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 Keys to Unlock Healthcare’s Digital Front Door


3 Keys to Unlock Healthcare’s Digital Front Door

The digital front door has become the common name in the healthcare industry for a mobile website or application that unifies the patient experience and connects patients to care across the continuum.  

In short, a digital front door connects and scales the virtual care journey to give patients what they need, when they need it. 

The trend toward self-service in healthcare was already underway when COVID hit, and the pandemic sharply accelerated the demand for digital access to healthcare information. Appointment scheduling is one important aspect of a digital front door experience, and studies find that 40% of appointments are booked after business hours, and 67% of patients prefer online booking. Further, $150 billion annually is estimated as the annual loss from missed medical appointments. (source

Some of our company’s earliest and most enduring clients have been healthcare organizations, and we’ve noticed three keys to success when developing and deploying a digital front door.  

Key to success: Get the right stakeholders involved 

“This is more than a digital shift – the shift to a digital front door requires a culture shift within the organization,” says Yuri Brigance, Valence’s director of software engineering. 

Experience has taught us that having the right people in the room can make all the difference in the success or failure of a major initiative. Especially considering the role that change management plays here – People don’t resist change, they resist being changed. So you need to engage stakeholders from all impacted groups, from frontline workers to back-office operations. This will improve requirements documentation, roadmap planning, and buy-in as the work rolls out. 

 Key to success: Users Drive the Design Strategy 

“While a digital front door is a technology solution, it’s ultimately about humanizing the patient experience,” says Sam To, designer at Valence. 

In the case of a digital front door, the users may be patients, families of patients, or healthcare providers. In nearly all scenarios, people value products that are easy to use, simple to set up, and have a logical progression. This is especially true in a healthcare situation, which may be hypercharged by personal and situational stressors.  

Equitable design should be at the forefront of design decisions because the healthcare organization needs to design for a wide array of users and needs. You can read more about our approach to equitable design here

The design phase of the digital front door project should include user interviews, feedback sessions, prototyping, and more. Giving the UX design team access to users early in the process can help to identify the best-case rollout strategy, reveal opportunities to differentiate from competitors, and deliver precisely the right content to users when they need it – all leading to better patient satisfaction scores. 

Key to success: Develop a feature roadmap and strategy for rolling out updates 

“When embarking on a digital effort in healthcare, it’s important to start by understanding which changes you need to see in the organization. Are you pursuing improved patient satisfaction scores? Physician satisfaction? ED/Urgent Care wait times? Quality and safety scores? Each area targeted for improvement may influence priorities differently,” says Malia Jacobson, healthcare content strategist at Valence. 

Many healthcare providers are leaning into digital solutions to address patient satisfaction, reduce service demand, and reduce administrative overhead. In addition to standard features of a digital front door experience, providers should consider designing for experiences such as:  

  • Bill pay 
  • Self-scheduling and care coordination 
  • Provider communication 
  • Information libraries 
  • Find a provider 
  • Imaging library 
  • Patient outreach 
  • Capacity management 
  • Census management 
  • Forecasting 
  • Infectious disease tracking 
  • Discharge planning 
  • Privacy and security to safeguard patient data 
  • Strategies to increase adoption, such as gamification and push notifications 
  • Support for population health initiatives 
  • Analytics and insights to derive more value from data 
  • AI features, such as chatbots, to reduce clinical burden and improve patient flow 
  • Support for healthcare information exchange in compliance with FHIR standards and best practices. 

It’s important to understand how these features interplay as part of a big picture roadmap with a rollout timeline and strategy. You don’t have to release everything at one time to be successful, and adding features as the platform develops and collects user feedback will future-proof the effort. 

In closing, healthcare has always been heavily impacted by technology, but the patient experience lagged behind other healthcare innovations. That is changing. 

Additional Resources: 


Cloud Migration and Cloud Services


Cloud Migration and Cloud Services

By Luca Junghans

A look inside these cloud capabilities

By joining forces, Valence and MajorKey offer an even greater set of cloud services for businesses that want to power their digital transformation with cloud technologies. 

