Retail Technology and Innovation – a Conversation with Michael Guzzetta


Retail Technology and Innovation – A Conversation with Michael Guzzetta

We recently spent some time with Michael Guzzetta, a seasoned retail technology and innovation executive and consultant who has worked with brands such as The Walt Disney Company, Microsoft, See’s Candies, and H-E-B.

Tell me about your background. What brought you to retail?

Like many people, I launched my retail career in high school when I worked in the men’s department at Robinson’s May. I also worked for The Warehouse (music retailer) and was a CSR at Blockbuster video – strangely, I still miss the satisfaction of organizing tapes on shelves.

I ignited my tech career in 2001 when I started working in payment processing and cloud-based tech, and then I returned to retail in 2009 when I joined Disney Store North America, one of the world’s strongest retail brands.

During my tenure at Disney, I had the privilege of working at the intersection of creative, marketing, and mobile/digital innovation. And this is where the innovation bug bit me and kicked off my decades-long work on omnichannel innovation projects. I seek opportunities to test and deploy in-store technology to simplify experiences for customers and employees, increase sales, and drive demand. Since jump-starting this journey at Disney Store, I’ve also helped See’s Candies, Microsoft, and H-E-B to advance their digital transformation through retail innovation.

What are some of the retail technologies that got you started?

I’ve seen it all! I’ve re-platformed eCommerce sites, deployed beacons and push notifications, deployed in-store traffic counting, worked on warehouse efficiency, automated and integrated buyer journeys and omnichannel programs, and more. I recently built a 20k SF innovation lab space to run proofs-of-concept to validate tech, test, and deployment in live environments. Smart checkout, supply chain, inventory management, eCommerce… you name it.

What are the biggest innovation challenges in retail today?

Some questions that keep certain retailers up at night are, “How can we simplify the shopping experience for customers and make it easier for them to check out?”, “How can we optimize our supply chain and inventory operations?”, “How can we improve accuracy for customers shopping online and reduce substitutions and shorts in fulfillment?” and “How can we make it easier and more efficient for personal shoppers to shop curbside and home delivery orders?” Not to mention, “What is the future of retail, and which technologies can help us stay competitive?”

I see potential in several trends to address those challenges, but my top three are:

Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning – AI will continue to revolutionize retail. It’s permeated most of the technology we use today, whether it’s SAAS or hardware, like smart self-checkout. You can use AI, computer vision, and machine learning to identify products and immediately put them in your basket. AI is embedded in our everyday lives – it powers the smart assistants we use daily, monitors our social media activity, helps us book our travel, and runs self-driving cars, among dozens of other applications. And as a subset of AI, Machine Learning allows models to continue learning and improving, further advancing AI capabilities. I could go on but suffice it to say that the retailer that nails AI first wins.

Computer vision. Computer vision has a sizable opportunity to solve inventory issues, especially for grocery brands. Today, there’s a gap between online inventory and what’s on the shelf since the inventory system can’t keep pace with what’s stocked and on the shelves for personal shoppers, which is frustrating for customers who don’t expect substitutions or out-of-stock deliveries. With the advent of computer vision cameras, you can combine those differences and see what is on the shelf in real-time to inform what is available online accurately. Computer vision-supported inventory management will be vital to creating a truly omnichannel experience. Computer vision also enables smart shopping carts, self-checkout kiosks, loss prevention, and theft prevention. Not to mention Amazon’s use of CV cameras with their Just Walk Out tech in Amazon Go, Amazon Fresh, and specific Whole Foods locations. It has endless applications for retail and gives you the eyes online that you can’t get in stores today.

Robotics. In the last five years, robotics has taken a seismic leap, and a shift has happened, which you can see in massive, automated fulfillment centers like those operated by Amazon, Kroger, and Walmart. A brand can deliver groceries in a region without having a physical store, thanks to robotic fulfillment centers and distribution centers. It’s a game-changer. Robotics has many functions beyond fulfillment in retail, but this application truly stands out.

What is a missed opportunity that more retail brands should take advantage of?

Data. Data is huge, and its importance can’t be understated. It’s a big, missed opportunity for retailers today. Improving data management, governance, and sanitation is a massive opportunity for retailers that want to innovate.

Key opportunity areas around data in retail include customer experience (know your customer), understanding trends related to customer buying habits, and innovation. You can’t innovate at any speed with dirty data.

