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CW’s 2019 International Conference will look at the digitisation of industry

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Jim Downing, CTO at Metail on St Andrew's Street, with senior software engineer David Gavilan. Picture: Keith Heppell
Jim Downing, CTO at Metail on St Andrew's Street, with senior software engineer David Gavilan. Picture: Keith Heppell

It’s tantalisingly close to the annual CW International Conference, which will be held at the Wellcome Genome Campus Conference Centre in Hinxton next Wednesday (June 26).

The one-day event brings together technologists and business leaders from six vertical markets to explore what industry wants from the digital sector and identify opportunities for collaborative development.

This year will showcase manufacturing, retail/consumer electronics, agriculture, utilities, smart cities and transport.

There are 47 speakers in total. Among those in the agriculture vector wll be three agri-tech startups presenting their innovations for increasing farming productivity: Breedr, LettUs Grow and 30MHz.

The utilities component features EDF Energy, Anglian Water and TTP’s utilities expert, Chris Hole.

The retail showcase will include including ghd, Metail and a VP from IBM who also used to be CIO at John Lewis/House of Fraser.

Just to get a flavour of what themes might be explored at this key event in the annual calendar, I spoke with Mainda Kiwelu, senior product manager at Metail and one of the speakers at the Wellcome Genome Campus.

Metail is a software company helping to ensure online buyers buy clothes that fit them. Instead of looking at the clothes ranges just hanging there, how about if you type in a few simple measurements and see what the item would look like if you were actually wearing it?

“We’ve decoupled the idea of having the model and the clothing in the same location,” says Mainda. “Some companies I know of are paying more than one million euros a year for photography costs, and maybe they need to save money there. Others see the future as being to not actually produce a garment until there are sales.”

Mainda Kiwelu, senior product manager at Metail and one of the speakers at this year's CW International Conference
Mainda Kiwelu, senior product manager at Metail and one of the speakers at this year's CW International Conference

The idea of having stock and physically shifting it around the country is being challenged by online retailers, but ‘trying on’ your possible purchases online is relatively new.

Having said that, Amazon is already at it. The world’s biggest warehousing operation this month launched StyleSnap, its AI-powered ‘Shazam for clothes’ fashion search option, which uses machine learning to find similar clothes and styles. Mainda isn’t surprised the monster-portal wanted to get involved.

“When you’re shopping online it helps to see the clothes on a model, rather than a ghost image,” she explains. “The marketplace wants to have that imagery, and we provide that.”

Mainda’s role is cross-disciplinary.

“My job is primarily to set commercial priorities for what we’re doing next,” she says. “I work between the commercial and engineering team. The adoption of 3D for clothing is still very new: we don’t see it as taking off immediately.

“Metail has built the software, has invested big in IP around body imagery and machine learning.

“To apply for a virtual trial on our site you just need to input your bust, waist and hip measurements, and your body shape, which could be ‘pear shape’ for instance.”

As the online retailing sector matures, Metail is able to underwrite a crucial option: it can show what a garmet looks like on your body type before the garment is even made. That means no stock has to be held. It’s hardly any wonder that the traditional retail environment is feeling so hot under the collar. One client, Odlo, a German sportswear brand, is trialling the service. Mainda says producing clothes on demand only “helps brands be more responsible”.

Her CW International Conference talk is her first.

“We can learn so much from different industries,” she says. “That includes business models, developing technology, how businesses get to the market, the process of digitising... how do you bridge the gap between innovation and business-as-usual? The retail sector is still in transition but still needs to keep the customer happy.”

It’s going to be a fascinating day. Said Abhi Naha, chief commercial officer at CW and member of the CWIC 2019 organising committee: “This year CW’s community are fully embracing the opportunity to look at how digital innovation can reshape traditional industry and create new challenges and opportunities. We are particularly proud to have Roland Schatz, senior advisor to the UN General Director, provide closing remarks and share best practices on how the UN sustainable development goals can be incorporated into the digitisation of industry.”

“This year we are further extending the conversation to vertical markets by giving a platform to cutting-edge R&D,” comments Derek Long, chair of CWIC 2019. “There are too few opportunities for networking and knowledge sharing between the technology sector and vertical markets. CWIC 2019 will fill that gap and I hope that the day will be the source of valuable inter-disciplinary collaborations.”

If you haven’t booked your ticket yet then it’s not too late: CW is offering a 25 per cent discount on remaining seats to Cambridge Independent readers. The code CWIC1925 will give a 25 per cent discount when registering online.

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