IKEA Retail’s Barbara Martin Coppola


Synthetic Intelligence and Enterprise Technique

The Synthetic Intelligence and Enterprise Technique initiative explores the rising use of synthetic intelligence within the enterprise panorama. The exploration seems to be particularly at how AI is affecting the event and execution of technique in organizations.

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Drawing on earlier expertise working in 9 nations for organizations like Google and Samsung, Barbara Martin Coppola joined IKEA Retail as its chief digital officer to supervise the furnishings retailer’s digital transformation, enhance its buyer expertise, and foster the corporate’s ongoing dedication to sustainability.

On this episode of the Me, Myself, and AI podcast, hosts Sam Ransbotham and Shervin Khodabandeh communicate with Barbara about how she empowers cross-functional collaboration and “testing, and iterating, and attempting, failing, and beginning once more” to appreciate profitable know-how initiatives. She additionally shares the context behind some latest customer-facing AI instruments the corporate has launched to help clients by the shopping for course of and liberate front-line staff to deal with buyer engagement as a substitute of operational duties.

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Sam Ransbotham: Phrases matter. Specifically, the phrases we use to explain know-how inside a corporation matter. Whereas IKEA product names could also be arduous to pronounce, the retailer is crystal clear about the way it talks about know-how. Right this moment, we discuss with Barbara Martin Coppola, the chief digital officer at IKEA Retail, about oblique advantages from synthetic intelligence.

Welcome to Me, Myself, and AI, a podcast on synthetic intelligence in enterprise. Every episode, we introduce you to somebody innovating with AI. I’m Sam Ransbotham, professor of knowledge techniques at Boston School. I’m additionally the visitor editor for the AI and Enterprise Technique Huge Concepts program at MIT Sloan Administration Assessment.

Shervin Khodabandeh: And I’m Shervin Khodabandeh, senior companion with BCG, and I colead BCG’s AI apply in North America. Collectively, MIT SMR and BCG have been researching AI for 5 years, interviewing a whole lot of practitioners and surveying hundreds of firms on what it takes to construct and to deploy and scale AI capabilities throughout the group and actually rework the way in which organizations function.

Sam Ransbotham: Right this moment we’re speaking with Barbara Martin Coppola. She’s chief digital officer for IKEA. Barbara, thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

Barbara Martin Coppola: Thanks for having me.

Sam Ransbotham: The title of our podcast is Me, Myself, and AI, so we are likely to deal with the person and the person story behind know-how. Let’s begin there. Are you able to describe your present position at IKEA?

Barbara Martin Coppola: I’m chief digital officer at IKEA Retail, which is the world’s largest furnishing retailer, with 367 shops in 30-plus markets. And my position actually is, I’m chargeable for the general digital growth enterprise for the corporate, in addition to the digital transformation.

Sam Ransbotham: You’ve received a fairly important background — roles at Google, and YouTube, and Samsung, Texas Devices. After which faculty in Spain and France. Are you able to join belongings you’ve discovered in a few of these previous roles to the way you’ve utilized them to your present position?

Barbara Martin Coppola: I’ve labored now in 4 totally different industries — in semiconductors, then I went to client electronics, pure digital, and now I’m in retail. And in all these locations, digital know-how performed a really, essential half. I’m connecting the dots between the whole lot that I’ve discovered up to now, each in enterprise fashions, in numerous methods of organizing firms, totally different cultures, and management as effectively, to guide the corporate towards modernization, digitalization, and totally different enterprise fashions.

My time at Google, for example, taught me what efficiency is, and what I imply by that’s the right way to use agility, iterations, and measured outcomes of initiatives. At Samsung, which to me was the perfect instance of execution I’ve seen in my life, I used to be primarily based in South Korea and [saw] the ability of the collective. So how does it translate now to the surroundings at IKEA? As soon as the consensus is reached, then … be clear about “OK, now we’ve received the choice; [let’s] go.”

I can go on and on, however on the finish of the day, I feel it’s adapting to the totally different cultural norms and attempting to deliver [them] from different locations and really increase it for the good thing about the corporate, and the well-being of individuals, and the reward that it may be to realize issues collectively.

Shervin Khodabandeh: That’s nice. Barbara, how does AI match into the general digital street map?

