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    Digitally transforming the petrol retail industry through AI and smart IoT.

    The network has always been the nervous system of business, enabling the efficient flow of business processes and transactions. We are entering a new age of digital transformation, and yet again, the underlying infrastructure like the network must align itself with change and innovation.

    The petrol retail industry is working toward a new digital transformation of the future petrol retail stations (gas stations). This is backed by the goal of driving a new and improved customer experience. I believe that to get there we will need to implement and harness the value from the internet of things (IoT) devices.

    Previously we saw a network evolution of software defined networks (SDN) driven by policy and a “smart” layer that better aligned the infrastructure with the needs of services and applications. But as CTO for a global company that specializes in cloud-based CAFM, I now see the network once again needs to align with digital transformation. Based on my direct experience and contact with petrol retail operators, I have seen firsthand the shared industry vision of digital transformation.

    The front-line evolution of business has always required a hard focus on the quality of the customer experience. Digital transformation is a change agent that enables a significant opportunity to make improvements in regards to automation and IoT. The road that leads to this new age of customer experience requires an automation overhaul for the retail operators, which includes the adoption of AI and IoT innovation. This is especially true in the vertical market of petrol retail stations, where a transformation of the auto industry is moving away from petrol and toward a new paradigm of electric-powered cars.

    Digital transformation in the petrol retail industry is, in my opinion, a recipe required for business survival because the concept of convenience stores and petrol stations will most likely radically change over the next 10 years. We can all recall those petrol convenience stores where the bathrooms were dirty and out of soap, the fuel pumps were slow, and we wished for fresher, healthier food along with fresh, unburned coffee.

    The customer front line is where a new set of smart IoT devices will drive improved customer interaction. For example, we have the ability now to remove humans from the purchase of fuel and switch to a self-serve model where new machine technology is the primary customer interface. New technology advances in AI and machine learning drive these machine interfaces to be smarter and will push them to improve customer experience.

    Other industries, such as global banking, also want to drive a new “customer experience” in their retail outlets. Just like petrol retail, they have a focus on trying to leverage the power of AI and IoT to automate many of their manual operational processes, which can be a barrier to adoption.

    The new interfaces involved in the front-line intersection of customer interactions should be sensors and displays that are smart. Smart as in AI-enabled intelligence that is trained to optimize and fine-tune front-line experience orchestration. In the past, we had the notion of “front-line employees,” who touched our customers and were directly related to the customer experience. Now we are enabling automation through AI-enabled IoT machine interfaces.

    In my last trip to Europe, I learned of sensors in the gas station bathrooms that detect when the soap dispensers are low. At a higher level, sensors in the fuel pumps or even POS systems in the gas station can use predictive AI to detect when the filters in individual pumps need replacing which would drive a “slower” lousy experience for the customer. There are many more AI-enabled IoT devices in the convenience store that concern themselves with food quality and minimizing food waste.

    If the petrol operators are to rely on these new IoT smart assets for improving the customer experience, then the IoT assets themselves should meet KPIs for availability, performance and cyber security (cyber hygiene). Also, the networks that connect these IoT assets to the cloud should be monitored for availability, performance and security. The goal is to create an automated monitoring fabric that does not require additional humans to make this new paradigm come together.

    There are challenges that accompany this digital transformation. I’ve had a number of recent meetings with different petrol retailers. They are very focused on translating “assets” to customer experience (i.e., gas pumps that are not slow, soap dispensers that work in bathrooms, coffee machines that are top-notch, convenience store areas that could rival Starbucks and be used for business meetings). Petrol retail stations will need to focus on areas of digital transformation that will help them manage and maintain those assets so they are always working at their optimal performance. New tech for the sake of tech is not the focus here. We should be leveraging AI and IoT to keep all these assets maintained in top performance.

    Whether it is repairing coffee machines, car washes or fuel pumps, AI-powered machines can orchestrate it all. These new smart assets can enable the next petrol retail customer experience while at the same time removing human error to keep the data flow clean and accurate. Intelligent “digital workflows” driven through APIs will ensure compliance and reduce risk factors in this machine-orchestrated paradigm of the future.

    In summary, the petrol retail and convenience store industry is driving toward digital transformation to survive as the world changes and the business paradigm shifts. This intersection is a new set of automated customer interactions with IoT interfaces, sensors and smart displays. AI is behind all of it with a set of algorithms to drive automation of the business. We have the opportunity to enable intelligent machines to orchestrate humans and control supply chain vendors with digital workflows that optimize the critical and revenue-generating assets of the future. This technology has the power to drive a new and exciting customer experience for all of us.

    This blog post was authored by Techniche CTO and Forbes Technology Council member Tom Caldwell, and was originally published on Forbes.com.

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