Walmart Technology Brief: April 2019

March 30th, 2019
photo courtesy of technologyreview.com

The King has Left the Building

Jeremy King, Walmart’s Chief Technology Officer for the past 8 years is leaving the company. Mr. King is taking his talents from Bentonville, Arkansas to Silicon Valley. Specifically, to pre-IPO unicorn Pinterest, where he will serve as the company’s Chief Engineering Officer reporting directly to the CEO. CNBC reports that he will be accountable for Pinterest’s “visual discovery engine” that recommends posts and images to Pinterest users. Pinterest had Mr. King pinned on their board as he represents a splashy technical hire that is strategically happening before the company files for an IPO.

King will be replacing Pinterest’s outgoing head of engineering Li Fan who is scooting to become the head of engineering for Lime.

As the head of Walmart Labs, King was instrumental in revamping the company’s e-commerce technology and bringing cutting edge innovations to stores such as automated shelf scanning robots, in-store pickup and grocery delivery. He led the company through more than 10 acquisitions and spearheaded the organization’s transition to the cloud (although not the Amazon Cloud for obvious competitive reasons).

He also championed open source development at Walmart due to the company’s “build rather than buy” philosophy. The organization has historically held the belief that their information systems provide a competitive advantage over other industry players. Additionally, a third party developing custom systems for an organization the size of Walmart would encounter a Herculean task. The Wall Street Journal quoted King as stating, “You would be surprised at the list of companies that have completely choked on Walmart’s scale, because no one really builds products for Fortune One,”.

King’s last day with Walmart is March 29th 2019.

JetBlack

The Wall Street Journal reported on Walmart’s upscale, member’s only, text to order service that is targeted to wealthy NYC moms. For $50 a month, a small beta group in Manhattan will have access to personal shoppers/couriers that will white-glove deliver any non-food item on the same day as the order. The service, named “JetBlack”, is being helmed by Jenny Fleiss of Rent the Runway fame.

The items are wrapped in black (the “Black” in JetBlack) and the idea is a pet project of Jet.com co-founder Marc Lore (the “Jet” in JetBlack). Currently, the initiative is not profitable but its larger aim is to train AI powered systems that could one day “..power an automated personal-shopping service, preparing Walmart for a time when the search bar disappears and more shopping is done through voice-activated devices,” per Jenny Fleiss. JetBlack is essentially a research initiative on AI.

Surprisingly, the service does not restrict users to items only available through Walmart properties and subsidiaries. If a customer wants an Amazon product, then JetBlack will complete the request. Why the customer wouldn’t just order off Amazon themselves is anyone’s guess.

Walmart will be able to inventory the products that their members use after an initial in home visit and the company is building up a trove of data on the products that their wealthy clients order. In this age of data as power, Walmart is taking steps to gather valuable data on upscale clientele which could prove useful in its ongoing battle with Amazon.

Walmart Games?

A number of established tech players have announced or not officially announced their intentions to bring video game streaming to the masses; “Netflix for gaming” is the metaphor. Removing expensive hardware from the gamer equation and running games from giant data centers enables gamers to game with nothing more than a browser, tablet or smart phone.

Google made a big splash recently when it unveiled its cloud based gaming platform named Stadia at the 2019 Game Developers Conference. Microsoft has xCLoud, Amazon has a yet unnamed gaming platform and even Verizon is testing a gaming app on Nvidia Shield.

Walmart, yes Walmart is also rumored to be in on the action with the development of their own streaming game platform. Before we dismiss this as a flight of fancy, consider that Walmart already owns streaming video platform Vudu, where it can leverage existing technology and resources.

It is not known how far along Walmart is in the development process but I would suspect that this initiative is once again driven by the need to keep pace with Amazon.

For more Walmart technology coverage please check out Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 of my series on Walmart’s overall technology strategy.

Additional Walmart technology coverage can be found here

If you’re interested in Business Intelligence & Tableau check out my videos here: Anthony B. Smoak

References:

  1. Pinterest hires Walmart CTO ahead of IPO. CNBC. (March 21, 2019). https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/21/pinterest-hires-walmart-cto-jeremy-king-ahead-of-ipo.html
  2. Pinterest Pins Tech Hopes on Walmart Technology Chief. Wall Street Journal. (March, 21, 2019). https://www.wsj.com/articles/pinterest-pins-tech-hopes-on-walmart-technology-chief-11553209071
  3. Walmart Builds a Secret Weapon to Battle Amazon for Retail’s Future. (March, 21, 2019). https://www.wsj.com/articles/walmart-builds-a-secret-weapon-to-battle-amazon-for-retails-future-11553181810
  4. Walmart May Follow Google’s Cue On Game Streaming. Android Headlines. Report (March 22, 2019).https://www.androidheadlines.com/2019/03/walmart-google-game-streaming-service.html
  5. Walmart is reportedly considering taking on Google and Microsoft with a video game streaming service. Business Insider. (March 21, 2019). https://www.businessinsider.com/walmart-video-game-streaming-google-stadia-2019-3