There’s a massive digital transformation revolution underway among retailers, and they are trying to innovate with data, but they have so much data that it can be overwhelming. They are trying to create data lakes, a single source of truth, and sometimes they can’t work because of disparate data networks. I believe that some of the more prominent retailers will have their data act together in a few years.

“Dirty data” results from companies being around for a long time, so they’ve accrued multiple data sets and cloud providers, and their data hasn’t been merged and cleaned. If you don’t have the right data, you are making decisions based on bad or old data, which could hurt you strategically or literally.

What do you wish more people understood about retail technology and innovation?

Technology will not replace people. In my experience, technology is meant to enhance the human experience, which includes employees. If technology simplifies the process so much that the employees become idle, they are typically trained to manage the technology or cross-trained to grow their careers. Technology isn’t replacing the human experience any time soon, although it is undoubtedly changing the existing work experience – ideally for the better, both for the employees and the bottom line.

Technology doesn’t always lower costs for retailers. Hardware innovation requires significant capital expenses when it’s deployed chain-wide. Amazon’s “Just Walk Out” is impressive technology, but the infrastructure, cloud computing costs, and computer vision cameras are insanely expensive. In 5 years, that may be different, but today it is a loss leader. It’s worth it for Amazon because they can get positive press, demonstrate innovation, and show industry leadership. But Amazon has not lowered its operating costs with “Just Walk Out.” This is just one example, but there are many out there.

Online shopping will not eliminate brick-and-mortar shopping. If the pandemic has taught us anything, online shopping is here to stay – and convenience is extremely attractive to consumers. But I think people will never stop going to stores because people love shopping. The experience you get by tangibly picking something up and engaging with employees in a store location will always be around, even with the advent of the Metaverse.

Retail technology

What are some brands that excite you right now because of how they use technology?

Amazon. What they have been doing with Just Walk Out technology, dash carts, smart shelves, and other IoT technology puts Amazon at the front of the innovation pack. Let’s not forget that they’ve led the way in same or next-day delivery by innovating with their automated fulfillment centers! They have the desire, the resources, and the talent to be the frontrunner for years to come.

Alibaba. This Chinese company is another retailer that uses technology in incredible ways. Their HEMA retail grocery stores are packed with innovation and technology. They have IoT sensors across the stores, electronic shelf labels, facial recognition cameras so you can check out with your face, and robotic kitchens where your order is made and delivered on conveyor belts. They also have conveyors throughout the store, so a personal shopper can shop by zone, then hook bags to be carried to the wareroom for sortation and delivery prep – it’s impressive.

Walmart and Kroger. Both brands’ use of automated fulfillment centers (AFCs) and drone technology (among many others) are pushing the boundaries of grocery retail today. Their AFCs cast a much wider net and have expanded their existing markets, so, for example, we may see Kroger trucks in neighborhoods that don’t have a store in sight.

Home Depot. They have a smart app with 3D augmented reality and robust in-store mapping/wayfinding. Their use of machine learning is also impressive. For example, it helps them better understand what type of projects a customer might be working on based on their browsing and shopping habits.

Sephora. They use beacon technology to bring people with the Sephora app into the store and engage them. They have smart mirrors that help customers pick the right makeup for their skin tone and provide tutorials. Customers can shop directly through smart mirrors or work with an in-store makeup artist.

What advice do you have for retailers that want to invest in technology innovation?

My first piece of advice is to include change management in the project planning from the start.

There are inherent challenges in retail innovation, often due to change management issues. When a company has been around for decades or even more than a century, they operate with well-known, trusted, and often outdated infrastructure. While that infrastructure can’t uphold the company for the next several decades or centuries, there can be a fear of significant change and a deeply rooted preference for existing systems. There can be a fear of job loss because of the misconception that technology will replace people in retail.

Bring those change-resistant people into the innovation process early and often and invite them to be part of the idea generation. Any technology solution needs to be designed with the user’s needs in mind, and this audience is a core user group. Think “lean startup” approach.

My second piece of advice is to devote enough resources to innovation and give the innovation team the power to make decisions. The innovation team should still operate with lean resources, focusing on minimum viable products and proofs of concept, so failures aren’t cost-prohibitive. The innovation team performs best when it has the autonomy to test, learn, and fail as they explore innovative solutions. Then, it reports its findings and recommendations to higher-ups to calibrate and pivot where needed.

In closing, I’d say the key to innovation success is embracing the notion of failure. Failure has value! Put another way; failure is the fast track to learning. Learning what not to do and what to try next can help a retail company to accelerate faster than the competition. Think MVP, stay lean, get validated feedback quickly, and iterate until you have a breakthrough. And always maintain a growth mindset – never stop learning and growing.