Barbara Martin Coppola: AI is completely core — important. I actually imagine that information is crucial asset an organization has right now. AI is being utilized just about each step of the way in which within the worth chain of retailing. It has potential for just about the whole lot, and so it’s a selection of focus, and it’s a selection of enterprise outcomes and the place will we put the information scientists to be creating magic, actually. We focus the creation of AI towards totally different values or outcomes.

That plus the urge for food of the corporate to create wonderful issues — figuring out how AI generally is a magic wand, if we wish it to be, then the idea of the corporate that it is a key part for the success and [competitiveness] of the corporate issues a complete lot as effectively.

Sam Ransbotham: Is there a specific mission that you may give us some particulars on that you simply’re enthusiastic about, that’s occurred not too long ago, or that your workforce has been concerned with?

Barbara Martin Coppola: There’s one, really, that I like personally. It’s about democratizing design. What do I imply by that? You already know this sense the place you wish to beautify one thing as lovely as what you will have seen within the retailer, however you don’t know the place to begin? And so what we’ve got achieved is simply, with the consolation of your cell phone, you may scan your room, take photos alongside the way in which. After which, by visible AI, we really provide you with again an image, the place you may transfer the furnishings, you may delete it, and you’ll really slot in 3D fashions of IKEA furnishings that adapt to the dimensions of your area. So think about how highly effective that’s. It’s visible AI. It’s [from] a tremendous workforce primarily based in California known as Geomagical Labs, and I’m very, very, very excited. It’s developing within the coming months, and I feel it’s going to revolutionize this anxiousness of filling up an area with out being a decorator.

Shervin Khodabandeh: I need you to know that I’m sitting at an IKEA desk that I purchased 15 years in the past. And it’s moved with me.

Sam Ransbotham: Does it match? You don’t know from digital actuality if it was going to suit there or not.

Shervin Khodabandeh: It’s excellent. I adore it a lot. I organize my home round it. And I’ve precisely your chair, additionally, which I purchased with the desk.

Barbara Martin Coppola: Good. I’ve precisely the identical setting right here, really. It’s a kind of that goes up and down, and so while you get bored with sitting in a Zoom [meeting], you simply go up and you are feeling higher.

Shervin Khodabandeh: However seeing that you’ve got that makes me really feel that I made the proper selection.

Barbara Martin Coppola: Sure.

Shervin Khodabandeh: There should be so many different examples, notably for like a standard retailer that’s underexplored or not even on their radar, as a result of I have a look at your background, and also you’ve been in digital-first firms the place the whole lot’s been constructed on an understanding of digital and information and know-how. After which, at a spot like IKEA or different iconic retailers, the place — I’ve to imagine — there’s a transition or a metamorphosis that should occur from old-fashioned to new faculty. What are among the belongings you’ve noticed or some classes or some recommendation for different retailers who form of are used to a special manner of doing issues? And now they’ve all this chance, the magic wand that you simply had been speaking about, however how do they know the place to create that magic and what’s the artwork of the potential with it?

Barbara Martin Coppola: It’s an important query. I imagine that AI is limitless, and so it’s actually saying, “OK, what area will we wish to get higher at?” and have the open-mindedness to make totally different features work collectively, particularly digital features and information scientists. I’ll provide you with an instance. IKEA went [from having] massive blue shops exterior of the primary cities — and that was the primary enterprise mannequin — to having not solely quite a lot of totally different shops, but in addition numerous digital contact factors. And in order that creates numerous complexity. How does the move of products have to be operated in order that the prices aren’t going by the roof? And that problem itself is so advanced that it requires AI to have the ability to be solved for.

There are lots of variables: There’s demand forecasting; there’s the dimensions of the products; there’s the supply of things; there’s a worth. And so, on the finish of the day, AI utilized to this area is just about the one technique to function the enterprise in a contemporary manner. So simply with that, and [e-commerce] growing a lot throughout the latest years — we’ve got 5x’ed e-com in three years, really, at IKEA — we’ve got saved, due to AI and enabling the shops to be achievement facilities … the creation of 15 buyer distribution facilities. That’s not solely nice economically, but it surely’s nice for the planet as effectively. And so it’s a number of potentialities in a optimistic manner that while you begin understanding the ability of this, the demand is greater than what we are able to really obtain. So then the subsequent problem is, how will we scale AI in order that we are able to embed it in every single place within the firm?

