OK, I know what you’re thinking: “He’s got that title backwards”. Actually, I don’t. The trend to bring computing power to the cloud has been a tremendous revelation for most companies including ours. Even Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office suite is offered through the cloud now.
While Artificial intelligence is making inroads in medicine, banking and finance, it is moving more slowly into the retail inventory space (especially for suppliers). In fact, our RetailNarrative software is the first to ask all the right domain specific questions of retail POS data, score the answers of those questions and produce the top actionable items that could directly affect a retailer’s or manufacturer’s business.
So, while we’re getting used to more sophisticated software that is saving us time and bringing more information to our fingertips, some things remain the same. We still must decipher information, decide what’s relevant, what to act on and then assess risk on taking that action. And our clients, especially the manufacturers, won’t (and shouldn’t) do that in a vacuum. They want to bounce ideas off others to be more confident in their decisions. Whether it’s placing production orders, negotiating margin assistance requests, showing new items to a buyer, the software can only take you so far. Yes, they actually want to talk to another living, breathing person with who offers deep domain expertise.
We’ve been unique in the marketplace in that we have a hybrid business model that offers both consulting and software solutions. The majority of our software clients also subscribe to one of our consulting plans. That’s because even though they may be very good at what they do, they still want outside expertise to help them find answers to questions – even those they don’t even know to ask.
Having a consulting business makes our software better because we can create solutions that solve the most relevant problems our client base faces on a day to day basis. Some clients completely outsource their planning functions to us or we work alongside their planning teams. So we are doing the same work, having the same interactions, and dealing with the same problems as they are. And because we do this for clients in many different product categories, our breadth of expertise is very broad and constantly expands in ways pure software companies can’t.
While the shift from brick & mortar to on-line retailing will continue for the foreseeable future, retailers will still rely on the human touch to curate and market a captivating product offering that will lead to healthy sales and profit. Software (especially involving artificial intelligence) will continue to improve the decision-making ability and optimize distribution, but the sourcing of product remains uniquely human. And the same holds true for the retail business. That’s why we will continue to focus on both software and consulting solutions to fit our client’s needs whether they want more accurate forecasts or just someone with whom to passionately discuss the next retail challenge.