Walmart Canada has launched “My Assistant,” an internal AI-powered chatbot, helping with efficiency and creativity for its home office associates. Sabrina Ratheekan, the technology leader at Walmart Canada, and Michon Williams, the chief technology officer at Walmart Canada, discuss My Assistant, benefits, and the future of AI at Walmart.
“My Assistant is a product my team worked on. It helps associates do things like draft a first email or a presentation plan – doing the first draft often takes the most time, so My Assistant will help speed up activities and serves as a collaborative partner,” says Ratheekan.
The internal tool, not yet implemented in stores, focuses on streamlining routine tasks and workplace innovation. As a secured platform approved by Walmart, associates can use My Assistant to help with creating drafts, help manage daily workload, summarize large documents, and will serve as a collaborative partner. Ratheekan and Williams say the change aligns well with Walmart’s commitment to being a people-led, technology driven organization – encouraging associates to use the platform for creative and complex work tasks.
Ratheekan and Williams ensure My Assistant will not be taking over the human element, but is intended to complement employees’ tasks, enhancing productivity, and allowing associates to focus more on creative and strategic tasks. This highlights Walmart’s commitment to maintain a balance between technological innovations and human elements of decision making and customer service.
“As we work on tools like generative AI, it is not really about a replacement to human thinking, but it is really about complimenting and helping us with our day-to-day tasks. So it is improving the quality of our work and it also has the potential to continue to evolve and shape the way we work … AI cannot replace human thinking and creativity, but we will continue to use it as a complementary tool and it will continue to evolve,” says Williams.
Similar to many Canadian businesses, Walmart is already incorporating AI into its operations. The company has been integrating AI technologies in various aspects of operations for a while now including for inventory management, optimizing supply chain processes, and enhancing the customer service experience within stores. AI helps Walmart understand future demand, helps with routing deliveries effectively, and helps manage its store inventory.
“AI is not new to us and we are embracing AI in a lot of different ways. We are very focused on accountable, robust, and secure use of technology, but we have been leveraging it for things like supply chain, stores to optimize inventory, and routing our trucks and deliveries in optimized ways,” says Williams.
Looking ahead: Walmart’s expansion with AI
With the ongoing evolution of AI, Walmart will continue to explore new ways of using AI across its Canadian operations – both for office use and on the floor.
Ratheekan and Williams say Walmart is focused on enhancing different operations and customer service with using AI and they plan to integrate AI more deeply and possibly extend My Assistant to store level employees.
“This is the first generation of My Assistant, and we think that it could be more broadly applicable to people in stores once we have been able to integrate it with the company and human resource platforms. As we continue to innovate and adapt this technology, our goal is to make it a versatile tool – not just for our corporate team, but also for our store associates, enhancing the ability to serve customers and manage store operations more effectively. As we continue to learn more from home offices, I think that would be a good first step after we have integrated it with more information that is contextual to Walmart’s policies and procedures,” says Williams.
AI will also play a role in areas such as personalizing customer experience, logistics, supply-chain, and improving decision making processes. This will become a larger strategy to become an omni-channel retailer, blending online and in-store experiences.
“We will continue to build it and we will continue to discover new use cases as we go. We are introducing a lot of change in trying to become an omni-channel retailer, so associates are naturally curious about ways to make their jobs easier and how to optimize their tasks – we love to see that,” says Ratheekan.
“I think people are really excited that Walmart is taking this step. They are very curious about generative AI and how it can make their work better and we have a lot of positive excitement when people start to use the tool. I think they are pretty amazed at how it helps and people are starting to discover what My Assistant can do,” says Williams.