Technology Drives a New Collaboration Era


Here’s a secret about the industry’s new focus on collaboration: It’s not really new.

Sure, there are more high-powered initiatives than ever, especially involving the supply chain. But it’s not like collaboration is a new concept. In fact, it was a big part of the 1990s-era Efficient Consumer Response initiative, which focused on making the industry more efficient, even if the word collaboration wasn’t really in vogue back then.

So why is there a renewed focus now on supply chain collaboration? Because technology is finally enabling it to accelerate.

That’s the shrewd perspective of industry veteran Mark Baum, who was recently named senior vice president of industry relations and chief collaboration officer of Food Marketing Institute, a newly created position. He will focus on collaborative opportunities to improve the supply chain.

Baum, whose 25-year-plus career has included senior association and consultant roles, told me that technology is the driver of much of the work he hopes the industry will accomplish.


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“ECR transformed the industry, but back then much of the focus was business-process driven, because the technology wasn’t there to automate it,” he said.

He pointed to the early days of initiatives such as category management, which he said included a model based on work process maps and hundreds of tasks, all to be performed manually.

Today “you can populate those templates with the push of a button.”

Another example is in produce, which in past years was challenged to make supply chain and distribution progress because of factors such as shrink, lack of adequate data and a more fragmented distribution system.

Read more: Baum to Head New FMI Initiative

Mark Baum“But the technology has changed,” he said. “Yet it hasn’t necessarily been implemented in produce because there hasn’t been a lot of organization around it to better connect sellers and buyers and find more efficient ways of collaborating.”

Of course it takes more than just one party or association to collaborate. It’s worth noting that the Grocery Manufacturers Association just named CPG veteran Jim Flannery to the role of senior executive vice president, operations and industry affairs, a role focused on building collaborative relationships with retailers and their associations.

Baum’s comments indicate that collaboration today isn’t just personality-driven or highly experimental, but rather is based on solid  business cases involving proven tools. That tells me it’s likely to have long legs.

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Julie Gallagher

Julie Gallagher’s delicious foray into coverage of the food industry was purely accidental. With a background in technology, she joined Supermarket News as associate editor of its Technology...

Liz Webber

Liz Webber is Senior Digital Manager at Supermarket News. She covers fresh foods for the magazine and creates multimedia, blog posts and other content for the website. She joined SN in August 2012.
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