My favourite rule about technology is never to expect too much change in the short term but also never to underestimate the longer term impact. There is huge excitement about Artificial Intelligence right now and I am applying the rule once again.
While many commentators fixate on possible job losses, which is almost certainly over-dramatised, a quieter revolution is already underway behind the scenes. Services like IBM Watson, Google AI, Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure are now available in ‘plug and play’ format from the cloud for companies to enhance their decisions and develop new services.
The capabilities available include image recognition, language translation, emotion detection and prediction of human responses. This range will rapidly expand as the full set of ‘Big Tech’ companies race to be frontrunners in this lucrative new market.
The intensity of competition is driving down the price. Despite being at the cutting edge of technology, AI is affordable and usable by even the smallest companies. That is triggering a rush of new start-ups, deploying the new capabilities and further disrupting established ways of working.
So, what could this mean for the ECR Community, focused as we are on collaboration through the consumer goods chain to enhance the service for consumers?
AI offers great scope to transform that service for consumers. For instance, eventually, smart devices could manage replenishing the regular staple products for people, in a form of Vendor Managed Inventory to the home. Smarter kitchen appliances could help achieve perfect cooking results every time and inspire us to explore new products and recipes by understanding the tastes we most enjoy.
In stores, image recognition could remove the need for checkouts and enable automatic payment. Tomorrow’s transport will be AI assisted, including driverless vehicles, stripping cost out of the system and lowering prices. There are doubtless many other examples that no-one has even imagined yet.
No single company will be able to deliver the vision working alone. Alliances will be essential, not just between retailers and manufacturers but with a broader set of businesses including technology companies, appliance makers, delivery services and car manufacturers.
So ECR will be more relevant than ever but the Community will need to expand its horizons. Supporting incremental improvements to established processes will not be enough. More radical thinking will be required, involving a wider set of players.
AI might even help ECR teams to develop better best practice, for instance by checking documents for readability, clarity and actionability. It won’t happen overnight but let’s prepare for major changes in how we work over the decade to come.
Written by Jon Woolven is Strategy & Innovation Director at IGD.
IGD is a charity, which channels expertise into initiatives designed to help the food and grocery industry deliver the needs of the public. They analyse trends, educate through blended learning, advise through customised research and facilitate new ways of working. With a global reach and experts based in the UK, Asia and North America.