Shoshana Burgett, Director of Corporate Strategy for X-Rite Pantone, shares her second piece with WhichPLM today, in which she discusses the AoT (Array of Things) as it relates to the consumer packaged goods and retail, footwear and apparel (RFA) industries. Shoshana is responsible for leading X-Rite Pantone’s Voice of the Customer (VOC) initiative across all industries, identifying market trends and helping the company create innovative products supporting emerging customer needs.
By now most people have heard of the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technologies that connect everyday items to the internet. Fitness trackers are an excellent example of this technology. By leveraging electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity, fitness trackers provide valuable information back to the end consumer.
Many industries are taking this type of technology a step further and applying analytics. Healthcare companies are using wearable technologies to create an ecosystem that provides a higher level of quality, and faster decision making to clinics, hospitals and their patients. By collecting data in real time and applying predictive health analytics, healthcare providers can create a baseline for an individual’s health. The information is then used to identify anomalies and alert patients and healthcare providers when necessary.
Cities are using the IoT to create city-wide networks to monitor multiple items. The Array of Things (AoT) project in Chicago created an urban sensing network of interactive, modular sensor boxes that collect real-time data on the city’s environment, air quality, infrastructure, and activity for research and public use. In many ways, the AoT serves as a “fitness tracker” for the city.
So, what’s the difference between the IoT and the AoT?
Just like wearables are helping to bring doctors and patients closer to make faster and higher quality decisions, so too is the AoT. But unlike healthcare and most IoT initiatives, the city of Chicago’s AoT project makes the data public.
AoT is an open source project, for urban planners, residents, and researchers, published on GitHub. By being open, the AoT and the city of Chicago aims to drive innovation at all levels, by giving residents, researchers, and policymakers an opportunity to collaborate; to better understand how Chicago works and learn how to make cities healthier, more liveable and more efficient. The key to AoT success lies in the accessing and sharing of data by many different parties.
But that’s only part of the difference. Each data set is a point in time and every day is, well, slightly different. You need to apply technology, insights and analytics to the data in order to understand what it means and how it can empower people in their decision-making process. Equally important to the AoT project is collaboration. The project is a collaboration involving open technologies and engaged partners. Data might be King, but collaboration is Queen.
The combination of an open technology environment, data transparency and partner collaboration provides a holistic view of the city and an environment designed to spur innovation. That is what makes the AoT different!
Can we do this for Consumer Packaged Goods?
The AoT sounds great, but could this approach work for consumer goods companies, from apparel to beauty to traditional CPG brands?
In many ways, consumer goods companies already have some of the pieces in place to support an AoT strategy. Companies use a variety of technologies to track the way products move from the warehouse through dealers and wholesalers to the retailer (big box stores to boutiques). There are SKUs and bar codes. There are radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and QR codes to engage consumers. The technology and sensors collect information.
Just like wearables, the data is useful only to the group or team that understands and has access to the information. Procurement might track one set of data and service another. But who within the company is monitoring the overall ‘health of the physical brand’ and applying that information to the entire supply chain?
Remember, AoT is collaborative; it uses all the technologies to look holistically at the data. It creates a full landscape and shares information. Consumer goods companies have access to sensors and technology already – RFID or Near Field Communications (NFC) to track packages – and retailers use solutions like Walkbase to understand where shoppers are within the store. The technology and data is already here! But companies need to create a similar data rich environment among supply chain partners, and even customers, to provide a holistic view of the brand’s health from production to customer.
Having a holistic view means understanding how the physical product and digital marketing impact brand health. A recent study from the CMO council found that over half (53 percent) of marketers admit that alignment across physical and digital touchpoints is an important focus of the customer experience and 34 percent believe this connection is critical. However, only 6 percent of marketers say they achieved integration and alignment between the key touchpoints. Today’s digital marketing tools allow brand managers to gather insights from social media channels instantaneous and react quickly. However, managing a brand’s health at the physical product level is done on a reactive basis.
For example, companies measure a product’s health with a rear-view mirror approach, looking back a month or even a quarter. However, many technologies available today allow brand owners to gather insights as to the physical health of their brands as quickly and efficiently as its digital counterpart. Consider product packaging. Tools like X-Rite ColorCert, a process control solution for printing environments, help manage brand color and production consistency across suppliers. Media Beacon digital asset management can manage digital assets and help keep graphics, text, photos and other digital assets up to date for a company and its partners. These types of tools also provide statistical analysis that empowers marketing directors and CMOs to be more proactive and less reactive.
