ATLANTA—How much more convenient can convenience get? It all depends on technology.
Ed Dzadovsky, vice president, North America IT, CircleK Stores Inc., and Gray Taylor, executive director of Conexxus, gave a snapshot of the current state of technology and how we move forward during Thursday’s education session, “Conexxus Technology Roadmap” at the 2019 NACS Show in Atlanta.
Technology continues to shift power to the consumer, who has been lured onto Apple and Google platforms and has become more demanding.
The digitized consumer has a sky-high expectation when it comes to convenience. McKinsey & Company described today’s consumer in a January 2019 article this way: “They’ve become accustomed to near instant gratification: on-demand movies and music, speed of delivery of online orders and even smart devices that can purchase items automatically.”
In a world where convenience is king, where does this put convenience stores?
“We sell time, we don’t sell Twinkies,” said Taylor. “How can I help my customer to have a friction-free life, not just a friction-free store experience?”
To improve convenience, the industry must rely on technology.
He used Alibaba, the multinational conglomerate, as an example of a company that has embraced technology to push ahead of the pack. Their operating theory: Automate all operating decisions. They “datafy” every exchange. They “software” every activity.
If the future of technology is artificial intelligence (AI)—and it is—the focus right now should be collecting data. It’s critical to the AI.
“We don’t have enough data to make AI worthwhile right now,” Taylor said. “That’s why we need to datafy.” He noted that all technology companies populate the top 10 companies in the world.
Taylor projected that technology in the near future will focus on API (application program interface) as fundamental. In the next two to five years, technology will zero-in on wrapping context around sales using data that incorporates weather and news within the geocode. This will feed the predictive analytics to help shape business and sales moving forward.
Currently, though, it’s our legacy systems that are holding us back and inconsistent data structures, Taylor said. That’s why APIs will be so critical.
“Right now we have to focus on ‘let’s make it work better.’ That’s how we need to think,” he said.
“There are some cool things you can do with legacy systems,” added Dzadovsky. “Collect lots of data. Storage is cheap, and when AI comes, it will be incredibly valuable to you.
“The future loves history’s data,” he said, as he encouraged attendees to get their “data house in order.”
As fast as technology has come, it’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
“The pace of innovation is stressing the traditional IT method,” Dzadovsky said. “Nimble is the new ‘strategy.’”
One of the biggest obstacles to technology isn’t about building it, though, it’s about buy-in.
“We don’t need more computer scientists, we need more business experts who understand computer science,” said Taylor.
“Without organizations to support it, none of the technology works,” added Dzadovsky.
Taylor said he believes getting executives to buy in on technology will get easier.
“The next generation of CEOs grew up with video games. They understand technology because they grew up with it. What keeps them up at night is how do we keep up the pace and out-innovate potential competitors?” Taylor said.
Are there c-store succeeding without tech?
“If you stay with gas, Cokes and smokes, you’re just treading water,” Gray said. “There are those who think they can’t pay for this, but they need to reevaluate, and that’s what I don’t see happening in the industry. Some companies say, ‘I’m too small,’ but they need to remember that it’s harder to turn a big ship around, so now’s the time to reconsider.”