in disputes over OSS-as-a-Service. Finally, Derek thinks that Clubhouse - the social media newbie has huge potential for B2B (Bonus: Den and I took the p!ss jousted around in the comments section with diginomica readers, and each other).

Best of the enterprise web

Waiter suggesting a bottle of wine to a customer

My top seven picks  

Overworked businessman


I'm not sure if this was high on the list of "urgently-needed innovations," but anyhow:

More fun goofing on the ever-helpful LinkedIn algorithm:

On a more serious note, guess we better scale back that "employee experience" CX cotton candy we've been handing out:

Finally, I took a shot at blockchain via the rules of my video show, which prohibits the word:

The article on IBM was pretty speculative, and I had no interest in singling out IBM. As a bonus, venting that out led to one of the more thoughtful blockchain discussions I've seen on Twitter in a while. See you next time...

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. 'myPOV' is borrowed with reluctant permission from the ubiquitous Ray Wang.

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