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Microsoft Showcases Retailer Azure Adoption

Microsoft is making a big splash at this year's annual National Retail Federation (NRF) show in New York. The company is showcasing a number of major brand name chains that have kicked off efforts to improve their in-store experiences by using Azure, predictive analytics and new ways of interacting using apps delivered on mobile devices and kiosks.

While Microsoft emphasized that many of its customers were rolling out mobile devices for their employees at last year's NRF show, the types of apps that various retailers and restaurant chains are rolling out this year make use of Microsoft Azure in a big way. A number of big chains including GameStop and McDonalds are making use of applications that make use of Azure Machine Learning, Microsoft's predictive analytics tool rolled out last year.

Usage of Azure by retailers has grown exponentially in the past year, Tracy Issel, general manager of Microsoft's retail sector, said in an interview. "It used to be [that] we talked with people about going to the cloud and the perceived risk and their concern about scalability," Issel said. "I haven't had one of those conversations in a long time. Now it's 'what do I move first and when do I do it?' Many are moving to Office 365 and Azure simultaneously."

In a roundtable discussion today, Issel introduced four customers that are in the midst of major new efforts using Azure and/or Windows 8.1-based tablets and kiosks. Here's a brief synopsis of their efforts:

GameStop: Jeff Donaldson, senior vice president of GameStop Technology Institute, outlined a number of initiatives that aim for customers to use the retailer's mobile app in ways that store employees can engage with them when a customer visits. The app uses a variety of analytics tools including Hewlett Packard Vertica, SAS for statistical analysis and Azure Machine Learning to inform a sales rep when a customer comes into a store as to what interactions have taken place in the past. "When they come into the store, we want to make sure the employees know about the messages we sent to customers so they better understand the intent of the visit," Donaldson says. Another major effort calls for delivering Ultra HD content into each of its 6,400 stores using Azure Media Services.

CKE Restaurant Holdings, aka Carls Jr. and Hardees: The popular fast-food chain has concluded that millennials would much rather interact with a kiosk to order their food than a person, said Thomas Lindblom, senior vice president and chief technology officer. As such, Hardees is rolling out kiosks that allow customers to choose and customize their burgers and it is designed to upsell. Lindblom is using Dell 24-inch off-the shelf touch-based PCs to deliver the highly visual application. Lindblom said CKE is "a significant user of Azure" for a number of functions including storage and disaster recovery. CKE has also rolled out Office 365.

TGI Fridays: Looking to modernize the dining experiences, waiters and waitresses will carry eight-inch off-the shelf Windows tablets with apps developed by Micros (which is now a part of Oracle). The point-of-sale solution is designed to track customer preferences through loyalty cards. "We are cutting training times [and] we are able to deliver this digital touch point in the hands of our servers as they serve their guests," said CIO Tripp Sessions.

McDonalds: Microsoft partner VMob has rolled out an Azure-based application at McDonalds locations in Europe that enables it to track customer preferences using information gathered by his or her purchasing patterns. VMob has also started rolling it out at locations in Japan. VMob founder and CEO Scott Bradley, who was demonstrating the solution in Microsoft’s both, indicated he’s still working on getting the app into United States locations but he implied that may take some time and said it’s not a done deal. Nevertheless, he said he believes McDonalds eventually will roll it out in the U.S.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 01/13/2015 at 1:48 PM


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