Kroger, Albertsons and Walgreens Join Walmart and Gap as Microsoft Azure Partners

Kroger, Albertsons and Walgreens Join Walmart and Gap as Microsoft Azure Partners

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There has officially been another big chess move in the global public cloud war

In what was a huge quarter for Microsoft, five prominent retailers pledged to favor Azure for the public cloud element of their digital development strategies.

So…why Azure? That question is largely answered by asking another: why not the clear market leader of public cloud, AWS?

Retailers across the globe have become wary of the recent activity of Amazon, in particular the $13.7billion acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017 and the expansion of their brick-and-mortar Amazon Go stores with their futuristic ‘cashier-less’ technology.

Given Amazon’s clear invasion into the hybrid retail space, there is no appetite from competitors to channel any funds in their direction – hence the AWS snub.

Microsoft has acted decisively to take full advantage of this AWS aversion, signing deals with Walmart and Gap in November 2018 and adding Kroger, Albertsons and Walgreens to the list early this year.

For businesses in other verticals, the choice may not be as clear cut. That’s where an experienced, vendor-neutral team of cloud migration specialists such as Shamrock Consulting Group come into play – we can help you make informed decisions on what cloud platform is best-suited for your business, and we offer direct connects from any location to any cloud (at any speed) for the guaranteed the best price.

Wooing Walmart

Microsoft’s biggest coup is undoubtedly the five-year agreement they signed with retail heavyweight Walmart. Not only will Azure be the platform of choice for Walmart’s tech development teams, they will even share colo facilities.

In fact, the agreement is only the latest step in a collaboration with Microsoft that began in July 2018 and will involve the creation of a joint office for around 30 engineers from both companies. Nicknamed ‘4.co’ for its location on the corner of Fourth and Colorado streets in Austin, Texas, the facility is set to open in 2019.

Due to the nearby university links, Austin has become a hotbed of tech innovation and is now clearly the center of Walmart’s drive to transform how its staff works as well as the experience of its global customer base.

Walmart has already begun reaping the benefits of cutting-edge technologies, with thousands of IoT sensors delivering billions of daily messages about the performance of refrigeration units and HVAC systems. By quickly picking up on problems, Walmart can increase the energy efficiency of their stores and warehouses, and reduce spoilage costs.

New projects on the horizon will include the creation of internal chatbots, using AI tech to empower staff to quickly find the answers to simple queries. Azure’s natural language processing capabilities will also help them to process around 40 Tb of unstructured customer data in near real-time, providing important insights into customer behavior.

Spotting a ‘Gap’ in the Market

Clothing giant Gap also confirmed their collaboration with Microsoft in November 2018, describing Azure as its ‘primary cloud provider.’ This will include a commitment from subsidiaries such as Banana Republic and Old Navy to use Microsoft’s Office 365 suite of SaaS applications for more optimized communication and collaboration.

While the deal doesn’t explicitly freeze out any other cloud providers, it is another win for Microsoft over Amazon within the retail vertical.

Gap CIO Sally Gilligan explained how Azure PaaS provides the secure and scalable platform Gap needs to meet its goals of online and mobile growth. The company, which operates via numerous brands in more than 90 countries, is migrating key existing services to the cloud. It also aims to use Azure to accelerate time to market for new services built and deployed through its DevOps team comprising engineers and product management teams.

The Azure platform will also help Gap to understand its customer base at a deeper level. This will be facilitated by Azure’s machine learning technology and advanced analytics capabilities. Gap plans to use these insights to offer personalized marketing and retail services to its customers across multiple channels and brands. As Shelley Branston, Microsoft’s Corporate VP for Global Retail and Consumer Goods put it, Azure will help Gap “turn data into dollars.”

Gap also plans to use Microsoft Power B.I. to better equip its customer-facing agents to provide the best, personalized service possible.

Exciting Developments with Kroger

In January 2018, Microsoft announced their partnership with Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in North America, revealing some exciting collaborations on in-store technology and retail-as-a-service (RaaS) products.