MajorKey works with clients to migrate business applications to the cloud, and Valence builds services on the cloud. This is one reason these businesses are such a powerful combined force. 

The cloud refers to software and services that run on a (usually) regionally located server owned by the cloud service provider, instead of on an on-premise server owned by a customer. Cloud servers are in data centers all over the world. By using cloud computing, companies don’t have to manage physical servers or run software applications on their own machines. 

It’s big business. In fact, one of our partners, AWS contributed 14.5% of revenue to Amazon’s overall business in 2021, which would have operated at a $1.8 billion loss in Q4 without it – and AWS revenue was up nearly 39% compared to 2020. 

There are many ways to use and understand the business impact of cloud technology. We are breaking down the distinction between cloud services and cloud migration for you here!  

Cloud Migration and Cloud Services 

Simply put, cloud migration is what happens when a company moves some or all of its software onto cloud servers.

In other words, cloud migration is moving your software to a managed server operated by the cloud provider; and cloud services are technology solutions built on top of those managed servers. There’s a whole range of capabilities bridging the two. 

Let’s take a closer look.  

Cloud services range in how much they abstract away from the customer.  A good example is Amazon Cognito, which is a user management cloud service. Amazon Cognito has implementations of basic user functions such as login, logout, sessions, and security, so a customer doesn’t have to worry about a deeper technical implementation of these features and can focus on managing users.  

Cloud services are so flexible that there are seemingly infinite ways to deploy them for a business. Cloud services are the infrastructure, platforms, and software hosted by cloud providers, and there are three common solutions:   

  1. Infrastructure as a service: The renting out of virtual machines and space to customers, while providing a way to remotely manage the resource. When a company migrates to the cloud, they are using this service. 
  2. Platforms: Providers like AWS and Azure build specialized software on top of their own cloud hardware and offer the software to customers as a service. These are specialty services and can provide patterns for things such as Data Analysis, Compute, IoT, APIs, Security, Identity, and Containerization. We wrote about Digital Twins in a previous post, which referenced Digital Twin platforms offered by AWS and Azure.  
  3. Software as a service (SaaS): Software can be built on top of the platforms offered by the cloud providers. Software developers can also partner with other third parties to provide fully built instances of software that typically come with subscription rates, customer support, and personal configurations of the software. Examples of this include Atlassian Jira and Confluence, Dropbox, Salesforce, and G suite

These services can be transformative for businesses in general, but it’s not always easy to know the best way for your business to use them. The added benefits to this migration range per case, and here are four examples: 

  • Scalability: Cloud services often offer on demand scaling options that can satisfy unexpected or planned growth. Depending on your product, this can be a lot easier than upgrading on-premise hardware, but not always cheaper. 
  • Cost: Although we expect the costs to be passed to the consumer in some way, the logistics of maintenance and upgrades to the cloud systems is handled by the provider. In many cases this can translate to a huge amount of money saved for the customers. 
  • Performance: Performance enhancing services like CDNs and regional hosting, when understood and configured properly, can have tangible and positive performance impacts. 
  • Local Management: Being on the cloud means access to the digital portals to manage the services (most times). This creates a lower bar of entry for employees to manage and observe the resources. 

Many businesses start their digital transformation journey by migrating infrastructure or applications from on-premises servers to the cloud. Notably, cloud migration can also refer to a situation where a business needs to bring the cloud resources they manage into an on-premises environment. It can also describe a situation where a business moves its data resources from one cloud provider to another.  

Cloud migration to use cloud services is a process that presents many upsides, and is worth investigating!  The process will add additional complexities – specifically, security and governance will generally be instituted upfront as a base for the rest of the migration. We design and engineer performant, scalable, and maintainable applications that save businesses money, fill in knowledge gaps, and provide users with a positive experience.  

