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Transformational ECM III: Consumer Packaged Goods

February 8, 2011

I’m in the middle of a series on organizational transformation that focuses on how enterprise content management (ECM) should be seen less in terms of technology, process, compliance, or risk management, and instead as a powerful force for transformational change at organizations.

In recent posts, I’ve taken a close look at how ECM is transforming health payers and mining companies. But in this post, I want to turn to an industry that has traditionally been lukewarm on ECM: consumer packaged goods (CPG).

Things not content

Historically consumer package goods (CPG) organizations have tended to be less concerned with enterprise content management (ECM) than point of sale (POS) or supply chain management (SCM) systems because their bread and butter is controlling and managing the flow of physical goods from suppliers to customers. Because of that, the vast majority of relevant information for CPG organizations is captured in the structured data associated with transactions, and those transactions are overwhelmingly managed in dedicated POS and SCM, not ECM, systems.

But with the advent of social media and collaboration tools for the enterprise, this is beginning to change.

CPGs now have a wealth of tools available to them to gather new types of customer and transactional data. This data by and large is generated outside of their POS and CRM applications and is more unstructured than the information typically found in these systems.

Although at some point in the future we’ll see tighter integration between POS/SCM systems and social media and collaboration channels, for right now, ECM repositories and related systems (like customer relationship management applications) are further along in their ability to ingest and work with this Enterprise 2.0 content.

The challenges of a distributed organization

Despite the value of social media and collaboration information for CPG organizations, they face a number of key challenges when trying to leverage it.

Most importantly, large CPG organizations tend to be highly distributed: hundreds (or thousands) of stores, dozens of warehouses and distribution centers, all across wide geo locations and separated from the home office(s), where shared corporate and back-office functions take place.

Furthermore, the employees in these dispersed locations have a wealth of knowledge that holds great potential for transforming a large CPG organization—if it can find a way to gather and manage it. Trending customer demand, real-time feedback on products and campaigns, innovation ideas, identification of inefficiencies or opportunities for operational improvements: more often than not, all of this is tribal knowledge that remains tribal, being leveraged only locally in targeted situations, if at all. And when employees leave the company, this knowledge walks out the door with them and is lost forever.

Finally, the larger the CPG organization, the more dispersed its brand and the more difficult it is to control. On the one hand, a large CPG organization has the resources to create and control a fairly substantial brand footprint, but their bigger customer base generates an even more substantial brand footprint that they can’t control: all the things that people are saying about the company and its products on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, discussion forums, and product review sites like Yelp! and Amazon.

ECM solution areas

Unlike traditional CPG problems involving supply chain or point of sale processes, the challenges around knowledge sharing, innovation, and social brand management are all well within the bounds of ECM.

The following are some solution areas that are on the rise at CPG organizations as they work to address their knowledge sharing, innovation, and social brand management challenges:

  • Workflow/BPM – to integrate social media and collaboration information into core business processes
  • Collaboration – to enable virtual teams and distributed expertise management and knowledge sharing
  • WCM – to provide user communities, discussion forums, and alternative feedback channels for customers
  • Portal – to provide user communities, discussion forums, and alternative feedback channels for employees

Real-world examples

I’ve seen these four broad solution areas play out in the following kinds of real-world initiatives at CPG organizations:

  • Innovation management – provide employees and customers the ability to submit, review, vote on, and track innovation ideas through kiosks, mobile devices, and individual workstations (employees) or on the corporate website (customers)
  • Expertise management – enable employee user communities that collect expertise (and make it searchable) through user profiles, discussion forums, and person-to-person messaging
  • Product development pipeline – provide employees and customers the ability to submit, review, vote on, and track product ideas through kiosks, mobile devices, and individual workstations (employees) or on the corporate website (customers)
  • Social CRM – integrate existing customer relationship management systems owned by sales, marketing, or customer service (or some combination of the three) with social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blog posts, discussion forums, etc.; customer issues surfaced through these channels can be handled alongside more traditional channels like phone, mail, and email, but include resolution (where appropriate) on social media channels

The final word

In my experience, these are some of the most important newly emerging ECM use cases at CPG organizations. And as the social media applications and hardware available to consumers continues to evolve, so will the ways they use social media in their activities as consumers–and CPG organizations will have to evolve their approaches to keep pace. But for now, there’s plenty to do just to meet consumers where they are as of the start of 2011!

In the next post, I want to turn to a set of verticals that’s been the mainstay of ECM since its very beginnings: property and casualty/life insurance and financial services. Most firms in these verticals have been doing ECM for a long time now and have fairly mature capabilities. But the kinds of changes that are affecting CPG organizations are affecting insurance and financial services as well, and their ECM needs are shifting in response, creating the opportunity to gain competitive advantage for those firms that lead the charge into what I call second wave ECM.

In the meantime, jump in and share your thoughts on my take on ECM and CPG organizations–as always, I’d love to hear what folks think about this!

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