WBA, Microsoft ink innovation-focused partnership

Two big names are putting their heads together in a partnership aimed at innovating and improving health care.

Walgreens Boots Alliance and Microsoft on Tuesday announced that they will be teaming up to bring together Microsoft Azure, the company’s cloud and AI platform, and Walgreens’ retail network, consumer reach and industry knowledge. The companies said the goal of the partnership — which includes a multiyear research and development investment — is to personalize health care while making it affordable and accessible.

As part of the partnership, WBA will pilot as many as 12 “digital health corners” in 2019 — a store-within-a-store focused on merchandising and selling health care-related hardware and devices. The investments from the companies also will include funding, subject matter experts, tech and tools, and the two will explore the potential of creating joint innovation centers in key markets.

“Our strategic partnership with Microsoft demonstrates our strong commitment to creating integrated, next generation, digitally enabled healthcare delivery solutions for our customers, transforming our stores into modern neighborhood health destinations and expanding customer offerings,” said Stefano Pessina, executive vice chairman and CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance. “WBA will work with Microsoft to harness the information that exists between payers and healthcare providers to leverage, in the interest of patients and with their consent, our extraordinary network of accessible and convenient locations to deliver new innovations, greater value and better health outcomes in health are systems across the world.”

The partnership also will see Microsoft connecting WBA’s stores and health information systems to patients through their devices, allowing for access to such resources as virtual care whenever they need it. This integration, the companies said, will create insights from data science and AI that can pave the way for such improvements as transitioning healthcare data into more community-based locations. WBA and Microsoft said that data privacy, security and consent would be built into this model, which will seek to proactively engage patients to improve medication adherence and reduce emergency room visits, among other elements.

WBA will be pursuing lifestyle management solutions in such areas as nutrition and wellness, delivered through consumers’ preferred medium, including digital devices and applications, as well as in-store expert advice. The companies are planning to develop an array of chronic disease management and patient engagement applications, as well as a portfolio of connected devices for chronic care management.

As part of the agreement, Microsoft will become WBA’s strategic cloud provider, with WBA planning to migrate most of its IT infrastructure onto Microsoft Azure. It also will roll out Microsoft 365 to more than 380,000 employees and stores worldwide, the companies said.

“Improving health outcomes while lowering the cost of care is a complex challenge that requires broad collaboration and strong partnership between the health care and tech industries,” said Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft. “Together with Walgreens Boots Alliance, we aim to deliver on this promise by putting people at the center of their health and wellness, combining the power of the Azure cloud and AI technology and Microsoft 365 with Walgreens Boots Alliance’s deep expertise and commitment to helping communities around the world lead healthier and happier lives.”

Microsoft has been racking up partnerships in the retail space lately. Though the WBA collaboration is largely focused on health care, the tech giant also recently worked on a more retail-focused collaboration with Kroger. The “Retail as a Service” system the two companies collaborated on uses Kroger’s Enhanced Display for Grocery Environment, or EDGE, digital shelving system and is powered by Microsoft Azure. EDGE replaces paper shelf tags with digital displays of prices, promotions and other product information. It also connects to Kroger’s mobile Scan, Bag, Go app. It’s being piloted in two stores. Kroger and Microsoft have plans to develop a marketable solution to offer to the broader retail industry, and Kroger plans to sell digital advertising space to CPG brands.