The idea of data silos is being replaced by data sharing – and Specification Management is the highway.
We recently hosted our Specification Management Summit in Austin, Texas, where we brought together industry leaders and Specright customers to talk about the future.We always open the event with “Chat with Matt” – which is an opportunity for me to share my vision and the challenges I’m seeing in the market with our Specright community.This year, the topic was “Why Supplier Portals are Dead and Networks are the Future.”
If that seems bold, it’s because it is – but it’s also the right way of doing things and the only way forward in the tech-enabled world we lived in.
You see, I founded Specright after spending 20+ years as a packaging and supply chain executive and entrepreneur. I was a supplier to many of the world’s leading brands and oftentimes managed their packaging data on their behalf. When Specright became a reality in 2016, it was with the vision of creating the first cloud-based platform for Specification Management. As more and more companies embraced a spec-first approach to managing their product and packaging data, it became clear that digitization was only the first step – and that the future would be in data sharing amongst brands, suppliers, co-manufacturers, and retailers.
The Power of Networks in Day-to-Day Life
Think about your day – you probably drove somewhere or called someone – and both of those things are made possible by networks.The highway system is my favorite example of how networks transform our lives.Back in the day, it used to be difficult to transport goods or travel to different cities because they weren’t interconnected. With a highway system, we can easily move people and goods around. But what really makes highways so efficient? Cars!
Because we’ve standardized the mode of transportation, highways are highly effective and efficient. Can you imagine if we let electric scooters, bikes or horse and buggies on the highways? The result would be chaos. At this point, you may be thinking: what does this have to do with supply chains? In my mind, specs are the car and our newly announced Specright Network is the highway.
Why Now is the Time to Network
1. Supply Chains are No Longer Linear
As consumers, the changes to products and packaging are obvious: there are more shapes, flavors, and sizes than ever before. But when it comes to supply chain and logistics, many of these changes happen behind the scenes. For example, in the 1970s, many supply chains followed a direct replenishment model of suppliers and wholesalers selling through to stores.
Flash forward to today, and the landscape is drastically different: e-Commerce fulfillment centers, parcel hubs, home delivery and more have created a complex and interconnected web that goods move through. Supply chains have literally become complex, living networks – and therefore our approach to managing our data must change to fit the world we live in.
What does this have to do with specification data? Moving products across different channels means packaging and performance testing has to cover a variety of scenarios. And you can’t do accurate packaging testing without knowing the specs of what you’re trying to move or how you plan on moving it. This means that retailers and brands need to know more about what they’re making and how it’s moving. Just ask our partners over at the International Safe Transit Authority (CEO A.J. Grueber gave a great talk about this at our 2020 User Group).
2. Change is Happening at an Accelerated Pace
Today, the only constant is change. Ingredients continue to go in and out of style, packaging is being forced to change to meet ever-growing Extended Producer Responsibility regulation, and an entire generation of workers are retiring. These are just a few of the reasons that companies and their products are having to evolve faster and more often than ever before. And if you need more evidence, the rise of Challenger Brands like Beyond Meat, Glossier, and Dollar Shave Club have disrupted the industry behemoths. Even Challenger Brands continue to change as they mature and enter new categories to continue to scale. And the key to moving faster and innovating is – you guessed it – having all the data and information you need at your fingertips.
Because supply chains are so complex, the pace of change creates tremendous risk for companies with vast supply bases that are still operating off legacy systems like spreadsheets or email as a way to share data. For industries with high regulatory hurdles like food and beverage, CPG and chemicals, this means the pace of innovation is typically slowed as a result.
But having specification data at your fingertips – and the ability to share instant changes across your supply chain network – allows companies to increase their speed to market without increasing their risk.
3. Collaboration Unlocks Innovation
Victoria Chatman-Galloway, Global Head & Vice President, Packaging Center of Expertise at Olam International, and this year’s chair of the Specification Management Summit, said it best when she said, “innovation is more than adding peanut butter.” She’s right – product innovation is more than the product. It’s how you’re making it, shipping it, and of course what’s in it. The reality is, most functions outside of research and development and new product development are reactive when it comes to innovation. Why?
Because functions like quality, packaging, and operations are typically charged with making sure the supply chain stays humming versus innovating. But data sharing on a supply chain network changes things. It allows different functions to see different insights or have visibility into innovations that they would typically wouldn’t see otherwise – or at least wouldn’t seriously consider later as the innovation matured.
For example, there is so much innovation in packaging alone – new materials that are more durable, sustainable and so forth – that it can be hard to see explore what’s new when you’re trying to just get through the day. But imagine if your packaging suppliers could instantly share new spec designs with you on a network?
You could be alerted of new materials or components and decide in a matter of seconds or minutes if it’s something worth exploring versus waiting for an account review with the company rep. Or what if you’re a product development professional and you notice that customer complaints are starting to come in for a new product you launched - imagine being able to huddle your cross-functional teams to tweak the formula in real-time versus waiting for sales to continue to dip.
Collaboration based on data sharing is all about accelerating the business actions you can take to improve your business – and that could mean changing the product, tweaking the packaging, or having to deep dive on an issue with a supplier.
The First Step of Joining a Network is Digitizing and Standardizing Data
It’s clear to me that the future of Specification Management is sharing data on a network. It’s going to unlock innovation and human potential in ways we haven’t yet thought about. But there is a harsh reality – you can’t operate on this network if your data isn't it digitized. So if you’re still sharing specs using shared drives, PDFs or emails, the first step you must take is to digitize your data.
The good news is, this no longer has to be a hurdle or take years. We’ve transitioned hundreds of companies to cloud-based, digital specification data through technology advancements like Intelligent Document Processing and by building specialized teams like Spec Squad to do just that.
There’s a saying that sometimes the hardest part is just getting started. But I’m here to tell you that you’re not in it alone and that the journey is worth it – because the future of products and packaging has never looked brighter.