Digital business transformation accelerates: Just ask NCR, Zillow, Axon

The results from NCR, Zillow and Axon highlight how digital business and artificial intelligence and machine learning is transforming industries in a hurry.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

An hour of earnings reports highlighted how every business will go digital, becoming software-based and utilize artificial intelligence.

Here's a quick tour.

The software defined store, bank, hotel

Michael Dale Hayford, CEO of NCR, said the company is looking to create software defined stores in its retail business. Ditto for hospitality. And banking, which is becoming more about the ATM than the branch.

NCR reported third quarter revenue of $1.78 billion, up 15% from a year ago, with net income of $105 million. The company saw strong growth in both ATM and point of sale terminals.


NCR's target markets and industries it hopes to enable.

Hayford said:

In digital-first restaurant, we have achieved early success with the Aloha Essentials, which bundle software, services, hardware and payments. During the third quarter, 65% of all SMB Aloha sites sold through our direct sales channel were sold as Aloha Essentials subscription bundles.

In digital-first retail, Emerald, our next-generation cloud-based retail point-of-sale solution includes all the technology required to run a grocery store. This includes point of sale, loyalty, payments and frictionless shopping components.

In digital connected services, we continue to innovate in the 3 key areas of device connectivity, process automation and data visualization. We have a group of strategic customers across banking, retail and hospitality that are in the process of deploying digital connected services with many more in the pipeline. In digital convenience and fuel, we have successfully bundled the software, services and hardware required to run a convenience and fuel retail chain into one offering. We have been rolling out our software-defined store, which enables a convenience and fuel retail chain to virtualize their in-store technology and provide significant cost savings.

Machine learning and real estate 2.0

Zillow did something crazy recently. It transformed from being a marketplace for home buyers and sellers to actually buying houses and holding them in a portfolio. The bet is that the data spun off of its real estate listing platform will give it an edge managing a portfolio of houses.

Funny part is the third quarter actually showed that this crazy idea may actually work. Zillow is relying on its platform, app, software and a heavy dose of machine learning.

Zillow reported third quarter revenue of $745.2 million, up 117% from a year ago. The company reported a net loss of $64.65 million, but is in full investment mode as it expands its home buying portfolio nationally.

Richard Barton, CEO of Zillow, said on Zillow's third quarter conference call.

Change in national footprint was one of our early goals: getting to effectively national footprint. And we are pretty close. We're about to launch the greater Los Angeles area next month. So it will be 22 markets. By mid next year, we will be in 26 markets. But kind of Phase 1 of rapid scaling of Zillow Offers has been about planting flags in many markets and going broad, getting the word out, getting data for the machine learning machine input so that we can make better and better offers. Phase 1 has been about going broad. And we are moving into a Phase 2 which is getting some depth in these markets and figuring out how to rollout software and systems and processes such that we can gain leverage on the cost.

What I have learned in the homes business is that obviously, pricing that home is very important and that is where over time, as we get more data and we have access to a lot of data, we continue to get more. We will get better and better about what types of homes, what attributes to allow us to predict better, what performance of that house should be, within a range that we expect some to do better and some to do worse.

But the smarter we get and the more we leverage data and machine learning, we will be able to tighten that standard deviation between what the average of that portfolio does.

From Tasers to cloud to machine vision

Axon, the company behind Taser and law enforcement cloud services such as Evidence.com, reported third quarter earnings of 28 cents a share on revenue of $131 million, up 25% largely due to software sales.

The company saw strong demand for its core Tasers, Axon Cloud services and its Axon Fleet in-car video systems. Now the company is expanding into records management systems for police departments. It's safe to say Axon is now becoming one of the key industry cloud players for law enforcement and public safety agencies.

By expanding into body cameras, evidence collection and digital records, Axon has completed quite the pivot. Its next-generation Axon Fleet 3 in-car video systems will leverage AI and automated license plate recognition technology. Data retention, privacy and transparency are hot button issues though. 

Meanwhile, Axon has been adding technology talent. In September, Axon appointed Jeff Kunins chief product officer and executive vice president of software. Kunins formerly was vice president of Alexa Entertainment at Amazon and worked on Kindle.

Small business gets AI help on cash flow

Intuit rolled out QuickBooks AI-driven cash flow management tools that will project financial shortfalls and wins 90 days in advance. After all, the biggest threat to small business is running out of cash and making decisions that haunt a business.

QuickBooks included a bevy of AI tools in its suite, but perhaps the biggest takeaway is that small businesses are starting to get the same analytics and AI help as the big companies.

Intuit updates QuickBooks with more AI, aims to help SMBs avoid cash flow issues

And now the bad news from Nautilus

Now these four aforementioned vignettes are likely to remain digital business and transformation success stories. Other companies aren't going to be so lucky.

Nautilus reported that its third quarter sales fell 32.2% to $61.7 million due to weak sales of its Max Trainer product and a reduction of marketing spend.

You could call it the Peloton effect. Nautilus, which owns Schwinn, Bowflex and makes treadmills and training equipment, is pivoting to offer digital experiences. The problem is that it is late to the game. New CEO Jim Barr has to turn it around quickly.

Barr said Nautilus is rolling out its Max Total product that has an AI digital platform and integrated screen to improve the experience. Nautilus is also testing out its marketing effectiveness across digital media. The idea is that Nautilus is looking to offer AI-driven personalized workouts that adjusts to individual fitness levels with coaching.

The problem is that Nautilus' shares are getting hammered and about to fall to $1. Meanwhile, Nautilus has $5.8 million in cash and equivalents and $20.6 million in debt. The clock is ticking. 

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