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A new era for labelling – digital transformation at work

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

Digital transformation is one of the buzz phrases of the moment, a trend sweeping through all industries. While it means different things to different people, ultimately, it’s all about digitalising processes and infrastructure, and using technology to optimise productivity and efficiency. The intricacies of this may vary, but the core principle remains the same.

Consider the labelling industry; it is a sector quite resistant to change and new technology adoption despite the fact that in some instances (think pharmaceuticals and food labelling) labelling plays a crucial role in health and safety. Technology or digitalised processes could play a significant role in improving labelling operations because printing the right label isn’t always simple. Behind the scenes there is a lot that goes into creating these. This includes managing the data that’s used (and required often times by legislation) and ensuring all stakeholders — from suppliers and IT, to logistics and end users — are on the same page in terms of up to date information. 

With so many businesses moving key systems and applications to the cloud it makes sense to get those same benefits across to labelling processes by digitalising them. Cloud has the potential to deliver those advantages to the industry as a whole, as well as the users across sectors. The question is: how?

The labelling challenge

There are many challenges in the labelling process, from design and management, to quality assurance and printing, challenges that can be overcome largely by applying the right technology and moving towards a more cloud-based approach.

In the fashion retail industry, for example, labelling can play a key role in competitiveness. The aim for retailers is to get merchandise into stores as quickly as possible. This means re-ticketing it (or re-tagging items) speedily and accurately in order to get them out of the distribution centre and onto the racks. Unfortunately, legacy systems don’t necessarily allow retailers to meet these goals – especially when you consider that their main competition (e-commerce organisations) is vastly more agile than they are. Typically their existing technology comprises standalone label printers that are not always connected to a centralised database. This causes bottlenecks and delays when it comes to the printing of the required tags and labels. This means a slower time to market, which can have a significant impact on the bottom line, especially for international companies.

The same can be said for allergens labelling in the food retail sector. For these brands it’s not about speed to market, but rather meeting regulations and ensuring the health and well-being of customers is considered. One of the requirements is to highlight allergens on labels, a process that is challenging and complex, especially when using disparate legacy systems. In addition, there’s a data management issue to consider too. All information that goes onto the labels has to be current and accurate, with quality control and audit trails crucial to the process. In addition, there are also challenges in ensuring all stores are using the correct and most up-to-date labels because often there’s no centralised management of the data.

There are myriad other challenges for other industries, too. For example, ensuring all suppliers are using the same labelling, format and structure on items delivered to an organisation so that they can be correctly distributed or stored, without wasting time trying to figure out what’s in a box, crate or pallet. Or being able to provide localised labelling in a cost-effective and efficient way, while ensuring the data is accurate

Could cloud work for labelling processes?

The main benefit of digitalising the labelling process is that organisations of all sizes can now benefit and draw on the productivity gains. Previously it was enterprises (with skilled IT teams) that were able to deploy label management systems. With the advent of cloud and software-as-a-service offerings, there are fewer barriers to entry for smaller organisations as less hardware and investment are needed.

Looking at the wider advantages, the quality assurance process itself can be digitalised. In this way, you’re effectively removing human error from the equation and, as a result, risk. This is especially important in food and allergens labelling, as well as pharmaceutical labelling. It also provides traceability – an audit trail detailing what changes were made, by whom, what was printed and when. This is essential for compliance across industries, as well as traceability.

Having a label management system in the cloud also means that all processes are centralised; data is stored, changed and approved in a central location. That makes it easier to share that information and label designs to the areas of the business (be it factories, distribution centres, stores or even suppliers) and ensure they are correct and current.

Legacy labelling systems can be complex and the label design process even more so. Many organisations don’t have the resources in-house to deal with this, so it becomes the remit of IT. Right or wrong, this adds time and additional steps to the label creation process and can slow the entire process down. Digitalising the process often means making the user interface more intuitive and the actual software easier to use. In this way more people (with the right access and permission) can design and approve labels, making it more efficient and taking the strain off of IT.

What’s next

While cloud certainly isn’t the answer to every challenge in every industry, when it comes to labelling it’s fair to say that it delivers significant benefits, from eliminating risk and ensuring accuracy, to helping meet compliance requirements and improving efficiencies and time to market. Each industry might have unique challenges when it comes to the labelling process, whether that’s related to accuracy of information, democratising the label creation process or having a centralised bank of up-to-date label templates, but transforming the process through digitalisation is the first step in overcoming these obstacles and providing a solid technology foundation for organisations to future proof their operations.

Ken Moir, VP Marketing, NiceLabel
Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible