Inmar Intelligence has a unique perspective on the world of food and consumables, thanks to the fact that 16,000 organizations rely on its data platform. Chairman and CEO David Mounts leads an organization focused on accelerating digital transformation by leveraging a portfolio of artificial intelligence and machine- learning capabilities to automate and enable real-time decision-making. Progressive Grocer spoke with Mounts, a former top executive at Domino’s and UPS who joined Inmar in 2010, about the attributes of digital leaders, cryptocurrency adoption, working in the Metaverse and preventing the next supply chain crisis.
Progressive Grocer: You work with thousands of companies who have a lot of challenges and opportunities. Where do they need the most help now?
David Mounts: All our customers want to be differentiated. They want to deliver more convenience and to understand consumers’ needs in real time, but the tools and the systems they have are disjointed and not connected in ways that make it easy for them to do that. What they really need is to unify the data platform and to serve those consumers with tools that are capitalizing on that unified data, so that they can improve the experience that customer has.
PG: We've been hearing about digital transformation for at least a decade or so. When someone asks you to define digital transformation, what do you say?
DM: It all starts with a data-first approach, which is why there is a focus on unifying data that matters in places where people that are making decisions can access it to drive decisions, and then it is the connectivity of systems that drive the customer experience. It’s about leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to make sure that we’re always optimizing the experience for the outcomes that the consumer wants and that we want to help them achieve. That's where digital transformation has fallen short in a lot of cases.
PG: What's been the biggest challenge holding organizations back on digital transformation?
DM: The technology is not the barrier anymore. It's a mindset issue and it's a change model issue. The transformation is the responsibility of the CEO of any organization, and there can be no ambiguity that the transformation is of the highest priority.
PG: How common is that?
DM: Where I see most organizations failing is the CEO does not lay out a clear vision to the board on why the changes are going to be good for the investors and for the customers. Too many times, the transformation is put into a project, or it's pushed down to a middle-level manager, or one of the silos underneath the CEO, to make the change, and that leads to a suboptimal effort. Once you start talking about unifying data flows, workflows and money flows, you've got to be able to work across the silos of an organization, and there are just very few places that can be done other than the transformation office of the CEO.
PG: Inmar Intelligence is in the business of helping other entities digitally transform, so how do you put the principles you’ve described into play at your own company?
DM: In 2021, we spent a lot of time reflecting on the nature of work going forward. Work used to be a place we went to. We would go there, we would work and we would go home. Work is no longer a place; it is a platform where you go to work. Very few people stepped back to think about designing work as a platform that combines physical and digital to drive the outcomes you want to achieve in terms of a better client success model.
PG: What does that look like?
DM: We spent all of 2021 doing design work, and this year we are rolling out a digital work platform that is going to increase the productivity of our customers by making them more effective in achieving the outcomes that they want, and it will make our team about 15% to 20% more productive than it is today.
PG: How so?
DM: We’re going to make work easier for our team and for our clients so they can get more done. For example, every “Inmarian” [a name used internally at Inmar Intelligence to describe employees] will have a digital AI assistant. Every Inmarian will have collaborative space that looks like the Metaverse, and customers will be invited into that space. Our redesigned digital work platform is really designed to make all the things our customers do better, easier, simpler and more augmented by machines.
PG: Let’s talk about marketing, because there is a lot going on with retail media networks, personalization, and data and privacy issues. How are you helping customers navigate a lot of these new complexities of marketing?
DM: There's been a real learning curve for retailers in this space. What we see is that most retailers on the marketing side do not understand the media ecosystem. They need help with the media ecosystem to procure the national dollars that are out there. And while it sounds really good to try to put everything in-house, the tools that you end up with in a hybrid in-house model system ultimately don't work as well together as promised. That's a big problem for retailers that we've heard from who are trying to access national dollars. It's important for them to be part of a national network, so they can get those national dollars without cannibalizing their trade or shopper, or local dollars.
PG: It’s a dramatic shift happening now in retail.
DM: There are a lot of places that people can advertise. And for a retailer to get people to want to advertise using their retail media, they really have to make sure they are differentiating and giving them a great return on advertising spend. We're able to show them the ways they can deliver that and ultimately get a higher CPM rate for their advertising, which is really important, a higher dollar rate for their advertising. Those are the things that matter most in the martech world, and no one has put together the loyalty, the incentives, the media, the execution online and the execution in-store the way we have, which is why Forrester ranked us as the very best platform in the industry.
PG: Let’s shift to finance, fintech, which is also a very dynamic space. What would you say are the main problems you are helping customers solve when it comes to finance?
DM: Our fintech platform is embedded as a subledger to almost everyone in the industry. It is taking a lot of the very detailed work after a transaction has happened with a consumer, or after it's happened with a vendor, and creating the full solution for the settlement of that payment, the reconciliation of those accounts. And it is enabling a single source of truth around all of the records of interaction between either the business party that our customers are dealing with or the consumer that they're dealing with. And it's taking relevant data from those transactions and enhancing the visibility to the management on how to get better financial outcomes in their business. So it's also enabling the ability to streamline lots of work that today is separate.
