Jan. 14, 2021
By Sanjay Radhakrishnan, Vice President, Global Tech, Walmart
As part of our digital transformation, we’re using Internet of Things (IoT) at a scale unmatched across retail to improve food quality, lower energy consumption and keep costs low for our customers. Currently, Walmart manages more than 7 million unique IoT data points across our U.S. stores. Every day, this network of connected devices sends almost 1.5 billion messages regarding temperature, operating functions and energy use. To help manage this massive volume, the IoT team within Walmart Global Tech has built proprietary software that uses advanced algorithms to detect anomalous events in real time and take action to fix issues quickly.
IoT has been a topic in the tech industry for a few years. Many consumers have heard of it when they are thinking about how different pieces of technology within their home “talk” to another. If you’ve ever told one of your devices (let’s say your phone) to turn on another device in your home (let’s say your TV), then you’ve leveraged IoT in your home. Walmart has done the same thing in our own “home” – all of our 4,600+ U.S. stores – to better serve our customers and lower costs.
A Focus on Food Quality for our Customers
Food quality is an important part of Walmart’s customer experience. Our customers depend on our stores to maintain food at the proper temperature, like keeping ice cream frozen and milk cold. Global Tech is helping our Real Estate team to ensure proper food quality through monitoring our refrigeration units with IoT systems. Our IoT application not only monitors the temperature of the individual unit to ensure proper food safety standards, but also looks at how the equipment is performing and takes proactive steps towards maintenance repairs to reduce the cost and down time caused by equipment failure.
If the signal received requires additional information, it is sent to the maintenance team through a cloud application where the team will triage the issue and determine the best course of action. That could include leveraging a store associate to take additional steps, repairing an IT connection issue, submitting a work order and getting a technician on-site to look at the unit or by making changes remotely to the equipment.
Responsible Energy Consumption
Efficiently and effectively managing energy consumption in response to internal and external factors requires constant monitoring to make adjustments without impacting the customer experience. We’re able to use IoT sensors on our stores’ HVAC and energy systems to remotely monitor and respond to community energy consumption needs quickly and with minimal impact to our customers’ shopping experience. Through the use of a solution called Demand Response we can reduce energy consumption to any of our U.S. stores for a set amount of time and then have systems in place to automatically return our equipment back to the normal operating standards. What this means is that we can lower energy use anywhere in the U.S. by region or an individual store. This allows us to reduce energy consumption and lower utility costs all without impacting the customer experience. Another benefit of this application of IoT is the sustainability implications, where in partnership with local communities, we can lower our use of the energy grid in response to high demand needs like blackouts and brownouts.
IoT in Action During the Pandemic
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, store hours were adjusted practically overnight to allow associates time to restock and sanitize. Adjusting the “set-back” times for HVAC and refrigeration cases on-site would’ve required Walmart to spend hundreds of hours to manually change the equipment scheduling in each individual store in the middle of the pandemic. Instead, through the use of IoT, we leveraged Demand Response to make changes across multiple stores and geographic locations simultaneously, saving time and reducing expenses. As restrictions lift and store hours adjust by location, we continue to leverage our internal systems to modify equipment scheduling accordingly.
Just Getting Started
What’s most exciting about our IoT work is that we are just getting started. We have a roadmap for the future of IoT that will include other types of equipment, other types of algorithms and data processing and additional locations. As we continue to connect more assets we will apply our experience to further reduce our energy consumption while increasing the value to our customers. We will continue to focus on what our customers need most, like high food quality and a positive shopping experience.