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Reflexions 2019: Tell, Don’t Suggest

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Last week I attended Reflexis Systems’ Reflexions event in Las Vegas. I’d never been to this particular user group conference before, but part of the company’s tradition is that analysts are invited to show up a day early and take part in a full-on analyst day, whereby the company’s top decision makers provide no-holds-barred access to everything the company is cooking up in a closed-doors and genuinely interactive environment. At first I was a bit hesitant due to the nature of the format – after all, analysts from competing firms aren’t always willing to work/play nicely in a group setting. But in the end, it proved to be a very productive day, and I walked away with a much better understanding of Reflexis’ place in the world.

Frankly, before the event, I’d been a bit confused about Reflexis. And I can say for certain that I wasn’t alone (even in my own company). Sure, everyone knows them as the workforce management guys. Everyone knows they and Kronos have the world pretty-well divvied up as it relates to time and attendance, and that the real battle for the hearts and minds of the retail ecosphere going forward revolves around task management.But here’s where it got muddled for me: what was Reflexis actually doing in the world of task? We’d hear quite a bit about new wins, but when pressed for details it often appeared the new retailer was focusing more on WFM and less on task. And if our Store-based research has taught us anything in recent years, it’s that now should absolutely be the time for optimized task management in stores. Retailers are all but screaming for it.

Turns out Reflexis is well aware and has been busily investing and preparing behind-the-scenes to become what the industry demands. In short, they have a lot of new offerings – 7 to be exact. And while none have ready-for-prime-time names yet, they have a laser-like direction: to make life simple for workers in stores.

Keeping it “Simple for Susan” is the working phrase that CEO Prashanth Palakurthi has been imploring his development team to keep front of mind for the past three years, whereby Susan is the store manager (there are personas for various other types of associates, as well, like Louise the VP of Labor Planning - all designed to keep the mantra front-of-mind). And he’s serious about bringing this simplicity to life. The company recently raised a round of $146m to be able to fund his aggressive design and development (its spent $200m in R&D so far), and the despite all the facts and figures of customer roster (280 to date), investment in getting customers onto similar platforms ($32m this year alone), and number of stores schedules that are built annually using the company’s products (400m), the thing that struck me was that this is a company that knows what it wants to become:

Reflexis doesn’t want to give stores data. It wants to just tell workers the best thing to do next.

The concept is pervasive throughout everything the company is taking on. Each of the seven to-be-named products (which tackle such tasks as “are mannequins displayed properly?” to “what if I want to change the way I compensate employees?”) is based on tell – don’t advise. In Prashanth’s vision, data to make smarter decisions is so widely available to retailers that it becomes hard to leverage. And everyone – everyone – is addicted to their smartphone. So Reflexis aims to take every bit of data available, analyze it using the most advanced analytics it possibly can, and feed it back to store workers in a single app – one that looks and feels like something they’d already use on their own – to tell them exactly what they should do next.

One of the better examples I heard was a retailer who is appropriately staffed for a routine day – only to find that a traffic jam has prevented customers from walking in the front door in typical numbers. The task solution knows this (traffic data, weather data – anything you can think of is now in play), and the app that the floor associate perennially interacts with tells them the next 45 minutes would be best spent working on a task in the back room. When the traffic clears, not only is that associate summoned back onto the floor, but so too is the store manager, in order to handle the increased customers from the freed bottleneck.

Say what you will about the readiness of “tell, don’t suggest” based on current analytics. But Reflexis is betting the farm on it. The company is moving into two new verticals (banking and hotels), and despite some differences, these “retail-like” locations have very similar issues about getting in-store labor to be on the right task at the right time.

I saw a lot of demos over the days I was there. Some telling a store manager exactly how to approach an employee who’d been late too many days this month. Some informing workers what to do when a delivery truck changed its ETA. All were designed similarly: to get human beings to rely less on training they may/may not have received (or absent that, to rely on intuition) and to trust what the technology was telling them to do. I couldn’t help of something Elon Musk recently said, about how smartphones have effectively already converted human beings into cybernetic organisms. But having visited as many stores as I have recently, I think it’s safe to say “leaving things up to store worker’s discretion” has had long enough to prove itself a viable option. It’s not working. Maybe “tell, don’t suggest” will.

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Articles & Opinions August 20, 2019
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