Konstantin Parshin: “We are now in a constant search for new areas of sustainable growth opportunities.”
The Russia-UK business mission titled “Exploring AI and Automation for Retail?” took place on November 27 and brought together large retailers from the UK, Ireland, and Russia. The goal was to give Skolkovo startup companies the opportunity to present their innovative solutions in the face of the digitization trend in the retail sector, which has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Olga Strelova, director of acceleration in the retail technologies sector at the Skolkovo Foundation IT cluster. Photo: Sk.ru.
Digitization was already in the works prior to Covid-19, but the pandemic forced businesses to find solutions to new and unforeseen challenges. For retailers right now, the main goal is to increase productivity and to ensure a secure supply of products to their customers, especially to people self-isolation. Indeed, while businesses in other sectors have suffered, particularly HoReCa and tourism, many grocery chains saw spikes in consumer demand, in some cases leading to shortages of certain products; at the same time, they were compelled to adhere the emergency regulations aimed at slowing the spread of Covid-19. In this context, while the crisis has forced business to seek out solutions to problems, it has driven innovators to meet these new demands.
Konstantin Parshin, the deputy-CEO of the Skolkovo Foundation IT cluster, opened the session by highlighting the challenges facing Russia and the UK and gave a presentation on the Skolkovo Foundation, citing the key achievements that the innovation center has attained in recent years as well as the services it offers to its startup residents.
Konstantin Parshin: “We are now in a constant search for new areas of sustainable growth opportunities.” Screengrab: Sk.ru
“We have been living in a perfect storm for nearly eight months that has been exacerbated by the ups and downs in the economy with Brexit on your side and oil prices on ours,” said Mr. Parshin, addressing the UK audience. “This has really given us a push and we are now in a constant search for new areas of sustainable growth opportunities. From our side it is interesting to see, in terms of innovation, such a large spike in new ideas and new companies coming to Skolkovo. I’m glad that those ideas are now being shared productively, even without physical travel.”
Magnit representatives Maria Dei (bottom left) and Evgeny Dzhamalov (right center). Screengrab: Sk.ru
During the lead up to the business mission, participating UK retailers requested that a Russian counterpart, alongside innovators, share their own experience of this new reality. The Russian retailer turned out to be Magnit, Russia’s largest supermarket chain with 21,000 stores and 300,000 employees, and its representatives were Maria Dei (management board and director of supply chain) and Evgeny Dzhamalov (head of innovation department). During her presentation, Miss Dei said in so many words that changes in the market due to the pandemic were naturally unpredictable, with new demands for digitization and technologies coming into the fore and emergency government regulations being among the main challenges to meet.
Mr. Dzhamalov highlighted the success of the Skolkovo-Magnit industrial program led by Konstantin Parshin. In September, the retailer opened its own Digital Office at Skolkovo Technopark with the goal of developing ideas into real innovative solutions. According to Mr. Dzhamalov, the Magnit Demo Day at Skolkovo Technopark has led to ten new pilots and three ideas are now being scaled out.
“One of these pilots is an emergency volunteers project for our employers, which is to bring food to old people and those who are ill. This innovative pilot, which is an actual working system, happened quickly and grew out of this emergency,” said Mr. Dzhamalov.
Seven Skolkovo startups (BestPlace, Timebook, Gridfore, G-Core, PredTech, Imredi, EVA PRO) were given five minutes each to present their solutions to the UK retailers and following that there was a Q&A session. The solutions included real-time customer behavior analysis, distributed working time management control systems, intelligent AI/ML processing for complex retail network challenges, CDN and advanced media platform, AI and ML based customer prediction using big data analysis, an advanced analytics platform for optimized sales execution/processes, and fleet vehicle management for efficiency and performance.
What problems did some of these solutions aim to solve? One solution was a machine learning tool designed to predict optimal store locations with the largest potential market, while another was a workforce platform designed to optimize workforce shift management.
The UK/Ireland retailers were Browns Fashion, Games Workshop, Brown Thomas Arnott, McArthur Glen Group, LK Bennett, Dixons Cardphone Warehouse, Cult Beauty, and JD Sports Fashion, representing the electronic devices, cosmetics, hobby games, pharmaceuticals and sportswear industries.
The business mission was organized by the Skolkovo Foundation Retail & FMCG Technologies Center, with previous missions targeting France, Spain, China, and Germany.