Shervin Khodabandeh: So … to paraphrase you, it requires open-mindedness, and creativeness, and specializing in “What are the issues we wish to do otherwise?” But additionally, it’s arduous work, proper? Since you’ve received to then get groups that aren’t used to working collectively — the scientists and know-how groups — to work with retailer operators and managers. What do you assume is the most important false impression within the minds of conventional retailers, or simply conventional firms, about AI?

Barbara Martin Coppola: Effectively, one which I feel is pretty frequent is that AI will come and disrupt folks. There’s a truthful quantity of concern that every one the information that individuals have constructed — a little bit of a intestine feeling managing the enterprise — would really be displaced as effectively. However when folks begin to really perceive that it’s augmenting them and never displacing them, and that it’s on the service of human beings, and on the service of enterprise, folks actually begin demanding it. But it surely takes seeing it, utilizing it, being in these cross-functional groups, being exterior of 1’s consolation zone, after which being very joyful to see that the optimistic final result was not only a form of black-magic know-how; it was made by human beings and by this cross-functional workforce that created this. So on the finish, it’s a human course of in spite of everything.

Shervin Khodabandeh: So this digital transformation that you simply’ve taken IKEA on has been most likely even an even bigger cultural transformation. And also you talked about this with the World Financial Discussion board, about how the aim and mission and tradition of IKEA is not going to change. However but we’re speaking about [how] some components of the tradition and a few openness to think about or collaborate or rethink roles has to alter. How do you navigate that stability? I imply, how do you retain the aim and the DNA intact and infuse these radical — typically radical — adjustments into the corporate?

Barbara Martin Coppola: It’s actually vital that individuals really feel that their id as a collective firm doesn’t change, and that’s rooted within the mission and the values of the corporate. That’s in some way the compass; no matter one is dealing with, you all the time have that to return again to. It’s a collective id that’s vital to keep up and that usually ought to provide you with power for really adapting to new challenges. And that’s not straightforward, as a result of adapting to new challenges on the pace of the change that we’re seeing round us requires new management.

It requires a pacesetter that is ready to not have all of the solutions, that is ready to encompass herself or himself with totally different expertise and let go of ego to have the ability to be listening and main towards frequent achievement. And that’s one thing that I grew up with — a special kind of management that was very, very confident and knew all of the solutions. And that’s not what I imagine is required proper now to have the ability to succeed. So [it’s] an enormous change, not solely in management but in addition within the tradition, in order that the corporate can transfer ahead, adapt, and create and be joyful within the course of as effectively.

Sam Ransbotham: That “being joyful” is vital. One of many issues that Shervin and I’ve simply written about in a latest report is on these cultural advantages from synthetic intelligence. Such as you stated, so many individuals have this sense of the concern of individuals [losing] jobs and “Oh, no!” — the know-how scare [that] perhaps the magic wand is a darkish magic and never good magic. How do you guarantee that that tradition is progressing in the way in which that you really want it to progress and that it’s bettering? How are you orchestrating that course of?

Barbara Martin Coppola: It’s fascinating as a result of the concern when one will get nearer to attending to understand how the sausage is made, and the way the result will be unbelievable, and the way the success is collective, on the finish of the day, it turns into really a really highly effective expertise. And so for the individuals who have been uncovered to what this will do for them, it turns into really a metamorphosis, I might say, in their very own mentalities to maneuver ahead, to need extra. On the similar time, phrase of mouth is absolutely vital — phrase of mouth of these experiences with folks which might be trusted within the firm, that can communicate [about] how the experiences went. [Having] the management that’s not digital speaking about it and celebrating it’s actually vital as effectively. After which the vocabulary of the corporate altering and the way the entire administration shall be data-centric.

There’s really a sentence at IKEA that claims, “We’re people-powered and data-centric,” which didn’t exist 4 years in the past. And now it’s one of many centerpieces, so there [are] numerous vital small indicators in addition to larger methods and, in fact, talks and schooling and onboarding that must occur all on the similar time. And all in all, we’re all human beings; we will be suspicious of the issues that we don’t know. After we get near it, then we begin feeling the ability of information, which is absolutely nice.

Sam Ransbotham: What you’re describing is the virtuous cycle, then, of small enhancements … that result in this phrase of mouth, that result in a greater appreciation and understanding and enhance the information relatively than having to know the whole lot, however studying as you go.

