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Digitization Catches Up to Product Development, Increasing Speed to Market

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Digital transformation has been a buzzword in business for a while now. But it’s more than a fad: as a strategy, digital transformation has enabled innovative new ways of working and brought demonstrable efficiencies to the sales and marketing functions of the Food and Beverage (F&B) and Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industries. Back-office functions, like product development, though, have mostly been left out of the conversation. 

Some companies are seeing the opportunities to apply digital transformation in this space to impact business directly—and they’re achieving encouraging results. When it comes to product development, digital transformation can improve operational efficiency, deliver higher quality products to market faster, accelerate sustainability, and reduce risk. It offers a holistic way of developing, sourcing, and producing new products with the speed, quality, and transparency consumers expect. The challenge is getting it right. 

Change is a continuous process

CPG and F&B businesses are continually challenged to match the pace of shifting consumer demands and market disruptions. But evolving existing products or launching new ones into the market has traditionally been time-consuming. It is the unavoidable bottlenecks of product development. One particularly challenging facet is tracking how components are sourced, developed, and packaged while maintaining the company’s brand and product standards and keeping up with regulatory compliance. 

For example, if a company is creating a new vitamin D supplement, it must consider a number of questions along the product life cycle. Where do the raw materials come from? Are they from sustainable sources? Is the proposed product packaging sustainable, recyclable, or both? What is the energy cost of recycling? What about usability of the product and the consumer experience? Does the product require a safe and secure seal? What is the overall footprint of the product, from source materials to production to store shelf? 

These questions become especially important in today’s business landscape, where consumers demand greater transparency without any compromise on product quality. They want to know what's in a product, where it comes from, and that it's safe and effective. Social media gives them a platform to ask questions directly to brands and manufacturers with a click. They expect timely, thorough, and substantiated responses. 

In addition to meeting consumer expectations, adhering to external regulations is an ongoing requirement for consumer products. Complicating matters further, regulations can vary significantly based on the type of product, the commercial market or region, and the product’s intended use. Regulations can change frequently, impacting not only new product offerings but the full product portfolio. Keeping track of all the requirements, let alone meeting them, is a constant challenge with significant implications, including market withdrawal. 

Yet, for many reasons, consumer product companies struggle with change. Teams often work with manual siloed solutions, making valuable data hard to access and share across the company and with vital partners, such as suppliers or distributors. They may use spreadsheets and documents that are not centralized, connected, or easily searchable. They could lack the right tools to simplify cross-functional communication and might be applying "the way we've always done things" to solve modern problems.

In many cases, these ingrained problems  have developed from the company's growth over time. Perhaps the business started with basic capabilities—spreadsheets that were good enough—and later, additional solutions arrived through acquisitions of other businesses or by other means.  The problem is often that what was used to help the company grow to where it is  now has turned into what is holding it  back from where it  wants to go.

Market dynamics have changed the importance of speed, agility, and connectedness. For companies to stand behind what they say and stay relevant to consumer expectations, they must approach their business differently. Specifically, they need a holistic, collaborative approach to product development. 

Digital transformation is how companies can accelerate their strategy to unify people, processes, and technology to modern demands and capabilities. 

Achieving massive benefits

A modern approach to product development can help companies be more agile in the face of change. Providing employees with a unified solution for managing product development from beginning to end can streamline collaboration across functions and partners. Connecting end-to-end product development across all associated data, documents, and workflows enables real-time visibility into operations, eliminates roadblocks and missed handoffs, and provides a single source of truth. 

For example, Estée Lauder, a global leader in personal care and beauty products, sought to reimagine its global product registration process to break down silos and increase speed, responsiveness, and compliance. Beginning with the adoption of Veeva’s RegulatoryOne solution, Estée Lauder was able to consolidate 483,000 product registrations into a global single system of truth, streamlining registration processes, improving forecasting, and increasing compliance across 33 brands and 53 markets. This has sped up new product launches, streamlined the process for entering new markets, and, overall, enabled more dynamic, connected, and harmonized processes across the organization.