Here are two examples of cloud services that we’ve built for clients:  

  • Building cloud applications with AWS lambda: We have bridged the gap between multiple third-party APIs and created new databases that consolidate data and deliver it to a web application. Cloud services remove the need for our clients to interact with these multiple services, which saves them time and money. At the same time, we used AWS Cognito to help our customer manage roles and users in a secure and trusted way. This removed the need for our engineers to write our own user management software, a cumbersome task. 
  • Data pipelines:  We identify problems in our customers’ current database providers and migrate data to a more performant and better structured database in cloud-to-cloud migrations.  

We will continue to build and migrate while we investigate the future of the cloud. What are the new services and platforms? Who can benefit the most from them? How can we do it right? We will be prepared for the cloud migration and services needed from the real world to the metaverse, and beyond.  

Additional Resources:  


Effective Digital Transformation

Effective Digital Transformation

The phrase Digital Transformation is commonly used today, referring to everything from an overhaul of a legacy system to leveraging online systems to engage customers. As champions of digital transformation, our team  believes in the power of smartly planned and efficiently executed digital transformations to enhance business strategy; we believe that effective digital transformation is a cornerstone of business, and it is imperative that individuals understand the definition, potential impact, and processes that lead to success.

[ Digitization ←> Digitization ←> Digital Transformation ] + People

Effective Digital Transformation: How do we think about it?

Effective digital transformation puts business strategy ahead of digital strategy, whilst interweaving the two. Successful digital transformation solves business problems by focusing on the customer — for example, by decreasing costs, or increasing value — and using technology solutions that cut through business functions, industries, processes to affect change. In short, technology is a means to an end.

Digital transformation may help reduce product costs, but what does that do for the business? It provides resources to be routed into other aspects of the business. Leverage those freed up resources to enhance the customer experience and you are left with improved margins and happier customers and an effective digital transformation.

Consider Amazon — a company that digitally transformed its business of book selling to a Big 4 technology company. Amazon leveraged digital transformation initiatives to change its supply chain and operational efficiency in order to provide a better customer experience. Their culture (the world-famous 14 Leadership Principles) and business strategy are interwoven to focus on the customer: Amazon Prime has some of the fastest delivery options in the market and Amazon Web Services provides some of the best cloud solutions for enterprises. They digitally transformed their business and now provide customers with digital solutions to digitally transform theirs. From their website: “Amazonians… share a common desire to always be learning and inventing on behalf of our customers.” Leverage culture and technology to improve customer experience; digitally transform the business to help the customer.

Digital Transformation contains components of digital strategy, the use of digitalization, as well as digitization efforts. These terms, often thrown around interchangeably, are in fact pieces of the larger puzzle rather than equal to the overall process. Digitization is the process of moving from analog to digital, pen and paper to Microsoft Excel. Digitalization, according to Gartner, speaks of the use of digital strategies, technologies, initiatives to tap into new business opportunities or change a business model. If anything, one leverages digitization to digitalize, and the overall transformation of a business from one to another, becomes digital transformation. The definitions are debated and often vague, as discussed by Jason Bloomberg in this Forbes article. It is important to remain consistent in thinking of digital transformation as the overarching umbrella of strategic digital initiatives to improve the business with the customer at the forefront.

Digital Transformation: Consider “The Process” towards success

What does Digital Transformation success entail? What does it look like?

As enterprises restructure their strategy to evolve amid a changing technological and economic landscape while centering around the customer, it is important to consider the process and what it takes to succeed.

Key Stages to Success

According to Keller and Price in Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage, successful transformation involves a few key stages — from goal defining, to organizational assessment, to designing and initiating transformation and sustaining it. It is critical to understand where the enterprise is and where it wants to go — and it is critical to be consistent and practical.

