AI on his mind: A conversation with Kevin Sterneckert, CMO, SymphonyAI

03.13.2019 | By Mark Speyers

What attracted you to SymphonyAI?

I know the marketplace well through my time as a retail executive, as a Gartner analyst and with several key roles at other technology companies. I was interested in a technology vendor that possessed unique and differentiated capabilities that delivered real value in the industry.

SymphonyAI fit those criteria completely – I was impressed by the elegance, sophistication and reach across the entire value chain with capabilities that truly empower retailers to change how they do business. Above all, however, was the infusion of artificial intelligence across the solutions. Very exciting!

Retailers and CPG manufacturers know they need to be nimble and they’re rethinking the way work is done. Many companies speak to the challenges of competing with Amazon, Walmart, or even discounters like Lidl and Aldi. These companies are changing the face of retail. In truth, these competitors are responding to the customer. The customer is the retail disruptor!

Bottom line – delight the customer and you win. The trick is to move fast enough to meet the changing expectations of the customer today and in the future. Legacy technologies simply fall short of what’s needed to win today. You also need a partner that gets you, and for fresh and fast-moving items, SymphonyAI provides unique and tailored capabilities.

What’s your vision?

My responsibilities include how we go to market with these advanced solutions. Just arriving on the scene, I’m really looking forward to developing key messages that communicate our value and, most important, communicate a clear understanding of the strength of our solutions, particularly around the prescriptive and preemptive advantages of our delivered AI advances to the market.

For example, how can changes to the assortment improve the customer experience? What are the right promotional items and prices to meet customer expectations of the future? What merchandising levers should I use to increase basket size and profitability? The scale and complexity of these questions are only solved through AI-enabled prescriptive and preemptive recommendations.

As I studied the software solutions of SymphonyAI, I identified opportunities and distinct differentiators, however, the message to the market was not clearly understood. I want to make sure the power and depth of our software are very clear – this is not an AI or analytics plug-in – we are not reengineering or retrofitting our applications; AI is native to the solutions. This is very powerful!

You worked for Gartner in the past. If you were an analyst now, what would be your take on SymphonyAI?

Retailers, CPG manufacturers, wholesalers are all working hard to deliver value to customers. The pace of change and amount of information required to truly understand the customer is bone-crushing if you don’t have the right technology suite. Legacy approaches can’t deliver what retailers require today. Companies need to quickly identify opportunities, interpret and evaluate, then connect to an activation plan that delivers excellent customer experiences and meets revenue targets.

As an analyst, I looked for the secret sauce in solution providers. I believe there are four contributors to the sauce:

  1. Accomplishments of the software provider that add clear value in the market, improving the customer experience and how work is accomplished.
  2. What are the real differentiators, what separates the software from the herd?
  3. Are there unique capabilities that are flying under the radar?
  4. Does the company deliver preemptive recommendations, or the ability to know and proactively act to delight customers for future demand changes?

I’m not talking about being “prescriptive” here, that’s different. The advanced AI capabilities of SymphonyAI offer a distinct advantage. Further, we don’t have the weight of legacy technologies that can’t meet today’s demands. So many solution providers are maintaining legacy systems that reduce the available budget to truly innovate. We’re in the now and the future. Whether on-premise, or using our MS Azure-based cloud option, SymphonyAI helps our customers move quickly toward pleasing their customer and, in turn, achieving financial and strategic targets.

If you were sitting with a customer or partner as an analyst, what would you communicate to them?

I’d tell them that there is a better way… that leveraging AI to improve assortments, pricing, promotion, and the supply chain is here and it is not a difficult as it might seem. I’d share that there is a better way to address category resets and improve demand forecasts that understand the combination of complex merchandising decisions. I encourage companies to embrace change and get started. In fact, I just read a good blog on our site by RSR in this same spirit.

What gets you most excited about AI in retail? Do you have a few examples of where AI is changing the game?

Ai and Data

There are many areas of AI that are so cool and, frankly, where I believe SymphonyAI is way out front. But, one that really excites me is CINDE. It’s an artificial intelligence-enabled digital assistant for grocery and hard goods retail. It’s SIRI or ALEXA on steroids, but really so much more. It just blows me away. For example, in real-time, a category manager can engage CINDE in plain language to understand their business and to see opportunities that are usually hidden deep in reports. CINDE serves up preemptive recommendations using voice response and visual aids that pinpoint the challenges and opportunities to win with the customer. CINDE evaluates and answers what you ask, but also intelligently recommends alternatives to consider. CINDE is what I meant when I mentioned the ingredients of the secret sauce, and it really must be experienced! CINDE is remarkable and very sophisticated. I want CINDE to become a “household” term for the retail industry.

SymphonyAI has other areas that are way out front, too. Our use of AI in demand forecasting, our strength in personalized marketing, promotions; the list goes on. But the bottom line for me is that each day, all over the world, retailers and CPGs manufacturers have massive opportunities that can increase basket size, revenue and profitability.

When you consider that most retailers are dealing with complex retail environments, there’s a massive amount of “data noise.” Data is a liability until you have AI that turns it into a prized resource – and the more data, the better. SymphonyAI solutions identify key data and insights, helping move retailers into action, recommending the next best decisions and honing in on revenue opportunities with tireless intensity. It’s a major step forward for CPG manufacturers and retailers.

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