Grocery Shop: the tech is new; the organizational change process isn’t

Last year, we attended the inaugural Grocery Shop, a conference put on by ShopTalk to focus on the disruptions, technologies, and new business models in the CPG and retail grocery industries. It was everything we hoped for: great insights into a world of emerging technologies and strategies that represent the newly digital industry. This year promises the same: Planned in mid-September in Las Vegas, it will tackle connections between blockchain and supply chain; new retail models like popups and small-format stores; tech like robot-staffed fulfillment centers and apps that give you a liberating Amazon Go experience with all the home-town warmth and service of Kroger.

And as excited as I am to go and learn about all these evolutionary changes, I can’t help but think about how much things have both changed and stayed the same since we launched RW3 in 1992. Back then, integrating tech into the CPG and retail grocery industries was a much harder sell—not that it’s always easy now. Self-checkout was a new technology and many of the spreadsheet systems and old-school sales techniques that had been in use for decades were still the norm. Every new technology was a huge gamble that forced people to do their jobs differently.

Today everyone is working on Digital Transformation—making seamless connections between departments to serve the customer via the power of emerging technology. They’re creating innovation hubs and talking about delivering groceries by drone. But the problems remain the same: Leaders wonder whether it’s worth the investment; they can’t always predict the ROI; they’re wondering whether something new will come along tomorrow and they’ll wish they bought that. And having to learn a new way to do your job is still hard. In fact, getting it right is even more important now that margins are so thin. RW3 has been working with CPG companies and retailers on the process of digital evolution for a long time and some things about adopting new methodologies and new tech have remained true the whole time.

1992-2019

  • KPIs not IT: It’s still about solving problems, not buying tech. You need everyone to focus on what KPIs you’re trying to improve. You still have to think in terms of people, operations, and organizational goals. The tech is just a tool the same way an airplane isn’t the vacation…it’s just how you get there.
  • Leaders gotta lead: You still need someone in the top of the organization to drive the change. Otherwise a bunch of people will end up doing a bunch of work to serve something up that’s going to get stepped on. And if it does get stepped on, you won’t be able to get them to muster that level of effort again. It’s not that every idea needs to be supported, but you need to have encouragement for new ideas and a track record that shows the company is willing to take a chance, to move in the direction where it seems there’s evident opportunity.
  • One step at a time: The process for digital transformation is the same. You get your eye on a problem you want to solve, create a vision, then break down the elements of how to get there into smaller steps. With each step you create a success that gives everyone the energy and enthusiasm to tackle the next step. This slow and careful integration of new processes and tech gives everyone a chance to build confidence in the process and invest more and more fully as the rewards are realized.
  • Good partners matter: You have to find partners you trust who understand your business and are dedicated to focusing on solving your problems and not selling you cool new tech you don’t need and can’t justify. The tech changes so fast now and there are so many vendors, it’s key to work with a company that not has the capability to create to your customer needs but the experience to help you get it done in your organization.

Meet me there

But though human nature remains pretty consistent, the new tech is exciting. I’m looking forward to sessions like Understanding Blockchain’s Role in the Grocery Supply Chain, Building a Culture of Innovation, Data-Driven Operational Efficiency, and The Intelligent Store.

At RW3, we take pride in leveraging new technologies to help customers compete in the digital age. Especially since we know exactly how hard, and ultimately rewarding it is to make the necessary changes. If you see us there, please take a minute to say hello!

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Bruce is the founder and CEO of RW3 Technologies. Having spent more than 35 years in the consumer goods and grocer space Bruce has experienced the industry disruption first hand and understands how artificial intelligence, POS data, and mobile technology can transform a good organization into a great one.

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