By Jim Lewis, CEO Enhanced Retail Solutions LLC
Last week I attended the Microsoft Envision event in NYC. This event was designed to showcase how Microsoft has integrated AI into their platform. ERS has been a Microsoft partner for over 20 years and is now part of the AI Cloud program. I’ve been to a lot of Microsoft events over the years, but I felt this one was different. They showed their new technologies through on-stage testimonials from some of the biggest companies in the world. Everything from health care to finance showed the practical use of the technology.
ChatGPT Comes Alive
Since Open AI’s ChatGPT was released a few months ago, the adoption of the technology has been astounding. If you follow any tech news at all, you know that Microsoft is all in on Artificial Intelligence, so integrating ChatGPT on their platform was a no-brainer. Curating it to its existing applications like the ubiquitous Microsoft Office suite brings the power of ChatGPT to the non-believers. For example, they showed a great demo where a salesperson asked the Copilot in Microsoft Teams what they knew about a particular prospect. It provided a summarized response that not only included information available on the web, but through internal correspondence (emails, chats, documents, etc.). Then they asked the Copilot to create a presentation based on the information. Bingo- a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation opens completely designed and filled with relevant content for the user.
What was said next was very important. The demonstrator said this is not a finished presentation. It is a first draft that you can then adjust and make your own. Creating the document saved hours of time, but still leaves room for the user to put their own mark on it. I guess we are not all losing our jobs to AI after all.
At ERS, we have dabbled in AI for several years now. We even won a Top Retail AL provider award earlier this year. Our Retail Narrative scans through millions of rows of POS data armed with the knowledge of what to look for. It helps users find opportunities and liabilities within their data that would otherwise go unnoticed.
We are now using Microsoft PowerBI to provide our clients with dashboards, reports, forecasts and more with a greater degree of intelligence that Excel just can’t match. But PowerBI is just the endpoint. The backbone is really Microsoft’s Azure platform where the databases and AI technologies now take center stage. For example, building a forecast can not only use POS data, seasonality, and promotional information but it can now include 3rd party data like inflation or new home starts data. Adding these layers can help the predictive model with the merging of internal and external data points.
But not everything is perfect here. Even though we are partners of Microsoft, I have been critical about user interfaces, the constant name changing of their products and how it is nearly impossible to determine the cost of Azure. Their simple to use cost calculator showed me a test database should cost $150 a month but after day 2 we were already at $850. Very frustrating.
Still, I give Kudos to Microsoft and especially Satya Nadella for recognizing and acting on this technology in the way they have. To humanize AI and show the pragmatic side of it is compelling. The smart approach of providing resources to it’s broad partner network will help spread this technology across many industries.