One of the developments these two companies are working on is called Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment – or EDGE for short. This is a ‘smart shelf’ solution featuring interactive digital displays for highlighting prices, promotions and nutritional information and is already in place in nearly 100 Kruger supermarkets.

EDGE will be integrated with Kroger’s existing mobile ‘Scan, Bag, Go’ technology which includes an app customers can download to scan their own groceries. The app doesn’t have great reviews to date, but perhaps this will improve as the Azure and Kroger relationship deepens. Eventually, Kroger wants EDGE shelves to provide personalized displays for individual customers.

Kroger doesn’t intend to be a ballhog and keep all of its tech in-house. Together with Microsoft, it will roll out EDGE as part of a RaaS package marketed as ‘enablement software built by a retailer for retailers.’ The package will also include ‘Scan, Bag, Go,’ Virtual Store Manager, a sensor network and connectors to existing inventory management, and tag and merchandizing systems.

It should be noted that Kroger will not be working with Azure exclusively, as they have revealed that Google will also play a part in the franchise’s future. Just don’t expect any AWS announcements!

Albertsons and Walgreens Join the Party

Albertsons, which counts Safeway and Vons among its subsidiaries, is another substantial new partner for Azure after it announced a three-year deal in January. CIO Anuj Dhanda explained how the Idaho-based supermarket chain – second in size only to Kroger – needed to speed up its efforts to modernize its digital infrastructure.

While the aversion to AWS is driving all of these retail deals, the Albertsons agreement is also an example of the trust Microsoft inspires through its existing Windows and Office enterprise products. In addition to committing to using Office 365 SaaS, Albertsons will be looking at using Azure AI and Cognitive Services to streamline the customer experience.

As a first move, Albertsons has launched ‘One Touch Fuel,’ an app designed to save time at the gas pump.

Dhanda has also stressed that Albertsons remains open to working with other cloud companies (just not ‘you know who!’).

Walgreens, America’s second largest pharmacy (behind CVS Health) has also jumped onboard with Azure.

Need Help Clarifying Your Cloud Strategy? Talk to Shamrock

Whether you’ve already decided on a clear path forward for your business in terms of cloud strategy, or if you’re still evaluating your options, there are subtle yet distinct differences between public and hybrid cloud providers which must be carefully analyzed before making the decision to embark upon a cloud migration.

As a CIO-endorsed top cloud solution provider, Shamrock has worked with hundreds of enterprise companies to help ensure that their cloud platform is aligned with their needs and requirements. We are certified consulting partners for Azure, AWS, GCP and many other public and private cloud vendors, so we are uniquely positioned to assist regardless of your cloud preference.

Want to go cloud native? No problem. Or maybe you’re leaning towards a hybrid cloud solution – we’ve got you covered! And, if you want to follow in the footsteps of Walmart, Walgreens and Kroger and adopt Azure, we can help you to both understand and configure Azure ExpressRoute direct connects from any location to any region at any speed for the guaranteed best price.

Our consultations are complimentary, so don’t sign on that dotted line with Azure or anyone else until you get the skinny from one of our certified Azure experts!

Ben Ferguson

Ben Ferguson

Ben Ferguson is the Vice President and Senior Network Architect for Shamrock Consulting Group, an industry leader in digital transformation solutions. Since his departure from Biochemical research in 2004, Ben has built core competencies around cloud direct connects and cloud cost reduction, enterprise wide area network architecture, high density data center deployments, cybersecurity and Voice over IP telephony. Ben has designed hundreds of complex networks for some of the largest companies in the world and he’s helped Shamrock become a top partner of the 3 largest public cloud platforms for AWS, Azure and GCP consulting. When he takes the occasional break from designing networks, he enjoys surfing, golf, working out, trying new restaurants and spending time with his wife, Linsey, his son, Weston and his dog, Hamilton.