Barbara Martin Coppola: Studying as you go. And that is the entire philosophy round testing, and iterating, and attempting, failing, and beginning once more. When you concentrate on it, it began being a digital apply, but it surely’s now, I imagine, widespread in the entire firm. It’s de-risking the initiatives by making them actually small, attempting them; in the event that they work, then you may scale. It lowers the chance, lowers the stress, and total the corporate will be attempting new issues with out the concern of being excellent unexpectedly. And that could be a fascinating factor to look at, to speak [about], and [see] how this [is] influencing, from the monetary manner of steering the corporate to methods of working, all the way in which to creating and daring [to do] issues that beforehand would take much more braveness to do.

Shervin Khodabandeh: Yeah, and in some ways, this consolation with experimentation and imperfect outcomes — that’s the recipe for studying. And likewise, you needed to depend on judgment. And the opposite factor I actually preferred in what you stated is, it’s not a giant bang of “From tomorrow, we’re going to do issues this manner,” but it surely’s a journey. And I feel you’ve given some superb examples of components of that journey — how, slowly, the hearts and minds of individuals will change. That’s been very inspiring.

Barbara Martin Coppola: Completely. And when you throw within the accelerator of COVID in there, then right here you go. Think about [it changing] from evening to day, [with] the guts and the soul of IKEA, the shops, all of a sudden all closed. And just about all people [was] transitioning to create achievement facilities within the shops, as a result of e-com was 10x-ing in a single day. So think about the difference that it takes [for] folks [who] have labored in numerous roles to all of a sudden give that up and simply leap into this new manner of working and really make it occur.

Sam Ransbotham: You talked about earlier the thought of vocabulary, and I feel it’s fascinating, the phrases you’ve chosen to speak about this. You talked in regards to the COVID accelerator; you weren’t speaking about it by way of the … I don’t know, I can consider different phrases that might be rather more adverse to border that. It seems to be such as you’ve discovered some methods to make use of that as an accelerator in what you’re doing. I wished to return again to a few of what you had been saying about sustainability, as a result of I feel there’s a connection there with that as effectively.

Barbara Martin Coppola: Completely. And to the remark that you simply simply made, there’s a quote, really, from the founding father of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, that claims, “By no means waste a superb disaster.” That explains a little bit of philosophy to which, in the course of disruption, private drama, and collective [worry], one can put the thoughts to saying, “Can we really get one thing good out of this?” and, despite the concern, going, working collectively, throwing out all of the outdated silos, and perhaps slowness, and going into motion, and really succeeding cross-functionally at one thing that appeared tough at first. So total, it’s a outstanding human story of going greater within the midst of a drastic and horrible setting, actually. However you had a query about sustainability.

Sam Ransbotham: What I used to be occupied with was, I used to be connecting your instance of the digital furnishings, and also you talked about 15 achievement facilities that you simply didn’t must construct. And so each of these issues look like ways in which synthetic intelligence can assist with sustainability. First, clearly, the achievement instance is sensible. However I used to be additionally occupied with your digital actuality one. That’s somebody who isn’t shopping for a bunch of furnishings, taking it dwelling, and deciding they don’t prefer it, after which taking it again to the shop. So I’m guessing you didn’t begin that mission as a “Hey, we are able to avoid wasting carbon right here,” but it surely definitely is a pleasant profit. Are there different areas you’re doing related types of issues?

Barbara Martin Coppola: Sure. First, I like how you concentrate on this. I feel there’s undoubtedly a gorgeous profit, sustainability-wise. It’s one of many greatest priorities —

Sam Ransbotham: I’m glad simply to not drag the furnishings dwelling. That’s all; that’s what I’m proud of.

Barbara Martin Coppola: Which is certainly one other profit. However what I might say is, sustainability is among the core, core focus [areas] for IKEA, and so the corporate is reworking its enterprise mannequin right into a round enterprise mannequin. In order that implies that we might reuse the furnishings; we might reuse the fabric. And when you concentrate on that, the entire logistical facet must be fully rethought. And within the midst of that comes information, traceability, and a complete new worth chain that must be assembled collectively. It doesn’t occur in a single day, but it surely’s taking place in little chunks which might be fairly outstanding and are actually cool. This previous Black Friday, for example, we allowed folks to resell their outdated furnishings to IKEA, and that was made [possible] by a web site, [where] they’d really give their furnishings again, and we’d both resell it, or repurpose it, or simply use the fabric once more.

