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Forgetting how to share: in a better time, the whole industry was willing to join forces for the good of all.

When I first became involved in the food industry and IT--we called it data processing back then--the entire industry worked together to create new standards and opportunities by sharing experiences. The biggest chains felt they had the responsibility to pioneer the use of technology and share their results. It was said that Kroger was the industrial engineering resource, conceiving and testing many systems ultimately adopted by the rest of the industry.


When the UPC was conceived, every part of the food industry sent people to join the committees that were working on various parts of the standard. Today it seems that a few companies are always willing to participate in standards efforts, while the rest sit back and read about it. Too many companies prefer to wait for credible benefits to be reported and then cynically discount those benefits and wait for more to be reported.

It is a selfish way to move your company and the industry forward. Standards take a significant effort to develop; to be done right they need to reflect the perspective of every company that will be using them. When you don't participate, the result will inevitably be disappointing and the process will need to go through several revisions before it has addressed the true needs of the industry. More to the point, the industry leaders are learning and extending their economic advantages, meaning your company will have to make more effort to catch up.

What kind of issues should you be involved in? Let me name a few that badly need more participants. In May and June I discussed the opportunities that our industry will enjoy if we aggressively adopt and use Reduced Space Symbology for coupons, prescription drugs and perishables. The industry has a coupon committee that needs more retailer and wholesaler involvement. It is working to develop an evolving standard for paper coupons, one that will change as all retailers update their scanners to read the RSS bar code. Once the document has been finalized, this group will be looking to test the standards in a store environment.

At the same time GSI is coordinating an important in-store test of RSS in perishables, specifically meat and produce. This test is a cooperative effort of Wal-Mart, Loblaws in Canada and key perishable suppliers and technology companies. As it evolves over the balance of this year, I am sure the participants will welcome additional retailers and perishable providers. If the results are positive, it could be the turning point for the use of RSS.

GSI announced on June 12 a sunrise date for RSS of Jan. 1, 2010. This should remove any question about the worldwide commitment to this symbology.

Another important effort is in synchronization, one of the foundational projects for the future of the food industry. It is a worldwide effort, which means that setting standards is far more complex. And that translates into the need for many committee members from all countries and all sizes of companies. The complex areas of pricing and promotional discounts need lots of knowledgeable members to make the standards work effectively. The benefits from synchronization of basic item data are just the tip of the iceberg. There are serious paybacks from eliminating pricing disagreements and the resulting incorrect retails and promotions. If there is any effort that your company absolutely must get involved in, it's synchronization.

Some industry technology efforts deal with existing rules and regulations, such as the use of biometrics to facilitate the identification of customers paying for purchases. This presents the opportunity to change the paradigm on customer identification, add a new convenience for customers and encourage them to use forms of payment that cost you less than credit. This means your company will have to understand banking rules that have never been a factor in your payment process. And you will need to negotiate and add facilities to make electronic checks and debit your preferred payment processes. It makes sense to share experiences with other retailers.

And there is avian flu, a disaster waiting to happen. Like Y2K, avian flu is being anticipated well ahead of time and will take a serious commitment of resources to plan and address. Hopefully, it will also pass with far, far less impact than predicted. Y2K, by and large, impacted only selected companies, while avian flu could become a pandemic and impact everyone.

I would hope that FMI sets up cross-industry committees or share groups to provide the forum for these discussions. If it doesn't, it's the kind of issue that you should initiate. If your company has a share group, it should be an agenda item. If you have friends in the food industry, call them and organize a discussion, even if you have to do it using the Internet or just on a conference call.

The important thing is to open up a dialogue with others in the industry to exchange ideas. The steps they are taking or considering should not be viewed as a competitive advantage. Everyone in the food industry has a stake in helping the consumer survive this potentially horrific event.

By now I hope you have gotten my point: The industry has become too insular and isolated. We have forgotten the benefits of committing our own corporate resources to help everyone address industry opportunities. There are no gift horses in our business, only laggards who want others to do the work for them. I hope you will join those who are working on the future. I know your company will benefit.

Richard Shulman is president of Industry Systems Development Corp. in Dix Hills, N.Y. He can be reached at
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Title Annotation:TECHNOLOGY
Author:Shulman, Richard
Publication:Grocery Headquarters
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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