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SPECS Exclusive: Construction goes high tech

BY CSA STAFF

Although the construction industry lags other major verticals in IT spending, technology is still having a dramatic impact.

“We are at the intersection of technology and buildings,” said James M. Benham, CEO of construction technology firm JBKnowledge, during a session at Chain Store Age’s SPECS 2016 conference at Hilton Anatole in Dallas, March 13-15. The session, “Future Forecast: Drones, Sensors, Integrated Apps,” examined how leading-edge technology is changing the construction industry.

“Technology, construction and buildings are converging into a new product we haven’t defined yet,” said Benham. This is despite the fact that on average construction firms spend 1.5% of annual revenue on IT, compared to the 3.5% of annual revenue other industries combined spend on IT.

One key area that is being affected is worker safety.

“Death is no longer acceptable or financially feasible in construction,” stated Benham. “We optimize sites and reduce worker movement, saving $400,000 – $600,000 per store project and increasing safety.”
Behnam also said in the future, worker safety will be improved through the use of cutting-edge technologies such as sensor-equipped safety vests that vibrate if a worker gets too close to dangerous equipment.

Much of Benham’s presentation focused on emerging technologies that will significantly change how construction projects are run and insured in the next few years.

“More complex retail strategies are resulting in more complex retail construction projects that are impossible without technology,” said Benham.

Following are highlights of some of the leading-edge construction solutions Benham discussed.

Cloud: “Cloud technology is computing resources that are available anywhere, anytime, on any device, and you can have as much as you want,” said Benham. “If you have hundreds of sites, you can know about a safety incident anywhere immediately.”

Big data: “Big data is data at big volume, big velocity and big variety,” Benham said. “It’s like Niagara Falls, but you can tell where the water is coming from, where it’s going to and what it all means. You could analyze workers’ compensation insurance claims to learn what drives catastrophic claims.”

Machine learning: “Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that provides computers the ability to learn without being explicitly programmed,” said Benham.

Internet of Things: “The Internet of Things will impact how and what we build,” said Benham. “Everything is electronically connected in real time. So you could monitor the performance of your truck drivers or check on truck fuel levels and tire pressure. In 10 years, you won’t be able to insure your vehicles without Internet of Things tracking. There will also be an Internet of Buildings. The frame of a building will be a giant server array.”

Wearables: “To qualify as a wearable, a device has to biologically interact with you,” Benham stated. “For example, a smartwatch that monitors your heart rate. It will be required for health insurance of your workers in 10 years.”

Augmented and virtual reality: “Augmented reality augments your world and vision,” explained Benham. “Virtual reality is virtual immersion where you forget the real world. You can augment vision to overlay arrows and highlight what needs to be done on a site. Virtual reality can deliver the feeling of walking into a space and then touching a wall to get an ‘as built’ estimate. All these tools will end the need for a computer monitor or display. The whole world will be your monitor.”

Drones: “Drones are the culmination of all the technologies I discussed,” said Benham. “Using object recognition, you could have a drone follow a troublesome employee. Using 3D scanners, drones can perform 3D data capture. You can deploy autonomous drones to inspect things that are high up or fix things when they break.”

Benham also briefly touched on 3D printing, which he said will alter how buildings are constructed.

“In China, they are currently using 3D printers to print buildings,” said Benham. “It’s really happening. I don’t talk about it too much because it freaks people out.”

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Best Buy adds Silicon Valley heft to board

BY Gina Acosta

The board of directors at Best Buy Co. is losing a longtime board member and gaining a new voice with experience in forming relationships with top venture capitalists in Silicon Valley.

The retailer announced that former CEO Brad Anderson will retire from the board of directors and that the company has appointed corporate venture capital leader Claudia Fan Munce to the board.Anderson will serve the remainder of his term through the end of the annual shareholder meeting on June 14. Munce will stand for election at that time.

“As a respected leader in the venture community, Claudia brings extensive experience in identifying emerging technologies and helping tech startups come to life,” Best Buy CEO Hubert Joly said. “We are honored to welcome her to the Best Buy Board of Directors and look forward to the contributions she is certain to make toward our strategic growth initiatives.”

Anderson started his second stint on the Board in March 2013. He formerly worked at Best Buy for more than 35 years, serving as CEO (2002-09) and president and chief operating officer (1991-2002). He also served on the Board from 1986 to 2010.Anderson, who first joined the company in 1973 as a salesman at a Sound of Music store, played a key role in Best Buy’s expansion and transformation during his tenure as an executive. As CEO, he oversaw a period of rapid growth during which the company doubled in size to more than 1,000 stores and $40 billion in annual revenue.

Munce is a venture advisor at New Enterprise Associates (NEA), one of the world’s largest and most active venture capital firms. She joined NEA earlier this year after spending 30 years at IBM Corp. Most recently, she was a founding member and managing director of IBM Venture Capital Group and a vice president of IBM Corporate Development. In her role, she formed strategic relationships with top venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and around the globe to drive IBM’s growth in new markets through partnerships and acquisitions.

“For the past 15 years, I’ve been on the front lines of innovation, engaging with startups and VCs around the world, and I’m a big believer that we are in an era of incredibly rapid innovation that is transformative to the retail industry,” Munce said. “I hope to be able to use my knowledge to help Best Buy find the intersection where innovation can impact the company’s strategy.”

She added: “I believe Best Buy can lead the industry and totally transform the customer experience. Even as someone with a master’s degree in computer science, I still need technical support sometimes because of the increasing complexity of technology. Best Buy is well positioned to help consumers get through the complexity to leverage and enjoy the incredible technology innovations happening today.”

Munce serves as a board member for Bank of the West, the National Venture Capital Association and Global Corporate Venturing. She also has served on the boards of many global venture capital organizations, including the Latin American Venture Capital Association, Women in Leadership in Private Equity (China), Canadian Innovation Exchange and Savannah Fund (Africa).

Munce, 56, was born in Taiwan and grew up in Brazil. She holds a master’s degree in computer science from the Santa Clara University School of Engineering and a master’s degree in management from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

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Stein Mart names a new CEO

BY Gina Acosta

Stein Mart has named a new CEO just a week after a tough fourth quarter in which the retailer posted a decline in profit.

The Florida-based company says it has appointed Dawn Robertson as CEO and a member of the board of directors. Robertson will also have the responsibilities of chief merchant for the foreseeable future, the company said. She succeeds Jay Stein, the company's founder and long standing CEO, who had advised the board of his desire to step back from that position but remain Stein Mart's chairman of the board.

"Dawn brings with her over 25 years' executive management experience at major retailers and department stores," said Jay Stein. "With her leadership and industry knowledge, she will help us build on our growth initiatives and bring a fresh focus to our company and merchandising organization that will benefit us immensely."

Over the past decade, Robertson was the chief executive officer or president of several retail companies, including UNKNWN, Deb Shops, Nygard International and The Avenue. She has also held various executive positions at Old Navy, Myer Stores, Federated Department Stores, Saks and May Department Stores.

In the fourth quarter, profits at Stein Mart were cut in half as the company relied on heavy promotional activity to clear inventory and eke out a 1% same-store sales increase. Sales at Jacksonville-based Stein Mart’s 278 stores and website increased 1.8% to $394 million in fourth quarter ended Jan. 30, thanks largely to the addition last year of 10 new stores. Full year sales increased 3.2% to nearly $1.4 billion. The 1% increase in fourth quarter and full year same-store sales was due almost entirely to e-commerce sales, which grew by 70% from the same periods the prior year.

Stein Mart has 283 locations from California to Massachusetts, as well as Steinmart.com.

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