A digital assistant, in every store employee's pocket
'Attention colleagues, we have rearranged the biscuit section.' With a chat message, the whole team is immediately informed. And that is far from the only thing our store employees use their Samsung smartphones for. With more than 30 intuitive functionalities at their fingertips, they are ideally equipped to help our customers. Business product owner Vienna Knockaert and solution architect Geert Desloover talk about this successful project.
Our digital assistant was born from an extraordinary vision?
Vienna: “The project grew out of Jef Colruyt's ambition in our ever-growing company to reconnect store employees with each other and with their colleagues in support services some four years ago. ‘A connected and informed store employee’, is what he called it. A wonderful ambition!
With Colruyt Group IT, we then mapped out the possible efficiency gains and in 2018 we started the search for a digital solution as well as a device."
That digital device ended up being a Samsung smartphone?
Geert: “We went looking for a carrier that could handle daily store tasks in addition to communication. Scanning barcodes, updating electronic price labels... This is how we eventually arrived at a Samsung smartphone. A bold choice, because in a retail environment you would usually opt for more robust PDAs ('personal digital assistants') that can take a few blows.
But these PDAs are not very intuitive, while most of us know exactly how to use a smartphone. So a smartphone was a conscious choice to keep the threshold for our store employees as low as possible.”
Geert: “Result: 16,000 personal Samsung smartphones replacing our former PDAs. It was a leap of faith for both Samsung and us, and quite a challenge too, especially when you are talking about such a large number.
Enterprise devices only have to update every three years, but our consumer device requires an annual update. We are looking with Samsung at how we can optimise all this as best we can.”
Vienna: “I am immensely proud that we were the first retailer to take this step! But our digital assistant does not stand or fall with this specific carrier: we developed a flexible, sustainable, future-oriented solution. And the store employees? They learned to use the new device quickly and take very good care of it; few devices get broken.”
Which apps are installed on the smartphone?
Geert: “Meanwhile, our digital assistant has around 30 functionalities, all tailored to the needs of our store employees. And yes, that's a lot, especially when we look at other players who are getting started with such technology. Our most used apps are, on the one hand, communication apps and, on the other, the tools needed to carry out daily store tasks or to follow a practical training.”
We are also working on a news platform with personalised messages.
- Consult article and product info
- Update electronic price labels
- Record stock movements (e.g. product counts)
- Product Finder: the price label lights up when you scan a product’s barcode
- Waste management
- How to replace the receipt paper?
- How to clean the coffee machine?
In our training app we explain it, step by step, on the basis of gifs that we made.
What is your job in this project?
Vienna: “When the project was still in its infancy, Geert and I were already working together, me as a junior solution analyst at the time. Together with colleagues, we worked out the concept of the digital assistant, looked for the right device, contacted suppliers ... In the meantime, I was given the opportunity and the confidence to oversee the good governance of this project as business product owner.
We always start from the specific needs of our store employees. But if we would add all the applications they ask for, there would probably be 100 apps on the smartphone by now. (laughs) I make sure that everything we do fits within the predefined business case and roadmap. I think it's really cool that Geert and I went through the whole process together, it definitely creates a bond!”
Geert: “As lead solution IT architect, I helped set out the technological lines on how to integrate the digital assistant into our entire IT landscape, and I still watch over its proper governance. Because the project involves several layers of our organisation, a lot of teams worked on it: the colleagues who figured out everything about the hardware, the mobile development team that developed all the applications, experts on communication, privacy, cybersecurity, fire safety, ergonomics, UX design ...”
What will the future bring?
Vienna: “In consultation with store employees, we are constantly expanding the number of apps and trying to make them ever more accessible, uniform and intuitive. Colruyt Lowest Prices, OKay and Bio-Planet are already using the digital assistant today, Spar and Colruyt Prix Qualité will jump on the bandwagon in 2023. We can no longer imagine our life without the 'digital store assistant'. It's a great collaboration between Colruyt Group IT and the shops, we should be proud of that!"