PG: It’s not the sexiest part of retailing, but it sounds like there is a lot of opportunity to increase efficiency.
DM: You might have a workflow happening in one part of the business, and the money flow being executed by a back office, an accounting function, in another part of the business. Those are not happening in real time, and they're not linked transactions. That's an huge inefficiency; the world is very inefficient in this way. The Inmar FinTech platform is essentially looking at every single one of these workflows and data flows that are happening in the martech and supply tech side, and it is taking care of all the money and the accounting work that needs to be done, and speeding those cash cycles and the recordkeeping around all of that. It uses a combination of blockchain technologies and high-speed transaction systems through our cloud platform to make all of that happen in a way that gives them real-time access to those financial flows.
PG: You mentioned blockchain, so I have to ask about crypto. Is that a focus at Inmar?
DM: We think cryptocurrencies play a role for streamlining and driving efficiency in our industry. There's no doubt about it. We believe that the enabling blockchain technologies have very, very strong use cases, and we've already deployed them. We can already handle crypto today -- that's not an issue for us. But we think that the real advances will come as these are legitimized through some of the government actions and reviews that are underway. We do believe that they make things simpler, and the industry will benefit from them by streamlining a lot of work for a lot of people. There's no reason why people that trust each other and already trade doing millions, or even hundreds of millions, or even billions of dollars of business together, can't utilize efficient tools like crypto to continue to do that trade. Where trust is high and trading partners want efficiency and crypto makes it easier for that to happen, we think there's a lot of logic for that tool.
PG: Do you foresee a day when crypto will be as common at retail in terms of payment as credit cards and cash?
DM: I do.
PG: Is that five years, 10 years in the future? How rapidly does adoption occur?
DM: The pace is not a technology issue, it's a regulatory issue as people begin to think about how to manage for the accounting and what types of exchanges are OK. There are lots of logical cases where regulation can be sped up for people of trust who are doing trade in a thoughtful way. With the right accounting rules and the right regulatory approvals that could move relatively quickly.
PG: Let’s talk about supply chain, your third area of focus. Everybody learned a lot about the vulnerabilities of their supply chain during the last two years. What did you learn at Inmar about how to help the industry cope with future disruptions to future-proof supply chains?
DM: I'm a lifelong supply chain professional who started at UPS when I was 19 and worked my way up from the very bottom. I've worked in more than 50 countries and lived in six. I have dedicated my life to supply chain, and I will tell you, we should all be very disappointed by what happened in 2020. We've spent decades deploying technology, trying to improve supply chain functionality, and any supply chain professional that looks at 2020 has to feel that we missed the mark.
PG: What went wrong?
DM: The problems that we had focused the technology on were too myopic and insular. We were too busy tweaking costs out of our own little supply chains and didn’t really look across our ecosystem and say, ‘How are we connected in this ecosystem fully, and how are the people we rely on, how are they connected to the people they rely on, and how are those people connected with people that they rely on?’ We did not create that full data platform visibility across the ecosystem.
PG: Visibility is one thing, but wasn’t it an issue of manufacturing capacity and not having enough to keep up with demand?
DM: No. The capacity is out there. What if you had data on every manufacturer in the world of anything, but instead of what products they manufacture and sell, you understood exactly what capabilities they had? If you visit a CPG company’s website, they'll tell you about all the products they sell and what they do, but does that really tell you what their manufacturing capabilities are? What if the system had visibility into the other types of things that a manufacturer could make and the amount of time it would take them to pivot?
PG: That would be interesting.
DM: And then you had the ability to think about demand spikes or impacts, and you could build secondary and tertiary manufacturers in your database to have ready when those situations occur. We don't do that today, because we never thought to go deep enough on what would we do in a great demand shock to the system. We could have hypothesized many of these scenarios and built contingency plans for them, and I think we all learned that we really need to do that going forward. Inmar is very aggressive in this space right now. We're providing accessibility to all the key food industries and the medicine industry to begin to connect up these ecosystems to the data platform, so the people can come together and start preparing better than we did last time.
PG: You've done quite a few acquisitions since your tenure began in 2010. Do you expect that trend to continue?
DM: We expect to continue to do three to four acquisitions a year, and we expect to continue to keep our data platform open for other innovative technologies to come on and accelerate them in. So we operate an open-data platform; you can get in if you have quality and security. We're constantly seeking other best-of-breed technologies, so we can integrate them at a platform level [and] our customers don't have to integrate them at an enterprise level.
PG: Let’s end on this: What's something people would be surprised to know about you?
DM: I am an outdoorsman. I'm an expert alpine skier and an OK Nordic skier. I'm a snowshoer as well. I feel like the mountain air gives me a clear mind to think about where things are going and to problem solve. I love being outside when I can.