While Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant vie for dominance in the home, the retail world has its own version of a virtual assistant and her name is CINDE.
An acronym for Conversational INsights and Decision Engine, CINDE is a first-of-its-kind digital analytics assistant that brings new capabilities to business users accustomed to running queries or consulting spread sheets. The ground-breaking natural language processing virtual assistant was developed by Symphony Retail Solutions and unveiled in Paris last fall at the company’s Xcelerate Retail Forum.
“CINDE is not like other, more general digital assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Cortana, that are able to do a few simple tasks for the user based on speech input” said Pallab Chatterjee, Symphony’s Retail Solutions Chairman. “She has pervasive insight based on artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand retail business trends specific to grocery and hard goods, continually learn, and proactively alert users to critical issues that need attention.”
As with other assistants, CINDE is designed to receive natural language input from users and provide conversational answers. However, she applies those capabilities to the retail enterprise and responds to highly detailed questions through use of deep analytics, data mining and immersive visualization into a store’s department, planogram, and product level. Because of what Symphony describes as contextual intelligence, CINDE then serves that information using the most appropriate visualizations to give holistic insights for actions that can or should be taken.
For example, rather than a user needing to look up a report for a specific category in a specific store, they could simply ask CINDE how the category is performing, and dig into what trends are affecting the category’s performance, what products shoppers are buying instead of a specific product or how promotions for a category or product have performed.
“CINDE is a game-changer and adds significant advantage and capabilities to retailers in their day-to-day challenges of serving the ever-changing needs of customers,” said Joan Lewis, a Principal with Joan Lewis Consulting and former Senior Vice President of Consumer and Market Knowledge at Procter & Gamble. “She provides conversational insights and actions for execution that would take teams of analysts weeks to produce, meaning users would be taking action on stale data.”
Like many a good idea, CINDE came about because, as Symphony’s Senior Vice President of Product Strategy, Sy Fahimi, explained, the company asked itself, “why can’t we bring the simplicity of what we are all used to in the consumer world to the business world. Why can’t we do a Siri for business?”
In November 2016, Fahimi said the company took the view, “let’s go see if we can figure this out.”
Eleven months later after beginning with a clean sheet of paper, CINDE was born and put in the field with a major food and consumables retailer as a test case.
CINDE is already capable of answering about 30,000 questions about topics such as sales, customers, competitive pricing, promotional effectiveness, inventory and assortment by accessing information that resides in retailer’s systems.
“CINDE offers a completely different paradigm for category managers and executives who don’t enjoy having to click through things to get information,” Chatterjee said.
While CINDE’s current capabilities and the sub-one second response rate to providing answers is impressive, things really get interesting in 2018 as new skills are added. Her new capabilities are expected to be more prescriptive in nature with users able to query CINDE about recommended strategies.
“We are building a recommendation engine and I’m very excited about the speed at which we are doing it,” Chatterjee said.