Monday Mar 18, 2013

Techapalooza

I previously discussed the importance of establishing an innovation lab so that companies can keep up with emerging technology trends. But innovation doesn't just happen in the lab -- it works best when its part of the culture.  Companies need to foster the free flow of information and ideas across the entire organization.  There are many tools that help in this regard, including online forums, instant messaging, social networks, etc.

Take this example from Lowe's.  An enterprising employee in the paint department of a store decided to demonstrate how a Teflon paint tray works by pouring in the paint, letting it dry, then peeling the paint out of the tray.  She left the tray and paint mold on display, and soon she was sold out of Teflon trays.  She described the incident on the company's internal forum and other stores began duplicating the display.  Sales went from 2 units per week per store to 6 representing over a million dollars in additional revenue.

But you can't just expect communication to happen without a little push. To get the juices flowing, Do It Best has an annual education event they call Techapalooza (kicking off today) that has the following mission:

Provide education that will inspire the innovative use of technology to improve our supply chain efficiencies and to help our members grow - all while having fun.

They invite a variety of presenters to this regional conference that speak on varied topics such as Big Data, RFID, Google Apps, cloud deployments -- all for the benefit of their employees. This week-long conference is packed with engaging sessions and networking opportunities that get employees thinking about new ways to go about business.

Companies need to provide opportunities to learn, share, and collaborate through a combination of software and events.  Internal conferences, science fairs, lunch-and-learn, online courses, social networks, etc. are great ways to engage employees and improve the way we work.  It only takes a few good ideas to make a difference.

Tuesday Mar 12, 2013

Shopping with Google Glass

ConAgra Foods, makers of Healthy Choice and Marie Callender's meals, created the video below to show what the future of shopping may look like from behind Google Glass.  This is clearly not possible today but is within the realm of possibility for the near future.

I was annoyed they chose to follow two people instead of just one.  I assume they did it to illustrate the conversation between the women, but it distracts from the overall shopping theme.  If the conversation was that important, it would have been better to ask for product advice.  I was more impressed with the voice response than the augmented reality aspects.  Being able to direct commands to Glass vs people in the room is tough -- usually you need to preface commands with a keyword or press a button.

Being able to overlay text on products is pretty tough as well.  Today you'd need to use a barcode or marker of some sort because image recognition is just too unreliable, especially when all the products look similar.  At best you can count the number of facing items and possibly recognize the brands.

Checkout was certainly fast!  Surprised they didn't have to blink Morse Code for their PINs.  All in all I thought most of what they accomplished would have worked well on their smartphones without Glass.  It certainly has me thinking about the future.

Would have been funny to see one of the women run into an endcap because spam blocked her vision.  Maybe next time.

Monday Mar 11, 2013

3D Printing

Often consumers want instant gratification, which is why my previous post discussed the importance of fast shipping for online retailers.  Getting to affordable same-day or next-day delivery will be an important milestone for the retail industry, and we're already making progress in that direction with "shipping clubs" and local delivery services.  But what if there was a way to skip the delivery process altogether, much like what we've done with digital content.  I don't order music CDs or DVDs from websites anymore; I simply download the content.

3D printing has the potential to change the way we manufacture and deliver physical products.  The use of the word "printer" implies ink and paper, but 3D printers use drops of different materials to create objects one layer at a time.  Traditional manufacturing converts a block of material into a product by carving the shape.  3D printing, however, is additive.  Instead of removing excess material in a particular shape, it builds the product by spitting out material in layers.

A leading company in this field is Geomagic, which was recently acquired by 3D Systems.  Its founder, Ping Fu, recently spoke at SXSW while wearing shoes designed by Janne Kyttanen that were created by a 3D printer.  (As you can see in the picture, these shores include an iPhone holster as well.)  In the not too distant future, 3D printers could be commonplace in households.  Prices are projected to drop to under $1500 this year and possibly as low as $500 in three years.  I can imagine a new category of commerce where products are selected online and printed either in the home or a nearby store.  These products can be easily personalized, have almost no supply chain overhead, and can be delivered quickly.

But that brings up some interesting issues as well.  Can the product be returned?  Can products be easily pirated?  If a product is found to be defective, does the fault lie with the designer, seller, or printer?

On-demand commerce could soon escape the digital world and infiltrate the physical world.  Which retailers will be ready?

About


David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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