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Collaboration is the New Competitive Advantage
By Melanie Nuce, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development, GS1 US
To gain valuable fresh perspectives on new trends, and to streamline outdated or manual business processes, it is becoming essential for organizations to collaborate with industry partners and peers. One of the most powerful illustrations of collaboration lies in the development of the information standards that have made modern commerce possible. For example, more than 40 years ago, the U.P.C. barcode revolutionized the retail checkout process -- as trading partners universally agreed to use a common symbol or language to facilitate a specific business function. That milestone set the foundation for several cross-industry GS1 US initiatives focused on developing solutions for supply chain and business process challenges. Initiative members collaborate on the industry-wide adoption of standards, as well as through the development of guidelines, readiness programs and educational tools that foster innovation and evolution.
Today, industry collaboration helps companies achieve agility and efficiency, creating a springboard for new technological advances, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and blockchain. Let’s examine the way collaboration can help companies innovate in these three areas.
Though IoT is still in its infancy, we are not too far off from a mechanized world, where internet connected machines inherently anticipate our every need. While IoT has implications for a wide variety of different industries, retail represents one of the largest opportunities for process improvement through smart devices—intelligent stores that automatically count inventory and replenish merchandise, for example.
Industry collaboration helps companies achieve agility and efficiency, creating a springboard for new technological advances, such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and blockchain
IoT will rely on a whole ecosystem of technologies working together, so trading partner systems interoperability will be key to its success. Enterprise systems in retail, for example, have made considerable progress leveraging collaboration and RFID technology to deliver real time item level inventory visibility. IoT will take this a step forward with the cooperation of suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers who want to maintain full product visibility as they make their way through their supply chain. The uniform identification of products, coupled with a common language to share data about visibility events and objects, across corporate software systems, can represent the true bridge between the physical and digital world. As IoT becomes mainstream, external collaboration (outside of proprietary systems) will ensure that all parties know the “what,” “when,” “where,” and “why” to achieve both speed and accuracy.
Machine learning, inclusive of digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa, is growing at a staggering rate. A recent Ovum report reported that there will be more than 7.5 billion devices with digital assistants by 2021, surpassing the 2017 world population!
In addition to answering “What’s the weather report today?” this technology has the potential to eradicate the figurative disease that infects data—human error. Consider the automated processes that can bolster the capabilities of many industries; helping to create the speedy, personalized experiences that consumers crave.
Forward thinking companies need to embrace collaboration to preserve data integrity—so that what is being fed into machines does not perpetuate an endless cycle of “garbage in/garbage out.” Product data quality is further enhanced when using industry standards, rather than numerous proprietary procedures and systems. Standards create consistency, based on scalable, repeatable processes, and effectively elevate an organization’s ability to explore machine learning.
Blockchain has the potential to produce a tidal wave of business process changes in the next five-ten years. Data is replicated, shared, and synchronized across a distributed ledger and is resilient to a technological or organizational failure. In a supply chain, blockchain delivers significant opportunity for enhanced security and operational efficiencies, whereby many manual business processes are eliminated.
We are at a critical juncture in blockchain’s development. To effectively scale to meet the demands of supply chain business processes, industry trading partners need to come together and collaborate to move adoption forward. As not all companies will select the same technology partners, industry will need to align on standardized identifiers and data sharing structures to ensure compatibility, speed, and efficiency.
Ultimately, the most cutting-edge CIOs know the time is now to decide to be at the forefront of these transformational technologies. Through improved industry collaboration, companies will find they already have laid the solid groundwork to reach new heights.