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By The Numbers

Workplace Survey, Findings

1.Workers are struggling to work effectively. 

When focus is compromised in pursuit of Collaboration, neither works well.

2. Effective workplaces balance focus and collaboration. 

Workplaces designed to enable collaboration without sacrificing employees’ ability to focus are more successful.

3. Choice drives performance and innovation. 

Employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work are seen as more innovative and have higher-performing employees.


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A Walmart store in Levittown (New York) is transforming retail. With artificial intelligence-enabled cameras, interactive displays, and a massive data center, this store suggests a retail future that seems like science fiction. It’s a unique real-world shopping environment designed to explore the possibilities artificial intelligence can contribute to the store experience. It’s Walmart’s new Intelligent Retail Lab – or “IRL” for short.

Testing new, innovative ideas within a real store containing over 30,000 items is an opportunity that Mike Hanrahan, CEO of IRL, finds exhilarating. “We’ve got 50,000 square feet of real retail space. The scope of what we can do operationally is so exciting,” he said. “Technology enables us to understand so much more – in real time – about our business. When you combine all the information we’re gathering in IRL with Walmart’s 50-plus years of expertise in running stores, you can create really powerful experiences that improve the lives of both our customers and associates.”


IRL is set up to gather information about what’s happening inside the store through an impressive array of sensors, cameras and processors. All this hardware is connected by enough cabling to scale Mt. Everest five times and enough processing power to download three years’ worth of music (27,000 hours) each second. According to Hanrahan, the first thing this equipment will help the team focus on is product inventory and availability. In short, the team will use real-time information to explore efficiencies that will allow associates to know more precisely when to restock products, so items are available on shelves when they’re needed.

“Customers can be confident about products being there, about the freshness of produce and meat. Those are the types of things that AI can really help with,” Hanrahan said. Here’s one example the team is working on for the near future: When you go shopping for the week, you want the products you buy to be in stock when you get to the store. In IRL, a combination of cameras and real-time analytics will automatically trigger out-of-stock notifications to internal apps that alert associates when to re-stock. This sounds simple, but it means the store has to automatically: a) detect the product on the shelf; b) recognize the specific product (meaning, decipher the differences between 1 pound of ground beef and 2 pounds of ground beef), and c) compare the quantities on the shelf to the upcoming sales demand

As a result, the associates won’t have to continually comb the store to replace products running low on the shelves. They’ll know what to bring out of the backroom before customers show up. With the technology in IRL, customers can trust that the products they need will be available during the times they shop. Because there are many scenarios just like this to be tested, IRL will be in data-gathering mode in its early days. The focus will be on learning from the technology and not implementing changes to operations in haste.

Walking into IRL for the first time is both familiar and unique. There are a lot of the staples you’d expect in a regular Walmart store: associates, cash registers, and shelves with thousands of products. The idea of a live shopping environment infused with AI is exciting, but it also raises questions about all the visible technology. This was a key consideration for the team while designing IRL, and the store includes multiple information stations for customers to visit to understand exactly how AI makes the store tick.

“We chose right from the very start to not hide the technology,” Hanrahan explained. As customers shop, they can interact with a number of educational displays. Small educational kiosks are interspersed throughout the store. A Welcome Center at the front end allows customers to dive deeper into technical specifications and common questions. But, the real fun is just outside the Data Center where the servers are housed. Flanking the plexiglass windows are two large displays – one of which encourages participants to move around and learn how technology reacts to body positioning.

Among the customers, IRL’s more than 100 associates undertake these retail experiments every day, getting a firsthand view of what’s possible for the future. With technology performing mundane tasks like evaluating if shopping carts need to be corralled, associates will be able to spend more time on tasks humans can do best, such as helping customers or adding creative touches to merchandise displays.

“We think it’s something our associates will be excited about,” Hanrahan said. “The technology has been built to improve associates’ jobs, to make their jobs more interesting, to help them alleviate some of the mundane tasks. AI can enhance their skill set in a very rapidly changing world.”