Follow best practices for success 

Digital transformation in product development should adhere to certain best practices that can bring powerful results. 

Start with clear and specific goals. Define the problem you are trying to solve as well as the value of solving it. This is the core purpose of your business, the thing that differentiates you from competitors: your North Star. Everything you do flows to and from your goal; everything that doesn't connect to your goal is a distraction.

In consumer products industries, your core purpose is often explained and backed by the claims you make about your brand through your products. Claims express what your brand stands for, from ingredients to product quality to sustainability and health benefits. Establishing, tracking, and verifying claims is most quickly and confidently done through a unified end-to-end process supported by a single-source-of-truth solution. Speed is crucial—the sooner a digitally transformed organization or initiative begins delivering results, the sooner it can unlock the savings or new revenue and margins to fund transformation in other areas of the business.

While you should think big, you should start small and work fast. If you try to address everything at once, your effort will lose momentum and, eventually, support. Incremental wins can build confidence in the organization and, more importantly, generate more buy-in and budget to continue driving change and delivering results. 

Make a four-part plan 

Build a plan that takes into account your objective, your people, your processes, and the technology that will support all three. Consider the following questions:

Part 1: Your objective

Begin with a clear, measurable objective. This allows people to understand why the initiative is important and keeps the work focused and on track. It ensures that the solution delivers on the objective and doesn't drift into customization or delays for things that sound good but aren't part of the objective.

Part 2: Your people

People must understand the program’s objective and how adopting new ways of working and technologies will benefit them. These people should be engaged early in the process to gain insights and buy-in from the beginning. They need to understand that you're doing the initiative with them instead of to them. 

Does everyone have a common understanding of the problem being solved? Who owns the underlying data and metrics? Where does it live? Is it complete? How can the team better access it? If an IT organization or an analytics and reporting group owns the data and makes the decisions, you might be starting on the wrong foot. Functional owners understand the business, the objective, and what data is needed to make decisions. 

There must be clarity on who owns what (including ongoing maintenance) and, ultimately, understanding of how this enables breaking down the objective into the changes required to arrive at the desired outcomes. If you don't start with standard definitions for essential functions—for instance, what “out of stock” means to people across all areas of the business (e.g., not on the shelf, not in the back room, or will not be replenished by the next order)—then you'll struggle with identifying the right changes to make and whose data is "right.” 

Part 3: Your processes 

What does the modern way of working look like? No more silos—open, real-time collaboration and connectivity are critical. This is the gist of digital transformation, and though it’s universal, it’s applied differently to different businesses. 

What pre-existing processes should be kept in place, which should be adapted, and which discarded? The answers are the ways of working that move the needle toward the shared objective. With this lens, you can stay focused on a shared objective rather than falling into arguments like, "This is the way we've always done it," or "Why are you attacking my ideas?"

Part 4: Your technology

What solutions will support, enable, and accelerate the vision? How do they fit into the overall objective of streamlining the enterprise solution landscape? Simplicity can boost speed and the ability to keep up with changing business needs. It can drive efficiencies by keeping everything connected and running. It can help identify and deliver on new opportunities. Ultimately, it can make team members’ lives easier through end-to-end solutions with a common look and feel, so people can focus on getting their work done rather than learning how to use another system.

What is possible now? What would it take to be a data- and insights-driven organization? What tools can connect internally with employees and externally with stakeholders? This allows your people to work differently and move faster, automating processes and eliminating unnecessary work. 

How can you embed agility in the organization to take advantage of market disruptions rather than be subject to them? Challenge your assumptions about what has held you back in the past.

The answers are at hand 

The answers to these questions add up to a framework for digitally transforming product development. At Veeva, we work with consumer product market leaders to implement this framework and accelerate innovation. 

If you’re ready to digitize and modernize your product development cycle, we can help. Talk to us today. 

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