Additional resources:


3 Reasons Companies Advance Their Data Journey to Combat Economic Pressure


3 Reasons Companies Advance Their Data Journey to Combat Economic Pressure

By Danny Vally

Have you updated your organization’s data journey lately? We are living in the Zettabyte Era, because the volume, velocity, and variety of data assets being managed by companies are big and getting bigger.

data journey

Data is getting more complicated and siloed. Today’s data is more complex than the data a typical business managed just twenty years ago. Even small companies deal with large data sets from disparate sources that can be complicated to process. Each data set may have its own unique structure, size, query language, and type.

The types of data are also changing quickly. What used to be managed in spreadsheets now demands automated systems, machine data, social network data, IoT data, customer data, and more.

There are real economic advantages for companies that take advantage of the data opportunity by investing in digital transformation (often starting by moving data to the cloud). Companies that take control of data outperform the competition:

  • 40% more revenue per employee
  • 50% higher average net income on revenue
  • $100M in additional operating income annually

Common data journey scenarios that motivate data-driven investments include:

  • Understand and predict customer behavior in real-time
  • Cut costs and free up resources with simplified data analysis
  • Explore new business models by finding new relationships in data
  • Eliminate surprise and unnecessary expenses
  • Gather and unify data to better understand your business

A data strategy is more than a single tool, dashboard, or report. A mature data strategy for any business includes a roadmap to plan the company’s data architecture, migration, integration, and management. Building in governance planning to ensure data security, integrity, access, quality, and protection will empower a business to scale.

That roadmap may also include incorporating artificial intelligence and machine learning, which unleashes predictive analytics, deep learning, and neural networks. While these once were understood to be tools available only to the world’s largest businesses, AI and ML are actually being deployed at even small and midsized businesses, with much success.

We work with organizations throughout their data journey by helping to establish where they are, where they want to go, and what they want to achieve.

A data journey usually starts by understanding data sources and organizing the data. Many organizations have multiple data sources, so creating a common data store is an important starting point. Once the data is organized, we can harness insights from the data using reporting and visualization, which enables a real-time understanding of key metrics.  Ensuring data governance and trust in sharing data is another important step, which is often supported by security. Lastly, advanced data can use artificial intelligence and machine learning to look for data trends or predict behaviors and extract new insights. By understanding where your organization is in its data journey, you can begin to visualize its next step. 

Additional resources:


Set Your Data Retention Policy Up for Success


Set Your Data Retention Policy Up for Success: Free Download

This free downloadable paper explores best practices in setting up a data retention policy, and then how to develop your business’s policy.

Every business needs a strategy to manage its data, and that strategy should include a plan for data retention.

data retention policy

This is a must-read for any business that collects, houses, or uses data!

Download Now to Set Your Data Policy Up for Success

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Data Mesh Architecture in Cloud-Based Data Warehouses


Data Mesh Architecture in Cloud-Based Data Warehouses

Data is the new black gold in business. In this post, we explore how shifts in technology, organization processes, and people are critical to achieving the vision for a data-driven company that deploys data mesh architecture in cloud-based warehouses like Snowflake and Azure Synapse.

The true value of data comes from the insights gained from data that is often siloed and spans across structured, semi-structured, and unstructured storage formats in terabytes and petabytes. Data mining helps companies to gather reliable information, make informed decisions, improve churn rate and increase revenue.

Every company could benefit from a data-first strategy, but without effective data architecture in place, companies fail to achieve data-first status.

For example, a company’s Sales & Marketing team needs data to optimize cross-sell and up-sell channels, while its product teams want cross-domain data exchange for analytics purposes. The entire organization wishes there was a better way to source and manage the data for its needs like real-time streaming and near-real-time analytics. To address the data needs of the various teams, the company needs a paradigm shift to fast adoption of Data Mesh Architecture, which should be scalable & elastic.

Data Mesh architecture is a shift both in technology as well as in organization, processes, and people.

Before we dive into Data Mesh Architecture, let’s understand its 4 core principles:

  1. Domain-oriented decentralized data ownership and architecture
  2. Data as a product
  3. Self-serve data infrastructure as a platform
  4. Federated computational governance

Big data is about Volume, Velocity, Variety & Veracity. The first principle of Data mesh is founded on decentralization and distribution of responsibility to the SME\Domain Experts who own the big data framework.  

