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VMworld: Three leadership lessons for retail adoption

This year’s VMworld was like no other. Of course, it’s the first year we’ve gone 100% virtual but at the same time, the calibre of speakers, attendees and sessions was outstanding.

The sweeping changes that the global retail landscape is faced with were summed up perfectly by John Donahoe, CEO, Nike, who featured as part of Pat Gelsinger’s opening keynote. John highlighted Nike’s acceleration in digital transformation to stay competitive with Nike aiming for twice the innovation, speed and connection with its customers – or athletes, as John calls them, while also pointing to the role VMware solutions are playing in supporting this major digital transformation journey to deliver great consumer and employee experience. While it is not possible to cover all the brilliant sessions and insights like those of John, I wanted to highlight three major lessons that can be adopted in the world of retail.

Identify and adapt with Indra Nooyi

The first of those was the fireside chat between Sanjay Poonen and former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo., Indra Nooyi. She talked about how Wayne Calloway went above and beyond to bring her to Pepsi initially and how it was the combination of his humbleness, humility and hunger that set the tone for the rest of her career there. In fact, it was a mantle Indra took on when she became the CEO in 2006. Her vision was to run PepsiCo. for the duration of the company, not just her tenure. As she put it, “whatever I did had to endure and deliver great results long after I left.”

Even now, almost 15 years on, what Indra did can be applied to how retailers can best adapt to change. Her idea was to examine 10 mega trends likely to impact the company and mapping it against the product portfolio. Things like, having more healthy options, embracing sustainability and treating people differently became paramount and it was the blueprint for the transformation of PepsiCo. It led to the ‘performance with purpose’ strategy. The need to combine healthy products for the next generations with a conscious effort to make the world a better place today. It meant delivering performance but backed by a sense of purpose and, as Indra says, “for it to work as a business strategy, it is impossible to have one without the other.”

This ability to identify and adapt is key for retail. In fact, given the impact of COVID-19, it is arguably more pertinent today than ever. In the last few months we’ve seen businesses pivot while flexing their supply chains and product lines, ecommerce platforms and customer engagement focuses to deliver against the odds. This is as applicable to supermarkets as it is to independent retailers making masks. And for all the superhuman effort it has taken to do this, these major shifts have been possible due to the technology at our fingertips. Which leads us nicely on to the second session we want to highlight.

Use the best technology available with Jensen Huang

The exponential impact in how much of a role technology is playing can be personified in Jensen Huang of NVIDIA – a business that started life as a small graphics company and is now the world’s leader in AI. He spoke with Pat Gelsinger, about COVID driving the largest human migration in history, the challenges that this has posed and how virtualisation has been absolutely critical to being able to manage. But the main thrust of their session – and the exciting development for retail – was on an announcement around bringing the entire NVIDIA AI platform, and the software necessary to develop AI on these platforms, to the VMware cloud foundation. As Jensen said, “AI is the most powerful force of our time. We want to democratise it for every organisation in the world today.”

It means that any retailer now has access to the world’s best AI capability through the VMware platform, which opens a myriad of doors covering anything from understanding purchase habits, encouraging repeat sales, streamlining supply chains to replicate fluctuations in demand and providing best-in-class customer service. The list is almost endless. And if there was any doubt about the desire for the adoption of AI, NVIDIA’s numbers speak for themselves. According to Jensen, “it took almost 15 years to attract the first million developers on Nvidia’s platform, it took only a couple of years to double that”.

The session was brought to life with an example in healthcare where the VMware integration with NVIDIA accelerated insights around data –  31 times faster than a non accelerated cluster. This meant that a data scientist could iterate on new data and retrain their model many more times in a day, dramatically increasing productivity. As Pat Gelsinger says, “the intersection of people, disease and treatments is one of the greatest challenges of humanity. It is one where AI will be needed to move the needle and I can’t wait to put AI to work in every doctor and every scientist’s hands”.  But this sentiment can apply to any sector and the potential for change in retail is vast.

The session concluded with the announcement of Project Monterey – Aa new processor that will be the data center infrastructure on a chip. It has been designed for the challenges associated with next generation applications; big data sets, high bandwidth requirements, low latency and security requirements. A move that truly enables an end to end intrinsic security model.

Have a willingness to embrace change with Piyush Gupta

One industry that has experienced sweeping changes in recent years is banking as consumers have totally evolved how they spend, interact with money and the physical branches that used to be a staple presence on every major high street. Indeed, the DBS Group CEO Piyush Gupta, talked on the burning platform of digital transformation. In its particular instance, a brief conversation with Jack Ma (Alibaba) informed DBS that it would need to act quickly if it wasn’t going to go the same way as the video cassette. It was from that moment that DBS ‘stopped thinking of itself as a bank and started thinking of itself as a technology company.’ This is a telling example for retail as it grapples with the huge rise in e-commerce on the one hand while witnessing the stark decline in brick and mortar footfall on the other.

The ability and willingness to embrace change was a recurring theme through Piyush’s session. He gave an example where big companies find it hard to change because of legacy technology and a combination of people and culture that don’t want to move with the times – the sheep. Versus the next generation employee hungry to embrace new ways of doing things and open to change – the wolves. But after seeing his 84 year-old father doing his taxes online, Piyush quickly realised this was a false economy and that both businesses – and the people in them – can change.

Of course, the interview touched on the impact of COVID on DBS. Though, because of the work it had done in digital transformation, DBS took little more than a few hours to get people working off-site. He also mentioned that digitization has accelerated the capacity to get to customers in remote locations, to be able to handle volume and scale and to be able to create that customer engagement as the psyche of customer base has evolved and is now willing to consume digital first. If that isn’t a great example of how it is possible for retailers to adapt from physical to digital quickly, then I don’t know what is.

And finally…

Not to be outshone, our engaging vice president and CTO, Joe Baguley hosted his throwdown series of five short Q&A interviews with senior VMware executives posing some very contrary questions about key IT issues. In it, he spoke with Kubernetes co-founder Joe Beda who now works in VMware as a principal engineer.  Joe then interviewed twice Chris Wolf who runs the Advanced Technology Group firstly on whether modern-apps and cloud native is just another hype cycle. The second interview (with Chris) looked at how businesses can use machine learning technologies to adopt more automation and make smarter business decisions. Joe also spoke with Amanda Blevins, Sr. director and chief technologist on the combination of the cloud and edge computing and where businesses are being encouraged to move data to. His final throwdown session was with Stacia Tympanick, a solutions engineer with Carbon Black, on the role of security – whether its a preventer or an enabler, the impact of running modern security software on old systems and the role of intrinsic security.

All of these technologies play a significant role in the retailer’s armoury.  Applications are the lifeblood of innovation. And retailers who are on the front foot of innovation, whether that is using AI to make supply chains smarter or adopting multiple clouds to build, run, manage and secure any app – cloud native or legacy – so that customers get new apps – and thus experiences – faster than ever before.

Of course, you can see all of these sessions and so much more on demand at the VMworld site. If you’re not already registered, it is quick and easy.

For any VMware retail related conversations please contact Jarek Matschey at and Lenka Kanakova at or your assigned VMware account manager.

For more information on VMware retail solutions, please visit us here.


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