Enabling Digital Transformation for the Labeling Industry

By Ken Moir, Vice President of Marketing at NiceLabel

Getting quality products in the hands of end-users automatically, while minimizing human errors and meeting regulations is not sustainable without companies making a bigger commitment to their digital transformation efforts.

Companies have made significant strides with digitally transforming their back-end systems and the processes associated with the early stages of their product manufacturing. However, the latter stages of their manufacturing processes haven’t reached a similar level of digital maturity. One of the most overlooked processes is label management.

The labeling industry is quite resistant to new technology adoption, despite the fact that in some instances (think pharmaceuticals and food labeling) it plays a crucial role in health and safety. Technology or digitalized processes could play a significant role in improving labeling operations because printing the right label isn’t always simple. Behind the scenes there is a lot that goes into creating them. This includes managing the data that’s used (and often required 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, the same should be done for labeling. There are many challenges in the labeling process, from design and management, to quality assurance and printing that can be overcome largely by applying the right technology and moving towards a more cloud-based approach. The question is: how?

In the fashion retail industry, for example, labeling 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 items (or re-tagging items) speedily and accurately in order to get them out of the distribution center 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 organizations) is vastly more agile than they are. Typically, their existing technology comprises standalone label printers that are not always connected to a centralized 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 the labeling of allergens in the food retail sector. For these brands it’s not about speed-to-market, but rather meeting regulations and ensuring that the health and well-being of customers are considered. Companies are required 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 as well. All information that goes onto the labels has to be current and accurate, with quality control and audit trails crucial to the process. There are also challenges in ensuring all stores are using the correct and most up-to-date labels because often there’s no consolidated management of the data.

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

The most significant value of digitalizing the labeling process is that organizations 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 organizations.

An additional advantage is that the quality assurance process itself can be digitalized, effectively removing human error and risk from the equation. This is especially important in food and allergens labeling, as well as pharmaceutical labeling. It provides traceability – an audit trail detailing what changes were made, by whom, what was printed and when. This is essential for compliance across industries.

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

While cloud certainly isn’t the answer to every challenge in every industry, when it comes to labeling it’s fair to say that it delivers significant benefits. Each industry might have unique problems when it comes to the labeling process, but transforming the process through digitalization is the first step in overcoming these obstacles and providing a solid technology foundation for organizations to future proof their operations.