This diagram articulates the 4 core principles of Data Mesh and the distribution of responsibility at a high level.

Azure: Each team is responsible for its own domain, and data is decentralized and shared with other domains for data exchange and data as a product.
Snowflake: Each team is responsible for its own domain, and data is decentralized and shared with other domains for data exchange and data as a product.

Each Domain data is decentralized in its own data warehouse cloud. This model applies to all data warehouse clouds, such as Snowflake, Azure Synapse, and AWS Redshift.  

A cloud data warehouse is built on top of a multi-cloud infrastructure like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP), which allows compute and storage to scale independently. These data warehouse products are fully managed and provide a single platform for data warehousing, data lakes, data science team and to provide data sharing for external consumers.

As shown below, data storage is backed by cloud storage from AWS S3, Azure Blob, and Google, which makes Snowflake highly scalable and reliable. Snowflake is unique in its architecture and data sharing capabilities. Like Synapse, Snowflake is elastic and can scale up or down as the need arises.

From legacy monolithic data architecture to more scalable & elastic data modeling, organizations can connect decentralized enriched and curated data to make an informed decision across departments. With Data Mesh implementation on Snowflake, Azure Synapse, AWS Redshift, etc., organizations can strike the right balance between allowing domain owners to easily define and apply their own fine-grained policies and having centrally managed governance processes.

Additional resources:


How to Develop a Data Retention Policy


How to Develop a Data Retention Policy

by Steven Fiore

We help organizations implement a unified data governance solution that helps them manage and govern their on-premises, multi-cloud, and SaaS data. The data governance solution will always include a data retention policy.

When planning a data retention policy, you must be relentless in asking the right questions that will guide your team toward actionable and measurable results. By approaching data retention policies as part of the unified data governance effort, you can easily create a holistic, up-to-date approach to data retention and disposal. 

Ideally any group that creates, uses, or disposes of data in any way will be involved in data planning. Field workers collecting data, back-office workers processing it, IT staff responsible for transmitting and destroying it, Legal, HR, Public Relations, Security (cyber and physical) and anyone in between that has a stake in the data should be involved in planning data retention and disposal.

The first step is to understand what data you have today. Thanks to decades of organizational silos, many organizations don’t understand all the data they have amassed. Conducting a data inventory or unified data discovery is a critical first step.  

Next, you need to understand the requirements of the applicable regulation or regulations in your industry and geographical region so that your data planning and retention policy addresses compliance requirements. No matter your organization’s values, compliance is required and needs to be understood.

Then, businesses should identify where data retention may be costing the business or introducing risk. Understanding the risk and inefficiencies in current data processes may help identify what should be retained and for how long, and how to dispose of the data when the retention expires.

If the goal is to increase revenue or contribute to social goals, then you must understand which data affords that possibility, and how much data you need to make the analysis worthwhile. Machine Learning requires massive amounts of data over extended periods of time to increase the accuracy of the learning, so if machine learning and artificial intelligence outcomes are key to your revenue opportunity, you will require more data than you would need to use traditional Business Intelligence for dashboards and decision making.

data retention policy

What types of data should be included in the data retention policy?

The types of data included in the data retention policy will depend on the goals of the business. Businesses need to be thoughtful about what data they don’t need to include in their policies. Retaining and managing unneeded data costs organizations time and money – so identifying the data that can be disposed of is important and too often overlooked.

Businesses should consider which innovation technologies are included in their digital roadmap. If machine learning, artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, and/or intelligent process automation are in your technology roadmap, you will want a strategy for data retention and disposal that will feed the learning models when you are ready to build them.  Machine learning could influence data retention policies, Internet of Things can impact what data is included since it tends to create enormous amounts of data. Robotic or Intelligent Process Automation is another example where understanding which data is most essential to highly repeatable processes could dictate what data is held and for how long.

One final note is considering non-traditional data sources and if they should be included. Do voice mails or meeting recordings need to be included? What about pictures that may be stored along with documents? Security camera footage? IoT or server logs? Metadata? Audit trails? The list goes on, and the earlier these types of data are considered, the easier they will be to manage.

Avoid these pitfalls

The paradox is that the two biggest mistakes organizations make when building a data retention policy are either not taking enough time to plan or taking too much time to plan. Spending too much time planning can lead to analysis paralysis letting a data catastrophe occur before a solution can be implemented. One way to mitigate this risk is to take an iterative approach so you can learn from small issues before they become big ones.