300 thousand items of furnishings had been resold. Think about the quantity of forests and materials that that represents. So increasingly, it’s “How can we be clever and picture a special enterprise mannequin, the place affordability is an equal to sustainability?” We don’t want sustainability to be for the few folks. We wish sustainability to be for everybody. And in order that implies that IKEA wants to determine a manner of constructing the entire worth chain economically round and priceless in order that we fulfill the promise of, by 2030, not solely [being] optimistic climate-wise, but in addition having a round enterprise mannequin.

Sam Ransbotham: I’m certain you may see this out of your form of overview of what’s taking place throughout the group, however what in regards to the particular person staff who’re extra in touch with clients? How do they sense these adjustments? I assume they will see, for instance, the augmented actuality app. Are different adjustments that you simply’re making seen to the front-line staff? And in that case, what are they?

Barbara Martin Coppola: Sure, there are seen adjustments to them — to not the tip client — which [are] all of the instruments that we provide them for a way more environment friendly manner of working. I’ll provide you with one which we’re attempting that’s really fairly cool. You already know the IKEA cafeterias, and so folks go together with their trays. There’s now a visible AI device that scans the tray and is ready to understand how a lot the particular person must pay. And so the cashier is now free to work together, to counsel, to assist folks. And, to be trustworthy, it’s a lot extra rewarding than having the normal cashier job. And that is simply one other instance to say, “Can we allow people to do what people do greatest and permit machines to do the extra repetitive duties, and liberate ourselves to have that connection and that humanity that we imagine may be very rewarding?”

Sam Ransbotham: And I’ll draw a distinction between the world that appears to be transferring towards humanoid-looking robots to work together with clients, when what you’ve stated right here is, that’s what the folks working wish to do. I feel it’s a gorgeous tying of the perform to the nice utility of it.

Barbara Martin Coppola: It’s this philosophy to assume that know-how and AI, for my part, have to be on the service of human beings. And so both they increase us, or they’ve this exponential profit to get to an final result sooner. However on the finish of the day, when you concentrate on it, we management know-how, we make it occur. And so know-how is a little bit of a mirrored image to who we’re as people, and that’s one thing that we deliver with us — our positives and negatives — once we do the know-how. And that’s why placing a mirror to ourselves and taking a look at ourselves and understanding our creation is a part of numerous moral dilemmas on the similar time which might be ongoing in society.

Sam Ransbotham: Good. I’d wish to congratulate us all for not making any meatball jokes.

Barbara Martin Coppola: Guess what: There’s a candle with [the] scent of meatballs now. Imagine it or not, it’s true.

Shervin Khodabandeh: Effectively, my mother and father are 88 and 87. And each week, their factor to do is, they go to the native IKEA retailer and have the meatballs.

Barbara Martin Coppola: That’s so cool.

Shervin Khodabandeh: They’ve been doing it for years.

Barbara Martin Coppola: I adore it. You already know, the veggie meatballs are getting numerous traction now. And it’s a part of the entire sustainability motion, however nonetheless, folks favor the meatballs. It’s an icon of IKEA. It’s loopy, yeah?

Sam Ransbotham: Barbara, great speaking with you. I feel the one component that’ll most likely persist with the listeners is that this oblique impact of know-how on results like tradition that you simply maintain mentioning, or on sustainability. We are likely to assume on these first-order results of know-how, and also you’ve actually introduced out numerous the second order. And you probably did characterize that know-how as a magic wand, and I’m going to bristle slightly bit about that; I don’t like folks to assume that this stuff are magic. However what you targeted on is extra, I assume, the magician holding the wand relatively than the wand itself. I feel that’s an vital factor. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us. We’ve actually loved it. Thanks.

Shervin Khodabandeh: Yeah. Thanks a lot. It’s been nice.

Barbara Martin Coppola: Thanks a lot for having me.

Sam Ransbotham: On our subsequent episode, we discuss with Sidney Madison Prescott, international head of clever automation at Spotify. Please be a part of us.

Allison Ryder: Thanks for listening to Me, Myself, and AI. We imagine, such as you, that the dialog about AI implementation doesn’t begin and cease with this podcast. That’s why we’ve created a gaggle on LinkedIn, particularly for leaders such as you. It’s known as AI for Leaders, and when you be a part of us, you may chat with present creators and hosts, ask your personal questions, share insights, and acquire entry to priceless assets about AI implementation from MIT SMR and BCG. You may entry it by visiting We’ll put that hyperlink within the present notes, and we hope to see you there.

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