Ensuring Success

to move forward with a transformation initiative, it is imperative to align Keller and Price’s stages with McKinsey’s 5 themes to a successful digital transformation, which involve digitization to prepare an enterprise for digitalization:

  • Having the right, digital-savvy leaders in place
  • Building capabilities for the workforce of the future
  • Empowering people to work in new ways
  • Giving day-to-day tools a digital upgrade
  • Communicating frequently via traditional and digital methods

Think about the Amazon example again — they didn’t just leverage digital solutions to overhaul their business; they leveraged cultural practices to ensure that Amazonians are driven towards the integration of technology and customer centricity. McKinsey’s themes encompass a similar outlook: empowerment, communications, capabilities, leadership — core cultural understandings that can support a digital transformation initiative.

At Valence, we focus heavily on thinking about the future. It is critical to be ever ready for tomorrow, whether it means continuous learning, or building systems and solutions to prepare for what is next. These stages and themes will ensure enterprises are thinking about the next step, focusing on being proactive rather than reactive. At this important juncture of the 21st century, where we have crossed into a new decade and face the challenge of economic reinvention due to a global pandemic, it matters how we use technology to transform our enterprises to meet changing customer needs.

In summary, as stated by Jim Darrin, CEO of Valence,

“No industry or company can ignore the importance or impact of Digital Transformation, and must embrace a digital strategy in order to evolve into the next generation.”

Do you think your business is ready for a digital transformation? We can help you with the journey. Contact us for more information.

Additional Resources:

What is Digital Transformation?

What is Digital Transformation?

What is digital transformation?

While working for a Fortune 500 industrial enterprise in the building materials sector I thought digital transformation was just a buzzword to market IT services. Then I went work for Valence Group Inc., a digital transformation company. Within the first few weeks, I discovered several companies in the building products sector that had already undertaken digital transformation initiatives (their words, not mine!). To skeptical large-enterprise executives still unsure what digital transformation means, let’s answer “what is digital transformation?” 

An organization’s journey to change business models and processes and build an agile culture for adopting new and emerging technologies to improve customer experiences and operating results.

Let’s break this definition into its key parts:

First, digital transformation is a journey. Many traditional IT projects (including ERP) have a defined work plan, budget, and a cut-over date whereby a new technology tool is deployed with a high-impact one-time splash complete T-shirts, a project codename, and promises of synergies. Digital transformation is not just a one-time deployment, nor should it attempt predict the one tool that will deliver the end-state of technology to the enterprise. Through digital transformation your organization should be prepared to leverage new technology today and in the future.

Second, the purpose of the journey is to build an enduring agile culture. With roots in software development where teams adapt quickly to customer and market demands to deliver functioning software, the agile mindset can work across your entire business. The agile culture you build through digital transformation can become your company’s agile approach across your entire business. After all, companies are becoming digitally enabled enterprises or being left behind the competition.

Third, digital transformation is about adopting new and emerging technologies. Today, we can identify leading-edge digital initiatives as leveraging blockchain, augmented reality, and a few other emerging technologies. Seven years ago, these technologies were unknown. Seven years from now something new will transform business yet again. Digital transformation initiatives include technology deployment within an organization, but digital transformation is not about one specific technology. It is a journey to an agile culture to adopt and leverage new and emerging technologies, whatever these technologies are today or seven years from now.

Finally, the purpose of digital transformation is to improve customer experiences and operational results. In a pre-digitally-transformed business, the technology culture is centered on an IT team (cost center) keeping the infrastructure running and managing a back-log of new projects. Post-digital transformation, the agile culture extends across all functions and line leadership. Technology investments are considered at the same time as other assets like forklifts, production facilities, and warehouses, and by the same leaders. The technology tool set includes new and emerging technology that are leveraged for the specific purpose of improving customer experiences and operational results.

Our definition of what is digital transformation comes from a twenty-year foundation in building products and as a senior executive in a fortune 500 industrial company. It is more business-centric and less techy than some with the focus on culture and improving operating results. After all, aren’t all investments in people, equipment, and facilities ultimately about improving a result? Digital transformation should not be any different.

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