A typical misstep by organizations when building a data retention policy is that they don’t understand their objectives from the onset. Organizations need to start by clearly stating the goals of their data policy, and then build a policy that supports those goals. We talked about the link between company goals and data policies here.

One other major pitfall organizations fall into when building a data retention policy is that they don’t understand their data, where it lives, and how its interrelated. Keeping data unnecessarily is as bad as disposing of data you need – and in highly silo-ed organizations, data interdependencies might not surface until needed data is suddenly missing or data that should have been disposed of surfaces in a legal discovery. This is partially mitigated by bringing the right people to the planning process so that you can understand the full picture of data implications in your organization.

In closing

The future of enterprise effectiveness is driven by advanced data analytics and insights. Businesses of all sizes are including data strategies in their digital transformation roadmap, which must include data governance, data management, business planning and analysis, and intelligent forecasting. Understand your business goals and values, and then build the data retention policies that are right for you.

We are here to help.

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The Right Data Retention Policy for Your Organization


The Right Data Retention Policy for Your Organization

by Steven Fiore

Every business needs a strategy to manage its data, and that strategy should include a plan for data retention. Before setting a data retention policy, it’s important to understand the purpose of the policy and how it can contribute to organizational goals. 

There are four values that drive most businesses to do anything:  

  • To make money and increase revenue
  • To save money by decreasing costs
  • Because they must comply with regulations
  • Because they want to use the business as a platform for social good

While each of these values will be represented in any organization, some investigation will usually reveal that one or two of these values outshine the rest. Which values are most important will vary from one organization to another. 

Organizations need to start by clearly stating the goals of their data policy, and then build a policy that supports those goals. We help companies unearth business drivers so data policies can contribute to the company values and goals rather than compete with them. 

In this post, we explore best practices in establishing and maintaining a data retention policy through the lens of these business drivers.  

What are the goals of your data retention policy?

Value: Make Money

Companies that rely on advertising revenue like Google and Facebook want to keep as much data as necessary to maximize revenue opportunities.  

Companies that mine their data can spot trends in their data that inform product enhancements, improve customer experience (driving brand loyalty), and reveal revenue opportunities that would have otherwise been hidden. 

In both cases, the data retention policy should focus on what data can contribute to revenue, and how much of it is needed. Balancing aggregate data versus more granular data is the key so you retain enough data to achieve your objectives without retaining unneeded data that adds cost, complexity, and security or privacy risks.   

Value: Save Money

Many businesses focus on the bottom line and prioritize efficiency to avoid wasting time, money, and energy. 

Businesses that want to save money can use data retention to make the organization more efficient. While data storage is inexpensive, it isn’t free – and access can be more expensive than storage. So, for an organization that wants its data policies to help save money, the policy might focus on retaining only the data that is necessary to avoid extra storage and management overhead. 

Further, retaining more data than you need to can be a legal liability. Having a data retention and disposal policy can reduce legal expenses in the event of a legal discovery process.  

There’s also an efficiency cost to data – the more data you have, the slower the process will be to search and use that data. So, data retention policies can and should be part of a data governance strategy aimed at making the data that is retained as efficient to manage and use as possible. 

Value: Comply with Regulations

Many industries have their own regulations while some regulations cross industries. Businesses that must have a data retention policy may need it to comply with laws that govern data retention such as the Sarbanes Oxley Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), or IRS 1075. Even US-based companies may be subject to international legislation such as the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and companies that have customers in California need to understand how the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) can impact data retention. Government agencies in the US are also bound by the Freedom of Information Act and some states have “Sunshine” laws that go even further.  

Businesses that are motivated to comply with regulations will need their data retention policy to reflect federal, state, and local requirements, and will need to document compliance with those requirements. 

Value: Business as a Platform for Social Good

 Whether an organization was established as an activist brand or has been drawn to social responsibility as investor demand has risen social responsibility, many companies are finding ways to use data to understand their social and environmental impact.  This impact is often also reported on through Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reporting, Carbon Disclosure Projects, and reporting structures like GRESB (Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark). 

In these cases, organizations that use their business as a platform for social good, may identify key metrics such as energy consumption or hiring data that can be used to inform reports on social responsibility.  

In closing

By understanding your organization’s values and priorities, you can ensure that its policies support those values. Every company has data to collect, manage, and dispose of, so it’s critical to have a roadmap for how to address data requirements today and into the future. This framework is a starting point to that effort because there’s nothing worse than going through the effort to implement a complex policy, only to discover that it moves the business further from its goals.  

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