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10 steps to improve your supply chain data

For many organisations, reporting supply chain data can be confusing and time-consuming. Opaque supply chains are a big risk because many mandatory and voluntary reporting initiatives require information from a range of stakeholders.

This is the fourth article in the reuse + refill series, and looks at how brands operating across multiple countries can plan against a backdrop of regional variations, to decrease their commercial and reputational risk.

From Plastics Taxes to Supply Chain Due Diligence and GRI and TCFD, new EPR legislation means all businesses will need to collect more complex data.

Supply chain data is also key for developing a clear and accurate scope for the business’s carbon footprint and subsequent carbon reduction plan.

Complex global supply chains often struggle with data transmission through so many actors who may not appreciate the urgency and granularity of data needed for mandatory reporting. Working closely with your supply chain and helping them upskill can help ease the transition into clear and consistent reporting.

Requesting and capturing data from your supply chain is one of the biggest headaches for producers. This article explains how to make it easier.

It’s crucial to acknowledge the significance of regional nuances to meet regulation and respect cultural and local citizen needs

Why your supply chain matters for data

For compliance with UK reporting requirements, organisations should know the quantity of packaging placed on the market annually and what packaging types are sold. Detailed reporting on technical specifications, weights of components, and specific materials used may be required, which can often only be retrieved directly from your suppliers. This can present an ongoing challenge as you will often need to rely on intermediaries, such as distributors and importers, to contact their suppliers to source the information you require.

Risk is increased, and data quality is decreased the more parties you have involved in this discussion, reducing the accuracy of your reporting, which may result in increased friction when meeting compliance requirements.

For compliance, EPR and Plastic Packaging Tax data reporting, you need two types of information – what the packaging or product is and the quantity your organisation is responsible for. Your sales data will generally be used to calculate the quantity. The details of what the packaging or product is, including the specification and weights of materials used, will almost always require data from your supply chain – and that could include material suppliers and manufacturers through to importers and distributors.

We know this often represents a significant ongoing challenge for producers. The further the data source is from your organisation, the greater the risk it presents to you in terms of quality, resources and compliance. Not managing it well can cause significant pain, especially as your data reporting and insights will only ever be as good as the data you input.

Improving how you obtain data from supply chains will therefore bring value to your organisation in the form of efficiency, cost savings and accuracy.

10 steps you can take to improve supply chain data

 

1. Identify alternative data sources

Before you request data from your supply chain, check if there are other reliable options that might be more efficient to manage. Can you use existing product or manufacture material specifications instead? Can you physically obtain weights of packaging or products in your warehouse using an in-house team?

2. Identify products that have the same packaging formats

A quick win can often be found by identifying products that use the same packaging formats so you can duplicate this data across multiple products. This simple task helps to avoid duplication of data requests and communications.

3. Locate the right contacts

Knowing the best contact to request data from within a large supplier can be a real challenge. But investing the time initially will prevent headaches and save time well into the future.

You need to find the contact with access to the detail you need and can take on the responsibility of reliably sending it to you on time. Just ensure you fully brief them on your data requirements once you’ve found them.

4. Get everyone up to speed

Make sure everyone involved in requesting or sending the data you require fully understands:

  • What data you require
  • When you need it
  • Who is responsible
  • How to share it
  • Why it is needed

Poorly briefed internal teams or suppliers will result in the wrong data at the wrong time. Understanding the ‘why’ is key here – an overseas supplier might not know or care about UK EPR obligations until you explain what it means and that the data you require is essential to your ongoing relationship.

Capture information at the time of receiving the product or packaging from suppliers instead of manually requesting data from your supply chain just before an EPR data submission

 

5. Overcome language barriers

You often need to communicate with non-English speaking suppliers based overseas, which can present a problematic barrier and increases risk. Consider how you can accurately translate your communications, data collection templates and any systems you ask them to use.

This will increase efficiency and accuracy, but beware of using automated translation tools online – technical terminology can quickly get lost or become just plain confusing!

6. Capture data as regularly as possible

This is a fundamental piece of advice for dealing with any data – try and capture it at the time of receiving the product or packaging from suppliers. Instead of manually requesting data from your supply chain just before an EPR data submission, can you set up processes for the data to regularly flow to you?

This is far more efficient and makes it easier to monitor quality. Improving the timeliness of your data also increases the value it has to your organisation when deriving insights.

7. Embed data requests into your procurement process

The relationship with your suppliers and any agreements for goods or materials usually start with your procurement or buying team. If this is true for your organisation, get your procurement team to embed your organisation’s data requirements into their processes and agreements.

By specifying and agreeing this within your supply chain from the very beginning, you can save a huge amount of time and energy going forward. In this way, suppliers will send you the data you need when they send you a new product.

 

Don't wait until a data submission deadline to realise that a supplier has missed key data or incorrectly converted imperial measurements to metric

 

8. Have the right processes in place

The right processes and governance in place can ease the burden data places on your organisation considerably. For example, ensure you request, receive and record data in consistent formats – clearly specify this with suppliers and create controlled online forms with predefined, fixed fields for them to fill in. This way, they can only send you the data you need in the format you want.

Even better, use a dedicated system to request, capture and record data, as it reduces mistakes and is far more secure than using alternatives such as Excel spreadsheets.

9. Monitor the quality of the data you receive

Always question the trustworthiness of the data you receive and monitor the quality and accuracy of it as regularly as possible. Have the suppliers sent you exactly what you requested? Is it in the correct format? Are there any gaps? Have they misunderstood anything?

Don’t wait until a data submission deadline to realise that a supplier has missed key data or incorrectly converted imperial measurements to metric, for example. The environmental agencies will also expect you to spot-check packaging weights for accuracy, so make sure you are physically validating that it is correct.

10. Be realistic about your resources

Our final step is to be realistic about the resource you require for managing, requesting and validating data from your supply chain. Depending on the complexity of your supply chain and product or packaging portfolio, it can quickly become a full-time job or require a dedicated team. If you can’t resource it properly in-house, can you outsource it to a specialist?

 

No matter where you are located globally or what markets you supply, if you produce packaging or packaged products, you will likely be impacted by the new packaging EPR legislation coming into force.

If you want to know more, see What is Packaging EPR? and What should you do now to prepare for packaging EPR?

How can Root help?

Root Packaging Audit is a great first step to help identify the risks across your packaging portfolio. The audit will give you the tools to build a policy-proof and commercially viable packaging strategy that will ensure you remain compliant across every territory your business operates within.

If you would like to discuss the challenges facing your business, schedule a call with a Root sustainability experts who can advise you on the steps you need to take.