CPG Partner Conversations: Geospatial Analytics and Sustainability with Orbital Insight
The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented disruption. In a matter of days, our world turned upside down. As shelter-in-place lockdowns, mask mandates, and social distancing rules took hold, new patterns of consumption quickly emerged. Arguably, no industry felt the pandemic’s dramatic impact more than consumer packaged goods (CPG). However, leaders are forging ahead with resilience, tenacity, and innovation. We’ve embarked on a series of conversations with executives from AWS strategic partners, to showcase their leadership and innovation in challenging times.
In the latest installment of our Retail Partner Conversations blog series, we chat with Jens Tellefsen, Senior Vice President of Product, Marketing, and Design at Orbital Insight, the geospatial analytics company. Orbital Insight helps organizations like Unilever, The World Bank, and the U.S. Department of Defense understand what’s happening on and to the planet. Their self-service analytics platform highlights supply chain vulnerabilities, opportunities, and considerations for national security.
AWS: Help our readers understand your vantage point. What’s the space you play in, and with what type of CPG executives does Orbital Insight interact?
Jens Tellefsen: We are a geospatial intelligence company helping global corporations and government agencies understand what’s happening on the ground using satellite imagery, location data from connected devices and vehicles, as well as other sensor data. We process the data at scale in near real time using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and we enable our users to analyze the results on a web-based, self-service analytics platform.
We talk to a lot of CPG executives who work in supply chain management. Many of them want to use data to make their supply chains more efficient, transparent, and sustainable. We build platforms that help CPGs understand how their goods are moving across the world in time and space. Since a lot of CPG leaders are interested in sustainability, we can do things like track where a company’s palm oil is sourced and send alerts if areas are associated with unsustainable practices, like illegal deforestation. We’re doing this for Unilever to help them completely eradicate deforestation from their supply chain.
We also work with CEOs and SVPs who want a deeper understanding of any number of topics ranging from the sourcing of component products, to efficient distribution center operations, to consumer behavior patterns, to a competitive analysis of manufacturing activity and supply chains.
AWS: CPG companies have been managing through unprecedented disruption. What have been the biggest challenges for your customers?
Jens Tellefsen: COVID has highlighted the lack of awareness many CPG companies have of their own supply chains. A lot of firms don’t know who their indirect suppliers are. The pandemic has forced them to think about how resilient their supply chains are and how to better monitor the flow of materials. A company might have tens of thousands of Tier 2 or Tier 3 supplier relationships they don’t really understand. They’re not as diversified as they think because many Tier 1 suppliers rely on the same Tier 2s. COVID has revealed unidentified vulnerabilities that tools from Orbital Insight can flag well ahead of a global crisis.
AWS: How do you see CPG companies adjusting their current operating environments to changing market dynamics and consumer expectations?
Jens Tellefsen: We all have a general grasp of the impact COVID-19 has had on consumer behavior. We are experiencing the impacts as individuals every day. Many of us are lucky enough to be working from home. We’re ordering products online more. We’re not going out as much, and we’re trying to connect with loved ones virtually. Some of us are thinking more about health and wellness.
These lifestyle changes have had a profound impact on consumer and business demand, upending traditional demand forecast models. We have seen a dramatic shift from people spending time (and money) in offices, restaurants, and schools to spending much more time at home. CPG firms are in dire need of quantifiable data about these big lifestyle changes we’re experiencing so they can respond to new consumer needs. More people are working from home—what percentage? Does it change from city to city and state to state? What about in other countries? How efficiently are distribution centers delivering goods to consumers and retailers? Orbital Insight can quantify these trends in near real time, and we can perform analyses at both macro- and micro-economic scale.
AWS: The CPG industry is incredibly resilient. As you look toward the new normal, what role do technology and the cloud play for CPGs? How do you see technology enhancing the way CPGs make, move, or market their products?
Jens Tellefsen: The cloud has been revolutionary for CPG firms, and we’re only beginning to see the impact of digitally native data-analytics solutions on how consumer goods are produced, marketed, and purchased. Cloud technologies have allowed Orbital Insight to build an incredible tool we call GO that lets anyone analyze how people and products move, at unprecedented scale. I’m in awe on a daily basis of what our engineering team has built. We’ve analyzed multiple petabytes of satellite images, identifying over nine billion individual objects from those images using ML and AI. Imagine how much time it would take human beings to do that same work—the simple work of looking at pictures and counting objects one by one. We process billions of anonymized geolocation pings per day, ingesting that and other IoT data, and integrating it with the satellite data our ML algorithms process with the help of computer vision. The scale is mind-boggling. We can look at the world on a planet-wide level or zoom in to individual countries, states, towns, and facilities to see how specific economies are doing or track how populations and materials are moving. We can follow trends of entire industries or individual companies. We can trace the economic performance of a single Target in Kansas City, Missouri. As technology evolves, having this type of data and being able to quickly zoom in and out is going to become easier and easier. We’ll have the world at our fingertips.
