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September 20, 2021

The Post-Pandemic Market: Digital Transformation at the Tipping Point

Written by SmartSense | Food Safety, Connected Facility, Supply Chain, Data, Grocery

The COVID-19 crisis has radically altered the largest global retail category, food and beverage, and the post-pandemic market may very well prove to be the historic tipping point in the digital transformation of the grocery sector.

As discussed in the first post of this series, the pandemic has profoundly disrupted the grocery supply chain. Bottlenecks and gaps in service forced both grocers and consumers to rapidly and dramatically change how they interact. The most significant change has been the shifting demand from traditional, brick-and-mortar stores to digital, e-commerce channels.

This acceleration of e-commerce has created new challenges for food safety and sustainability. Complicating matters, the labor shortage puts manual temperature monitoring procedures at greater risk. Has there ever been a more urgent situation calling for adoption of a remote, digital, continuous, automated food safety management system (FSMS)?


Why Make the Digital Transformation?

The "digital transformation" that you may be reading about these days is not just a buzzword. More or less, it refers to the decision to leverage IoT technology to improve business processes, strategy, and outcomes by analyzing data collected at all points along the supply chain. Such a transformation involves hardware (e.g., sensors) software (e.g., cloud-based dashboards), mobile apps, and other digital technologies that offer significant advantages over traditional analog methods.

Manual temperature monitoring systems that depend on pen and paper checklists, forms, and logbooks are risky. First, they’re prone to human error: for instance, making mistakes in measuring and recording, forgetting to monitor units as scheduled, or misfiling and losing hard copy records. Manual systems also require staff to be onsite, thus leaving gaps overnight or when employees are out sick or working remotely.

Manually recorded data is by its nature siloed by store location, unable to be connected across the chain network. It, therefore, is an unwieldy, time-consuming, and labor-intensive method to demonstrate compliance at inspections and audits, especially across locations.

In contrast, digital solutions such as SmartSense offer benefits that make even more sense in the post-pandemic market:

    • Automatic, continuous, 24/7 monitoring with no gaps

    • Remote, cloud-based platform allowing food safety professionals to do their jobs anywhere they have a Wi-Fi connection and a mobile device

    • Connected data across the entire chain, from supplier and distribution to warehouse and retail store

    • Alerts that enable a proactive rather than reactive approach to preventing temperature excursions and equipment failure

    • Standardized, accurate, uniform temperature measurement and recording for better compliance

To help their teams feel responsible for performing their duties on schedule and according to standard procedure, leading grocers are adopting digital task management software. Using dashboards on mobile devices, safety employees can view key tasks in a digital checklist and prove the work has been completed via timestamp, geolocation, and photo features.

Digital task management also enables managers of multiple stores to assign standardized tasks to their workforce to be completed by a specific time, receive reports tracking when tasks are completed, analyze trends to get insight into top-performing and under-performing employees and locations and adjust workforce responsibilities and training accordingly. 

In sum, digital task management improves employee performance, reduces costs, accelerates and standardizes employee training, saves time, and enables the optimal allocation of redistributing resources where they are needed most. 


Schnucks & RaceTrac: Digital Task Management Saves Labor Hours

Before Schnucks adopted our SmartSense solution, employees from each department had to perform regular temperature checks every few hours. Whether or not store employees did so intentionally, this task was easy to skip.

And although monitoring is, of course, essential for food safety, pen and paper recordings of every unit several times a day took time away from their one-to-one customer interactions.

Today, with every fridge and freezer monitored in real-time to proactively identify temperature excursions, SmartSense has completely eliminated the need for manual temperature recording. Our digital task management tools have redirected 8 hours of employee work to focus on maintaining great customer experiences, especially during the pandemic.

RaceTrac discovered similar labor efficiencies with the SmartSense solution. Prior to its adoption, store employees were probing food and recording temperatures manually, up to 3 times per day per location. With more than 600 locations, 4 distribution centers, and a fleet of more than 30 trucks, staff was spending a significant amount of time on tasks that could be automated. Using our digital task management tools, RaceTrac has saved 4 hours per week for employees to directly interact with customers and improve their experience.

Along with its retail stores, RaceTrac also manages their own food supply chain, including distribution centers, shipping and logistics. Because of the manual nature of their previous food safety plan, data was recorded in paper logs within each store. Analyzing this siloed and inert data proved difficult, and harder still to leverage as a means to prevent a foodborne illness outbreak or maintain food quality and sustainability.

By digitizing their logs and reporting, RaceTrac is now able to analyze food safety performance data across all their stores from any device. In effect, it provides 100% end-to-end visibility across the chain, providing a more holistic solution. The example of RaceTrac’s success demonstrates how digital transformation and data analysis add value to retail chains building a broader, enterprise-wide network.


The Future of Enterprise Management: It’s All About Data

How can grocers plan ahead strategically to proactively meet the new challenges ahead? In a word: data. Analysis of information collected from producers, suppliers, distributors, and retail outlets is essential to ensure food safety, quality, and sustainability wherever and whenever disruption poses a risk.

In 2017, the Economist announced that data is now the world’s most valuable resource. Data-driven companies are on average 5% more productive and 6% more profitable than other competitors in the market.

To be truly useful, data must be able to provide management with dependable insights to help them make good strategic decisions. And the best way – in fact, the only way – is to collect and analyze that data using predictive digital tools. For example, detailed reports can identify the root cause of top failures in equipment, providing executives a solid understanding of the risk level across facilities and the confidence to invest money exactly where it will drive improvements.

In the not-so-distant future, data will be exchanged across the value chains for all industries whose business operations and objectives intersect in the food service sector. This nationwide (and eventually worldwide) network will continue to digitally transform the grocery industry and its ways of doing business.

It is noteworthy that 85% of executives believe that attaining digital maturity is critical to organizational success and profitability. Steve Habermas, Chief Technology Officer at SmartSense, agrees. In an earlier post, he looks ahead to the role of SmartSense in realizing a mature supply chain powered by IoT.

Through continuous engineering innovations, SmartSense will add additional sensing capability to obtain better controls, cost reduction, and business optimization opportunities. Taking advantage of the incredible amount of data collected from these sensors, we’ll provide more comprehensive environmental monitoring solutions that will provide transformative opportunities for our customers.

The grocery sector is on the threshold of market-changing digital transformation – propelled by e-commerce and fast-tracked by the coronavirus pandemic. Leading retailers have already begun making major investments in all facets of the digital grocery ecosystem to increase customer patronage, and, ultimately, revenue and profits. They prove that grocers who embrace digital transformation and IoT technologies today will be strongly advantaged in tomorrow’s market.

Read the rest of the series

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