I am among those who worry about artificial intelligence, commonly referred to as AI. Those science fiction movies about robots or computers taking over the world seem far too believable. However, at the NAMA Show this past March (see a recap on page 30), I sat in on a session about AI that didn’t make me a bit anxious and has me reevaluating my definition of the term.
Improving Analytics (IA)
An education session I sat in on was hosted by the Coca-Cola Company and called “Artificial Intelligence For Business Growth: How The Coca-Cola Company Is Leveraging A New Species Of Thinking.” Admittedly, the session title is a mouthful, but I was interested to see how a large company such as Coke would talk about and use AI, which can have such a negative connotation.
The session, which I’ve written a review of online, started out with how AI is all around us, and there is uncertainty about what it means from movies. It also discussed the confusion due to AI having a very broad definition. Ultimately, my take-away was that HIVERY, the AI company in Australia that worked with Coke on the solution, has taken the idea of vending management system analytics to the next level. The program doesn’t just collect data and produce reports. It also predicts an outcome based on that data and the reports. They are calling this AI. For example, if the customer base of a vending machine prefers energy drinks, more energy drinks are added to the planogram, without a human having to look at the reports, see the energy drinks sales and wonder if more energy drink facings would increase revenue. The program analyzes the vending machines independently, so in another area of that same location there might be a preference for flavored water and juice items over energy drinks. The program then changes the product set based on those sales and preferences. To me it sounded as though the program were simply taking analytics that already existed to the next step.
Data in the driver's seat
According to the most recent State of the Industry report as well as numerous operation profiles, data is also being used to improve the operational efficiency of businesses and product selections at locations, resulting in an improved bottom line. In the last few years, the way data is being collected from vending machines has been evolving. More operators are opting for handhelds, mobile devices and even exploring the cutting edge of inventory data with new technology. One such company is this month’s success story, Laurel Foodsystems. That operation uses Wizzan Mobility, an inventory program utilizing “smart” glasses with a built-in computer screen. Read more about their technology and business on page 24.
Data and computers reviewing that data doesn’t sound so bad. Merriam-Webster defines AI as, “a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers” and “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.” That includes the idea of improved analysis, internet searches that use your locale to help narrow down meaningful results to your search and talk-to-text features on a mobile phone. None are the stuff of Sci-Fi horror movies.
While I may never purchase a learning, robotic maid, the idea of computers analyzing sales data for vending machines and micro markets, alongside humans who act on the suggestions, seems like a pretty good idea.