AWS: With the current CPG industry disruption, how is your company innovating to respond to changes?
Jens Tellefsen: We’re very excited to be working with Unilever to reimagine their supply chain traceability. They’re committed to eliminating their products’ contribution to deforestation by 2023, and we are helping them achieve that goal by transforming the way that they normally track the movement of palm oil that goes into many of their products. In the past, Unilever and other companies traced their supply chains by conducting supplier surveys. The process is resource-intensive, incomplete, and highly unreliable. It requires human interactions and cooperation from suppliers who may have reason to hide what they’re doing. Survey responses are notoriously subjective and aren’t updated frequently. A comprehensive survey of all organizations in your supply chain can take months and cost half a million dollars. You’re paying for data that is expensive, out-of-date, and unreliable. We are grateful for the opportunity to apply our technology to Unilever’s supply chain, by mapping and monitoring the movements of every part of their supply chain. We’re using satellite imagery, geolocation, and other sensor data that’s delivered in near real time and inherently more cost-effective because it’s digitally native.
The work we’re doing with Unilever started before the pandemic, but the pandemic has shown how important it is for a company to understand the vulnerabilities of its supply chain—whether for sustainability or responding to an uncertain, fast-moving world.
The collaboration with Unilever has been very organic because they’ve helped us iterate our technology. We’re very excited to work with more CPG firms and companies in other industries who want to use innovative technologies to improve the way they produce products and operate their businesses. We love it when our clients get creative.
AWS: There is much talk about a “new normal” going forward. What does this “new normal” look like to you, and how do you think the CPG industry will look three years from now?
Jens Tellefsen: COVID has dramatically changed consumer habits, and it’s making people question how they live their lives. One of the most interesting analyses we’ve seen of the pandemic’s impact is migration patterns in the U.S. Work-from-home culture is here to stay in some form, and that means more consumers will have flexibility to choose where to live. This trend, across 50 different states in the U.S. with 50 different approaches to vaccinations and economic reopening plans, creates a very dynamic environment for the CPG industry, especially as COVID recovery commences.
The advent of cloud-based geospatial intelligence tools is timely in this environment. Just at the moment COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in a company’s ability to forecast consumer demand, we have these new tools designed to study what’s happening on and to the Earth. These tools are powered by AI, which speeds up the analysis of enormous amounts of supply chain data, and these kinds of tools are necessary in an increasingly connected, interdependent world. Companies need to leverage the best of AI, the best machines can do, along with human expertise to dynamically solve problems in the supply chain or that consumers face in their daily lives.
AWS: What makes you excited for the future of CPG?
Jens Tellefsen: Our mission is to help people understand what is happening on and to the Earth. The average consumer has very little understanding of how goods are manufactured and delivered to them. With our existing tools and new products we’re developing, it’s going to be incrementally easier for firms and consumers to understand how products they use are made and where they come from. This will lead to more efficient, sustainable production that is more adaptable to changing consumer demands. Supply chains can become more versatile and adaptable to changing circumstances. Customers will have the knowledge and power to make well-informed decisions about the products they use, and CPG companies will be able to produce analytical data to show how they are contributing to a better planet.
In the future, CPG firms will be able to monitor their supply chains across the entire cycle from raw material to the customer. They will also be able to predict the future as more historical data informs models that companies like Orbital Insight are building to identify trends in the data—whether it’s a possible disruption on the production end or a new fad on the consumer end.
AWS: Thanks for chatting with us, Jens. We appreciate your insights and expertise.
If you have questions for Jens, Orbital Insight, or AWS, please comment on this blog or request a demo from Orbital Insight. We hope you enjoy our blog series. If you have questions or suggestions, please post a comment.
Jens Tellefsen serves as Orbital Insight’s SVP of Product, Marketing, and Design. He has built and led product management teams for more than two decades across a number of enterprise software companies covering AI, social intelligence, natural language processing, price and profit optimization, and sales commission management. Prior to Orbital Insight, he served as a product executive at Quantifind, NetBase Solutions, Vendavo, Callidus Software, and Trilogy. He spent two years at McKinsey & Company advising Fortune 500 companies on corporate strategy.