In our November–December issue last year, LP Magazine ran an article profiling a unique strategy Kroger employed to bring their many solution providers together to be force multipliers. As an update for this Innovation Special Edition, we checked back to see how the program, dubbed the Asset Protection Ecosystem Summit, has fared after the initial kick off. Like most great ideas, the energy and attention of leadership are key to great results. Here is a brief recap of the original impetus and the subsequent learnings from the Kroger team.
The Mother of All Inventions Is Necessity
The Kroger team found themselves asking each other time and again: Why can’t these solutions work together? Why can’t technologies talk to one another and multiply the effect? Why can’t our solution providers have conversations about problem-solving across traditional business boundaries?
Kroger decided to tackle the problem head on and asked a group of their solution provider partners to come together in one room, on one day, and learn about each other, then come up with ways they could work together. Those in the room were asked to choose two other solution providers they thought they might have synergies with and meet with them after the AP Ecosystem Summit.
According to Kroger’s Chris McCarrick, CFI, senior manager of asset protection solutions and technology, “The solution providers came somewhat prepared for the first meeting but weren’t really sure what this was all about.” Comparable to a first date, the experience was a little on the awkward side. However, many of the professionals in the room got over the initial discomfort quickly and embraced the idea.
After the initial meeting, the hard work began. As one would suspect, pulling together companies who don’t traditionally work together is not without its hurdles. According to McCarrick, “There were a lot of hoops to jump through when it came to legal, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), and data. We spent a lot of time educating our legal team and wrangling through the different requirements, all of which extended the time from pilot to implementation,” he said. “With new ideas, it is important to see early success and build on momentum. As this format is continued, it is safe to assume that all parties will become more familiar with what’s needed and will speed the process along.”
The sheer size of the possible data pulls brought other concerns beyond the potential legal issues. How would all this data be operationalized? Who manages it? Would the data go to a device or use legacy communication methods to share the results?
As the solution providers began to work together in earnest, the volume of questions ramped up, but so did the possibilities. Mike Lamb, LPC, vice president of asset protection and safety for Kroger, shared, “The force multiplier effect and the amount of data coming together to be actioned against has my team excited and ready to tackle each challenge. The use of disparate data can be streamlined; it’s just that we have to put the work in up front with our solution provider partners.”
After meeting once, the Kroger team felt that this format could work for retailers of all sizes. But with two of these meetings under the Kroger belt, did they still believe that to be the case?
According to Kevin Larson, CFI, senior manager of asset protection, “This format may be even easier with a smaller‑sized retailer, as there are less complicated logistics. However, there is also less leverage and less synergy with fewer solution providers in the room.” In fact, the Kroger team shared that they didn’t limit their summit to current business partners, something a smaller retailer may not be able to achieve. They wanted to open it up to see what additional technologies or concepts might evolve from having different sets of eyes in the room. The ideas and possibilities discussed helped everyone overcome any nerves about working together.
As Kroger continues the use of the AP Ecosystem concept and reaps the rewards, solution providers working more closely together will likely become a growing trend in our industry. With open APIs and increasingly open IT and legal teams, retailers will continue to ask, “Why can’t these things work together?” We should expect to see this concept progress through the toddler years quickly. Leadership supervision and clear expectations will help to ensure a smooth transition.