Icelandic in-laws and inventory management: digital supply chain innovations

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My cooking is considerably messier than this.

“I do not like this modern technology,” said my father-in-law. “It is making people too lazy. Things are too easy now.”

He was referring to my grocery order. I was sitting in his kitchen in Reykjavik, Iceland, the day before my return to the United States. I had just explained to my mother-in-law that I would pick up groceries on my way home from the airport. I had been in Iceland for almost two weeks, and there wouldn’t be any fresh food for me when I got home.

“Won’t you be too tired to go shopping?” she asked.

“Not at all,” I replied. “I just drive up to the store, push a button, and they bring my grocery order out to me. I order everything over the Internet.”

She was stunned. Like many Europeans, she had spent most of her adult life going to the corner store almost every day to get fresh bread, vegetables, and perhaps ingredients for dinner. Quite recently one of the “big box” stores had come to Iceland, and now her pantry and refrigerator were stocked with oversized bottles of juice, packages of berries, and more hot dogs than anyone could possibly eat. Certainly much of that food would go to waste; it would spoil before it could be eaten. She had seen both ends of the seesaw – the fresh, just-in-time approach of daily shopping, and the “plenty of safety stock” approach of the big box store.

My digital supply chain – managing my groceries online – was a revelation to her. It seems that this innovation has not yet made its way to the streets of Reykjavik. I demonstrated how I kept lists of my most frequently used supplies such as coffee, dairy products, and cat food, and could add them to my shopping basket with a single click. She became particularly interested when I showed her how I could keep lists based on particular recipes, ensuring I wouldn’t forget the basil for my chicken specialties.

All the while my father-in-law grumbled. “Too easy,” he repeated, shaking his head. “Too easy. Life has become too easy.”

He softened, a little, when I demonstrated how to sort products by unit price, thus saving quite a bit of money in the household budget over the course of a year. In addition, I normally ordered my groceries from home, not from another country. At home I could check my cabinets and see if I really needed that extra box of crackers, instead of tossing a pack into my cart “just in case”. These “just in case” purchases often add up to a lot of waste.

Sure enough, I was able to pick up my order on the way home from the airport. I realized as I drifted off to sleep that I had forgotten to order eggs, my breakfast staple. The store that offers online shopping requires a four-hour lead time during business hours, and is several miles from my house. So for my early-morning breakfast eggs, I drove up to my neighborhood grocery, one of the bargain chains that is only a mile away. To my surprise I saw a sign in the parking lot that they, too, were now offering online ordering, for deliveries only. As shoppers like me change their behavior, the stores are catching up. For example, during the last hurricane, the closest store with online shopping had no more “time slots” available – they have a limited number of slots for online shoppers each day. Rather than fight the hordes of shoppers stocking up for the impending storm, I chose a different store, slightly farther away, placing my order online as usual. hey provided superior service and quickly became my go-to location, even though they are not the most convenient to my house.

Easy indeed.

Shoppers in every realm, whether B2B, retail, or online, are similarly looking for an easy experience. Increasingly such an experience can be achieved only with digital transformation of the supply chain. What if analytics on my original order had noticed that I hadn’t ordered eggs in over two weeks, and had suggested that to me? Would that have increased my loyalty – or creeped me out? What if my refrigerator came with Internet of Things-style connectivity, enabling me as a connected consumer to simply push a button (or the refrigerator as a connected device sense the "fullness" of the egg holder) and have the connected retailer automatically include the eggs in my next order? What if the bargain store promised to get me whatever I needed, whenever I needed it – even if that meant shopping at their competitor?

My Icelandic-US shopping experience is merely a microcosm of change taking place throughout the supply chain ecosystem. My view is very much that of the consumer – whether it is of retail products or B2B services. The view of Lora Cecere, however, is informed by decades of experience focusing solely on supply chain issues for major global companies. Prior to becoming a supply chain analyst, she spent fifteen years as a leader in the building of supply chain software, and twenty years as a supply chain practitioner at Procter & Gamble, Kraft/General Foods, Clorox, and Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream (now a division of Nestlé). She shares her insights with us in a three-part webcast series; the first one is available on August 15, 2017 at 2:00 PM ET.

Certainly the digital supply chain is transforming my life: travel is easier, meal planning is easier, and budget management is easier. How might it change your life, or your business? Learn more here.

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About Author


Marcia Elaine Walker is a principal consultant in the industry practice of SAS, where she helps clients apply data management and analytics technologies to make better decisions, faster. Walker’s long career has revolved around heavy industries, including energy, manufacturing, and mining. Prior to joining SAS, Walker was Senior Director in the Customer Value Office at SAP. She has also managed multiple engagements with the Deloitte Consulting manufacturing practice, served in the industry business of Schneider Electric, and worked for a decade at Rockwell Automation. She holds five issued and multiple pending patents related to analytics in the industrial space as well as the digital grid, and in 2016 was named one of the most influential women in IoT by the IoT Institute.

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