Thinking Inside the Box

May 19, 2010
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What the retail industry needs is a hand-in-hand collaboration to get data clean, transparent, transferable and instantly accessible from all points at all times, says Tom Stephens.

Much interest has been generated in the past few years in data, compatibility and accuracy. It is amazing that after so many years of evolution in our industry, many of us are still pretty much in the dark ages - managing varying sources of information within multiple silos.

How many versions of “the truth” do we all manage? We store information ranging from packaging and product ideation to new launches, specifications, ingredients and more in many places - and the location often varies depending on what portal or what desk we use to access it.

And then along come multiple organizations with major software packages and programs to sort all this out. Or do they? And at what cost? Are we ready to systemize the disorder that exists?

In talking with several retailers and manufacturers lately, I’ve learned that this disorder appears to be the biggest challenge that many face today. The heavy sledding that we go through to drag the information (and often multiple versions thereof) out of the various crevices in which it resides to get new products to market is often almost too daunting to contemplate.

Our new product launch initiatives are so overly complex, bureaucratic and inconsistently prioritized that we often miss the boat by the time it gets to float. We all talk speed to market, innovation and product launch. But the frustration on both sides of the coin, with retailer and manufacturer, remains far too high to be approaching efficiency.

Some of the largest retailers are taking note, focusing effort on a new approach. Whether they call that approach Product Lifecycle Management, Critical Path Process Management or simply Stage and Gate Project Management is irrelevant. What our industry needs is a hand-in-hand collaboration to get the data clean, transparent, transferable and instantly accessible from all points at all times.

Think about it folks. One version of the truth. Accessible to all. Seems like a good goal for 2010 and beyond.

Or, in the immortal words of Brian Wilson: “Wouldn’t it be nice?” Not to mention more efficient and providing a much better return on our expensive investments. So let’s re-examine our process and project management tools. In most of our houses, there is considerable room for improvement.

Tom Stephens is the founder of Brand Strategy Consultants, North York, Ontario. He can be reached at 416-391-1635 or VOIP him at: Vonage 416-907-9848 or Skype at stephenscrimson, or e-mail at Stephens says thinking “inside the box” is often appropriate, since answers to 90 percent of retail problems can be found inside the four walls of the store.

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