INDUSTRY IS CLOSE TO EMBRACING NEW ERA

I remember the day when it was a big deal to do my writing on a word processor. I still do, but I'm not consciously aware of using the software program or the computer anymore. It's just the way I write.The same thing is going to happen, and happen soon, in the supermarket business as E-business becomes a part of everyday life. The 'E' will disappear, but not because of a technology failure. Instead

I remember the day when it was a big deal to do my writing on a word processor. I still do, but I'm not consciously aware of using the software program or the computer anymore. It's just the way I write.

The same thing is going to happen, and happen soon, in the supermarket business as E-business becomes a part of everyday life. The 'E' will disappear, but not because of a technology failure. Instead it will become so much a part of ordinary processes, it will become all but transparent to users.

But at the Food Marketing Institute's MarkeTechnics show this week, it will be hard to escape 'E.' E-business, E-commerce, E-this and E-that, and all the abbreviations relating to business-to-business and business-to-consumer developments: B2B, B2C and, the most recent, B2B2C. And it is useful to continue to use these terms to focus on the many changes and integrations that have to take place to make E disappear from our vocabulary.

"Clearly E-business is becoming the way of doing business," Tig Gilliam, partner, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, New York, told SN recently. "That's a transition that is going to take place. We are emphasizing the 'E' in many cases now just to make people realize that there are some changes that have to happen. But quickly, those changes are going to become the standard way of doing business and it will be back to procurement, and supply chain management, instead of e-procurement and e-supply chain management."

There is much debate about what advantages, if any, E-business, particularly business-to-business exchanges, will bring to retailers. In our Seventh Annual State of the Industry Report on Supermarket Technology, which appears in this issue on Page 23, the numbers clearly show that not only are supermarket companies prepared to move forward with B2B this year, but they are also quite certain that the biggest benefits won't come from procurement savings, such as those realized through auctions. The information technology and top management executives polled said they are looking forward to increased efficiencies, and exchanging information about costs, promotions and new products. All are soft benefits that will bring the industry closer to realizing the vision of the largely abandoned Efficient Consumer Response effort.

As these electronic systems are integrated into retailers' processes, the mystery will disappear from the Internet, the exchanges, and all the other programs that many remain skeptical of. Scan-based trading is already gaining enthusiasts, and perhaps, as retailers and suppliers work more closely together in exchanges and other E-enterprises, CPFR, for collaborative planning forecasting and replenishment, will finally start to gain momentum in the supermarket trade.

"All the Internet is is a high-speed highway for information," said Mike Heschel, executive vice president, Kroger Co., Cincinnati. "It's not specific business, or it's not a specific thing that you have. It's a high-speed, interoperable access to information anywhere, anyplace, any time, as often as you want. Powerful. But understand what it is, and it is just that and the rest is up to you and everybody else in your company along your partners in terms of being able to utilize information effectively and change your business processes, and provide efficiencies in sales for your company."

So if you're tired of hearing about 'E,' there's a simple solution. Embrace it fully and it will quickly go away.