Opinion – software does it

Published: 8-Feb-2012

SaaS can help suppliers and manufacturers run more efficiently, says Amina West

SaaS can help suppliers and manufacturers run more efficiently, says Amina West

The development of own label products is a lucrative and growing market that provides many opportunities for both manufacturers and retailers but the task of managing an increasing range of products brings its own challenges. Not only do manufacturers have to deal with a greater volume of products but they also have to manage relationships with several different retailers at the same time. This can lead to manufacturers coming under a great deal of pressure to accurately manage all the detailed product specifications during the development stage.

To help with these challenges, innovation in cloud computing (or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)) technology in recent years has allowed manufacturers to better collaborate with retailers using the same online system, which allows all parties involved to share product specifications and important information in real time. This emerging technology is introducing a new approach to product development that has progressed from the labour intensive methods of the past and is now being used by major manufacturers within private label C&T along with wider industries.

One manufacturer that chose to use cloud computing to streamline its product development process is McBride, a leading supplier of private label personal care and household products for Europe’s largest and most successful retailers including Carrefour, Auchan and Casino. Products include male grooming, skin care and baby care along with bath and shower products. As with all manufacturers today, the firm’s main challenge with private label product development was managing long product specifications and collaborating with several retailers at the same time on a wide portfolio of products. Previously McBride used paper-based records, which were administratively time consuming and inevitably slowed down communication with retailers and thus the product approval process. However, in 2006 McBride started using Software-as-a-Service technology from Trace One to help overcome these challenges.

The Product Specifications online platform is designed to help manufacturers speed up the writing and signing-off of product specifications with multiple retailers. The solution helps to accelerate the process from the time the contract is awarded to the time the specifications contracts are electronically signed. It also acts as a trusted third party repository for signed specifications. For manufacturers such as McBride, one of the main benefits of using SaaS technology for private label product development is that it can easily reuse existing product specifications or recipes in its own private workspace to create similar products for other retailers.

The first task McBride had when implementing the platform was to move legacy documents stored on paper records and electronic databases onto the new online platform. These documents included commercial names, EAN Codes (barcodes with specific product identification numbers for retail products) and product formulae, which included raw materials and percentage of ingredients, as well as packaging, labelling and logistics details. McBride also had to make sure that other important documents like technical datasheets, certificates and test reports could be shared with retailers, which it uploaded to the system in PDF format so they could not be altered.

Once the substantial task of moving all the information onto the platform had been achieved, retailers then have to validate each section when it comes to developing and agreeing on new product ranges. These sections are colour coded to indicate the progress of the validation. If the retailers have any problems when reviewing this section, they can request amendments to be made before validating the information. As both parties can use the same file due to the collaborative nature of the technology, they can work in real time and view each others’ changes immediately.

To sign off the final document in the product development stage, McBride and its retail customers use signatures in the form of personalised eCertificates, meaning physical documents do not need to be transferred between different parties and the approval process is achieved instantly. Furthermore, when a document is signed it cannot be changed by the manufacturer meaning the customer has peace of mind and there will be no surprises with the products.

Following the automation, McBride now requires fewer people to manage the product portfolio. This means employees have more time to focus on the important decisions to be made and product development itself, rather than spend all their time in front of a screen doing administrative tasks.

Another benefit of using the eCard system is that other team members can authorise changes if someone is absent to maintain the speed of the approval process. Any changes made to the platform are recorded so it is easy to track these alterations and pick up on any potential mistakes made. This means there can be greater accountability for all parties involved, which enhances cooperation and encourages a better working relationship between McBride and its customers.

As with all manufacturers today, McBride has to ensure that its product information and confidential details remain secure but at the same time be able to make them immediately accessible to selected customers. Because of the standards of security that the SaaS platform has McBride can ensure that only authorised individuals can access certain information, which also eliminates the risk of the wrong files being shared accidentally over email. It also helps the manufacturer comply with standards.

In addition, McBride can reuse existing product specifications and contracts can also be better managed using the software. Wider uses of the platform for other manufacturers can also include speeding up product recall as the information on the contents of products is stored electronically and can be accessed in minutes rather than days.

The main benefit of SaaS technology is that it can help suppliers and manufacturers run more efficiently and save time on administrative tasks. This gives them more time to innovate by developing new products, which can be brought to market more quickly thanks to improved communication between manufacturers and their multiple retailers.

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