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GS1 MobileCom – Pervasive Information and the Consumer

In September I gave a presentation on the GS1 MobileCom initiative in Amsterdam.  

GS1 is a standards organization that defines standards to enable companies to identify, capture and share information about real world products.  They are best known for their barcode standards, and pretty much every consumer product carries a GS1 barcode. 

While the barcode was originally focused on connecting businesses and enabling supply chains, the GS1 MobileCom initiative extends their focus to the shopping environment, and adds a new actor to the mix:  The Consumer.   We had three presentations planned for the meeting;  Kraft provided the consumer product company perspective, the retailer perspective was not represented due to a last minute schedule change, and I presented the consumer perspective.   I’ll share the basic thoughts of my presentation on the consumer perspective here.

There are a lot more consumers in the world than producers, all with varied tastes.  The other presentations in the session focused on the producers in this equation.  By that, I don’t strictly mean manufacturers, but retailers, solution providers, and GS1 folks as well.   Most of the audience played the role of a producer, but everyone is a consumer, and everyone should be excited about the imminent changes.

My position is that we are on the brink of a major societal shift.  Similar to industrialization and globalization, mobilization is going to change the way the world works.  Indeed, it already has.   Industrialization was driven by availability of steam engines and machines; globalization was driven by the internet (easy global communication) and access to new markets, and mobilization, or what I am referring to as the Age of Pervasive Information will be driven by mobile devices and infrastructure

The result is another role re-definition – everyone needs to now step back and see how they fit in the big picture, or they will be relegated to history.  We have a new set of ingredients in the pantry, new tools in the kitchen.  Now the producers just need to figure out what we’re going to make or our restaurants are going to go out of business.

The boundaries of businesses are being redefined.  Companies have to look at new ways of working together to jointly create value for their customers.   Specialization and partnering is the new way forward, and that means that there’s a new joint risk model emerging.  One way to mitigate the risks associated with partnering to deliver value is to ensure that there are a number of partners that can fill the void if any one fails to deliver.  To achieve this, standards and an open architecture for connecting with these partners is key.

The customer for the GS1 MobileCom initiative is ultimately the consumer.   More accurately, there are three or four stakeholders (consumer product company, retailer, mobile solution provider, and consumer), but the consumers will determine the success of the initiative.  They are fickle, and their tastes vary widely, which means we need to see what works and doesn’t work in many different situations before we can define standards and the open architecture required to meet these diverse needs.

We can start with the basic needs that we think everyone will value – health and human safety initiatives, for example, can prevent fraudulent drugs from entering the supply chain and being sold to consumers or can warn consumers if they are about to purchase a product to which they have a potentially deadly allergy.

These are very difficult multi-dimensional problems to solve, but consumers don’t know that and they don’t care.  They just want to buy eggs that they know won’t give them salmonella.  There are a number of other less difficult use cases (and when compared to health and human safety scenarios, also less valuable) that we should also pursue so that we can gain some quick learning that can be re-applied.  

There are a number of prototyping efforts going on in the industry right now, and everyone interested in the final results should take part.  With this experience we can begin building the basic building blocks for an open architecture that is required for true innovation to occur.  We can’t standardize the architecture before we have the basics figured out though, and any attempt to do so would be premature.

Once an open architecture does stabilize, however, we will see another boom of innovation and creativity.  In my next blog post, I’ll discuss a number of the innovations on the horizon and some of the radical changes in store for the way the world around us works.

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