Is it happening today?
Some CPG and retail, footwear and apparel (RFA) companies have embraced the IoT and are taking steps toward a more collaborative, holistic approach managing brand health, approaching an AoT model.
Coke has partnered with Albertsons grocery and, in 250 stores, digital advertisements will pop up based on the proximity of the consumer and basic demographics, like gender and age, based on smartphone profiles. “We can understand who the consumer is and get the right content and messaging to him or her at the right time,” said Greg Chambers, Global Group Director of Digital Innovation, in an article on the company’s website. “We’re using the power of the cloud to bring a real-time, media-rich experience to shoppers in the store.”
Nike is another early adopter for IoT creating a smart shoe that connects and tracks activity. If Nike can make a smart sneaker to monitor our health, brands should be able to monitor brand health as easily.
P&G and other brands are innovating their supply chains. These are mammoth brands, where implementation and decision making takes time. They see the impact monitoring the supply chain has to their understanding of brand health. Medium and smaller brands are nimble and, though they may not have the same power as a larger brand, they can define their own Print Quality Programs (PQP) to stabilize and standardize their processes. These processes drive color consistency and strengthen the brand story across physical product, packaging and digital (ecommerce) presence.
Just imagine the possibilties if a CPG or RFA company could track where products went, where they came from, all the way down to the time of day a product is sold, along with the demographics of the individuals who purchased it?
The Array of Things is an approach that can help. It’s about leveraging technology to drive insights that provide sustainable operations and savings to several parties. Like the city of Chicago, brands need to work with partners, including suppliers and retailers; CPG companies need an environment where people can analyze and collaborate. Imagine a company like Nestlé, partnering with Wegmans grocery stores and the Consumers Union to create such an environment. It could bring a new level of consumer satisfaction in a time where customers demand authenticity, transparency, and truth.
We could also imagine an ‘Array of Things’ for consumer companies where each part of the business brings its unique value. Those types of collaboration and forward thinking can drive innovation and enable brands to pivot quickly to meet evolving customer demands and address market trends.
Would your team do anything differently if they had more insights into brand health?
If you could leverage and share data and insights on brand health across your organization and with key partners, imagine how that might impact your decision making.
What if you could:
- Embed RFID or electronic inks in the material, AND
- Augmented Reality (AR) was enabled, AND
- Consumers could use Augmented Reality (AR), AND
- Engage with and collaborate with the brands they love! …Creating brand loyalty while providing insights for future products.
Or, for the supply chain, what if you could:
- Embed RFID or electronic inks in the material, AND
- Track consistency on critical brand elements such as logos, images and color, as it was produced, AND
- Share those insights with procurement, marketing and other internal stakeholders, AND
- Provide those analytics for each and every supplier, AND
- Do it on a daily basis! …Giving brands the capabilities to monitor the health of their whole supply chain.
What impact would it have on your brand?
These types of insights allow everyone, from marketing to R&D to customer support, to directly interact with the data and derive insights. CPG and RFA companies can become the champions of collaboration, creating a partnership that empowers every stakeholder to keep up with the latest trends and, most importantly, be able to execute on those insights.
Where to start?
How can companies get started on this approach? In many cases, you already have some of the technology in place.
- Engage your supply chain management resources to identify the types of information that would add value.
- Engage designers and R&D to evaluate product and packaging specifications and current materials. How can technology help to standardize and digitize the workflow?
- Identify partners; this can be a supplier, retailer or manufacturer of hardware or software.
- Have the discussion. The best part of collaboration is bringing everyone to the table. Show me someone who does not want to be more efficient or innovative. It may sound intimidating, but in reality, it’s like exercise. The hardest part of exercise is getting to the gym. Once you’re there, you feel great that you went.
- Understand your brand’s color maturity by doing a Brand Assessment.
- Review your PQP processes and compare them to other benchmarks.
We can create an Array of Things within the supply chain and in retail (brick and mortar and online). We have the technology; now we need to gather and analyze the data and use a collaborative approach to fully understand a brand’s health.
At the Argyle Retail and Consumer Forum in Chicago, I heard brands like Reynolds, Land O’Lakes, Motorola, True Value and Morton Salt discuss lean and agile processes, transparency, and collaboration. While these companies may not have used the term AoT, they are already thinking this way. Apparel companies are innovating their manufacturing process, using new technology to digitize their material libraries and connect to their supply chains.
If the city of Chicago can do it, why can’t the P&G, Nestlé and Nike’s of the world do it too?