Tanpin Kanri, UX, and the birth of Big Data.


For many years we have been bombarded with the importance of Big Data. It hasn’t been but for about 5 years that we have really been able to act upon it. Many of my clients have been collecting data but when asked what they are doing with their data it quickly becomes evident that they are just storing it. While the Google and the Facebooks of the world have been actively investing in data science, most of my client’s enterprise applications are still storing their data in structured databases.

It is my opinion that until we transform structured data to unstructured data we won’t be able to inherit the true innovation that our future technology requires. The future of enterprise application development requires the democratization of data-the increased access to consumable data.

To understand the power of how big data can positively affect our future technology, I’d like to introduce you to the historical work of Toshifumi Suzuki, Chairman & CEO of Seven & I Holding Co. Suzuki is credited as the mastermind of Seven-Eleven Japan’s rise to power in the retail vertical. And it is my opinion that Suzuki is the visionary of modern data science through his creation of Tanpin Kanri.

Tanpin Kanri
“A retail management practice focused on satisfying customer demand through a store-by-store approach to shelf management that employs store-level human knowledge and information sharing about products, for the purpose of better understanding how certain conditions affect demand on a product-by-product basis, and then pursuing a cycle of product procurement, production, development and delivery that suits the demand.“(1)

Suzuki created a user-centric approach to inventory management by empowering his individual store owners to observe consumers and collect local data to influence demand and local inventory selections. He achieved this through emphasizing the understanding of customer psychology, observed buying patterns/influences, and focusing on three key factors that motivate consumers–time, context, and weather.

Retail is innately affected by time. Consumer purchase based on a schedule–breakfast, lunch, dinner; before and after work; payday; weekday and weekends; participation in exercise and local social events. In Suzuki’s thought process these segments of time create demand.

Context is everything. To further influence demand retailers should actively consider competition, consumer interest, regional palettes and most importantly, from a geo-specific/local perspective. Every neighborhood has its specific influences and cultures.

Our daily activities are governed by the weather. Every season has influences on consumer’s palettes–Spring influences health, Summer has ice cream, Fall insights family meals, and Winter encourages the hot meal. When it rains we all yearn for cover. When it snows we seek warmth, all of these climactic changes spurn retail demands.

Tanpin Kanri was created to provide on-demand inventories to eliminate merchandise that was stale or what he penned were “shelf warmers”. To do that, Suzuki empowered his local store employees to become retail scientists who were focused on researching and understanding their customers from a user-centric perspective. He also provided them with an open line of communication back to their suppliers upstream so that they could provide products based on the shifting customer demand. A big improvement to the suffering, traditional seller’s markets.

Here is where I would like to introduce why I believe Suzuki was the father of modern data science. Through Tanpin Kanri, Suzuki initiated the first step by his emphasis on data collection and its focused attention to local consumer activities. By empowering the collection of consumer data from a user-centric/local perspective, he was able to provide fresh, context specific, and actionable merchandise, on-time and aligned to targeted consumer demand. This concept is equally important to our current economy and technology need. Our users require timely, context specific, locally affecting data to meet the demands of today and future technology requirements. To do this we need to provide user-centric, fresh data in real time and context specific.

This brings us back to the availability of client specific, democratized data. Just as Suzuki empowered his employees to collect and provide the actionable data required to affect their specific POS requirements, we need to free the structured data that is currently the norm for most of our enterprise clients. Without an easy access to the many alternate forms of data that exist in modern corporations we will not be able to create the innovations required to bring us to the perceived future states of technology we are currently bringing to market.


(1)- Harvard Business School, Tanpin Kanri: Retail Practice at Seven-Eleven Japan, by Rajiv Lal and Arar Han, Rev: February 23, 2011. 9-506-002



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