torstai 9. helmikuuta 2012

Inevitable, heroic, and damn hellish!

Queues - the final frontier. Frustration is sometimes a powerful incentive to thinking about alternatives to everyday chores.

I'm 35. I'm just about to end my daily groceries routine - you know, going to the mall, guessing which shop carries the groceries that I need; avoiding cars in the parking lot, trying to remember where you left the car; breathing fume- and dust polluted air in the underground parks; followed by walking a mile on the aisles, searching for the correct products, avoiding certain artificial sweeteners etc. Getting groceries done is hell - it really is! We just have accustomed to it, and the conventional wisdom still seems to say we don't have any feasible alternatives.

Imagine having an alternative. You could look at a list of purchases easily; "oh what was that meat that we bought back in Christmas? It was delicious! Could we have that today as well?"
Imagine using powerful filters, to automate and narrow down your search list: "show only products without artificial sweetener X", "exclude products made in country P" and so on.

Did you know that a professional runner runs a half marathon in about the same time that we spend doing groceries, every day? The Finnish national average is around 52 minutes daily - and the half marathon official IAAF world record is 58:23. I think not many of us really think about the time waste - it just seems "inevitable", heroic, and well... necessary?

In 2008 me and a bunch of friends started thinking of alternatives to this boring daily "must". We came up with a project called Tuokko. While we had a lot of enthusiasm and discussion, it was pretty much shelved and stayed as a static web site, listing the vision and things we'd come up with.

I'd ever since been interested in operations research, logistics, and optimization problems. Computer science gives strong basis for modeling systems of delivery and what not. But one of the most refreshing things today is to see that in Finland, there's a lot of small services springing up, right in this personal logistics niche. I'm looking forward to trying them out and seeing how they differentiate from each other.

Our population is ageing, while the working class is getting more prosperous. There's a tough formula that has to do with balancing time use against the level of luxury; the mind comes up sometimes with more "wants" than the body can execute.

A quick glance of some of the brave new logistics contenders shows that they already have segmentation in service attributes.

The differences arise in pricing, scheduling, and the variety of selection. There's basically two main types of services: a "free selection" type, and a programmed course of meals. The programmed course offers food recipes and the ingredients for the next 4 or 5 days, delivered at your home door. I'm personally interested about the free selections ones a bit more. The idea with Tuokko was that it would be a constant, intelligent kitchen aid that would require a minimal amount of input to keep the user satisfied with a certain level of fridge filling: you'd always have things at home, and could order more either via the computer or a mobile phone.

I think we're going to see a year or two of basic logistical improvements, during which the services are tuned up. We'll probably then see new ideas, more fine-tuned user interfaces, perhaps completely novel ideas (new features), and of course price competition. Some companies will falter, others will gain more marketshare. It's going to be really interesting to see how the big food chains position themselves regarding these logistical companies! Traditionally there's been