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Ocado Delivers Your Groceries with Automation... and the help of Google technology

Posted by Paul Clarke, Director of Technology of Ocado

Editor's note: Our guest blogger this week is Paul Clarke, Director of Technology at Ocado, the world’s largest online-only grocery retailer based in the UK. See what other organizations that have gone Google have to say.

Ocado isn’t your typical corner grocery store. For one thing, there’s no corner as we’re the world's largest online-only grocery retailer reaching over 70% of British households, and now with a fast growing non-food business alongside. Our customers shop online using our award winning webshop or mobile apps and then their orders are picked and packed in one of our huge automated warehouses, the largest of their kind in the world; hours later, our vans deliver to their kitchens in one hour delivery slots. On a normal week we ship over 150,000 orders - that's over 1.1 million items each day. Google Enterprise solutions are playing a major, and expanding, role in helping us run such a time critical 24/7 operation across multiple sites.

Google Apps allows us to do things our way, wherever and whenever we want. Our staff use Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive to stay on top of their day to day work, and Google+ is helping our teams stay in touch, share information and build local communities. Ultimately, all of these tools help to make sure our customers get the groceries they order, on time and in the best possible condition.

But we didn’t stop there. We looked at other ways we could use Google’s technology to help us run our business and started using Google App Engine for building internal applications. For example, we used App Engine to create a new version of our "Where's My Order” application, which our customers will soon be using to find out where their orders are within our production cycle. Once their order is on the road, the integration with Google Maps allows them to see exactly where their delivery van is. So we’re taking what used to be a chore, grocery shopping, and making it a simple experience that you can do from the convenience of your own home, or wherever you may be.

Our most recent project was on Google Compute Engine. Within our warehouses there are certain tasks that are repetitive and arduous for humans to do, like picking heavy six packs of bottled water into customer orders. So our robotics team is developing solutions that use robots to automate these sorts of tasks and thus release staff for other more important work. But these robots need sophisticated 3D vision systems to enable them to see what they are doing. These are very computationally intensive applications and by providing the instantly flexible and scalable computing power to crunch all those numbers, Compute Engine provided the perfect solution. And, we are already using the cloud to store and process some of the huge volumes of data that our business spits out every minute. But with an eye to future growth and international expansion, we have plans to use Compute Engine and Cloud Storage to move other parts of our production systems to the cloud.

So walk into an Ocado warehouse in the future and you might run into a robot if you’re not careful. Like I said, we’re not your typical corner grocery store.