The strangest of bedfellows: Infor and Whole Foods partner

whole foods grocery store

Take a business application vendor, an organic grocery store chain and add in a dash of future thought. What do you get?

Generally it is only technology vendors that come out with some proclamation of a solution that is going to be built. The technology industry conference circuit would collapse were it not for these so-called vaporware announcements. What is unusual, however, is to see a technology vendor partnering with a business in the "real world" to announce their joint intention to build a technology solution.

Yet that is what Infor and Whole Foods did recently. Infor is a large technology vendor -- it built technology solutions that automate processes for a bunch of different industries, healthcare, manufacturing and public sector among them. Another area that Infor is increasingly working is that of wholesale distribution and retail, and this announcement falls in that arena.

Whole Foods Market is, of course, a retailer of natural and organic foods. It's no small operation, either; in fiscal year 2014, the company had sales of approximately $14 billion and currently has 431 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. But increasingly Whole Foods faces competition from a number of different areas -- new organic grocery store chains, an increasing acceptance of online shopping as a valid way to buy grocery items and a near-saturation in their existing markets means that Whole Foods needs to find smarter ways of working.

Which is where this partnership comes in. Infor and Whole Foods are planning on building a new, cloud-based retail management solution for their global network of stores. The intended outcome is faster operations and greater efficiency, with a big dollop of enhanced customer experience to go with it. The solution, once delivered, is going to be available to other retail organizations.

"The new retail platform we will co-create with Infor will be unlike anything currently on the market, better leveraging major technology advances to deliver much more value at lower cost," said Jason Buechel, executive vice president and chief information officer of Whole Foods Market. "With Infor, Whole Foods Market has found a partner ideally suited to help us co-create a new retail platform that enables a more efficient, connected enterprise with greater visibility, flexibility, insight, and ease-of-use for our team members -- all while delivering a better end-to-end shopping experience for our customers."

MyPOV

There are a few ways of looking at this. On the one hand, the fact that Whole Foods, a massive operation in its own right, has agreed to front up and be a part of an announcement indicates there is something of substance here. That said, I am always a little suspicious when a vendor announces a solution that "is expected" to be delivered sometime in the next year. There is always something of an air of vaporware about these forward announcements.

The other interesting thing is Whole Foods' insistence that this is a co-creation project, despite the fact that the solution will apparently be available to all comers. That indicates to me that this is more of a commercial arrangement (likely by way of some serious pencil sharpening when it comes to contract cost) in return for Infor getting the credibility that Whole Foods' logo brings.

Clearly there is much opportunity to bring tighter coupling between the disparate systems that a large retailer like Whole Foods uses. Tightly coupling suppliers, individual stores' systems and customer engagement solutions should lead to great efficiencies and, more importantly, more customer engagement and sales. But all of that is a should, rather than a definitely will. I'm going to hold judgement on this one until I see something concrete being delivered.

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