How to Accelerate your Ideas to Market through Product Asset Management

This feature article was written by Alan J. Porter, Director of Product Marketing at Nuxeo software.

Trend-driven product companies know very well that one core business process will overwhelmingly predict success or failure of their business: new product development.  Whether it’s apparel, food, luxury or consumer packaged goods, optimizing performance as a product company means delivering a product to market in weeks, not months.

Despite this reality, many of the world’s largest companies continue to struggle with scaling and accelerating product development.  What’s the biggest problem holding back these efforts?

They get stuck in the mud of the product development process.

Creating hundreds of new stock-keeping units (SKUs) every season relies on many teams working on many processes, from materials selection and product photography to in-market distribution and promotion.  But optimizing interlinked processes one by one won’t radically accelerate the end-to-end design-to-shelf timeline – certainly not enough to transform the business’s competitive position.

One emerging solution is digital asset management (DAM).  Indeed, the biggest thrust of innovation in DAM today is in connecting the whole product creative life-cycle.  After all, the key work of many companies is basically introducing and marketing new products.  While this has traditionally been the realm of systems like product lifecycle management (PLM), those systems are data-centric and asset light.

Positioning DAM as a valued part of the full product lifecycle allows us to adopt a Product Asset Management (PAM) approach.

Of course, PAM-driven success doesn’t happen by itself.  Accelerating and aligning this core business process requires enterprise systems that treat both data and content as first-class citizens.  Moreover, these systems must support everything from materials development to product design, sell-in, photo-shoots and creative campaigns.

It doesn’t stop there.  PAM support must also extend to distribution, in close integration with systems like PLM, product information management (PIM), and mobile device management (MDM).  This shift is necessary because the throughput of content is traditionally a major bottleneck to meeting ever-more nimble, digitally-native competitors – not to mention ever-more-fickle consumer trends.

Product Asset Management – the key to accelerating ideas to market

For product driven companies looking to become agile market leaders, a modern DAM can help move their corporate thinking beyond piecemeal solutions and stopgap measures that only put one piece of the puzzle in place.

Just look at the role of creative content in the holistic design-to-shelf life-cycle that we call Product Asset Management.

The process starts with materials that drive product design, which is in turn used to make samples that are used in product photography and creative content development.  This content will be stored and distributed in content hubs and portals when the product is in-market.

Whether your business depends on ingredients, formulations, fabrics, or parts, shorter product design cycles can start at the very beginning — with the basic materials used to make products.  Recognize that information about materials isn’t always easy to find, even for the teams who depend on it most.

Take the example of a major manufacturer of apparel and footwear.  This global brand’s design teams faced an ongoing challenge: the textures for materials are extremely difficult to find. Although legacy systems provided access to the name, color, and supplier of a material, the design teams routinely failed to discover which textures were available for each brand or season.

Meanwhile, 3D texture maps and other types of complex objects have emerged as critical components of today’s materials libraries.  Teams now routinely use 3D scanning technology to bring each product component (like buttons and zippers in apparel) into environments allowing designers to configure and experiment with color and material.

But legacy systems haven’t been able to keep up with these new, complex object types.  As a result, they are often stored in different systems, with low visibility and poor connectivity between silos.  The future of materials libraries involves connecting these disparate sources of information into a unified, contextualized view — to give teams the freedom to tinker, experiment, and iterate until they’ve created the next big success.

Today’s modern DAM platforms empower product companies to create materials libraries that make every downstream stage easier and faster.  Imagine the power of seeing the downstream impacts of previous design choices — or being able to instantly determine when a component is temporarily or permanently unavailable due to supply chain issues.  A cutting-edge DAM platform provides a connected approach that continues to pay dividends as the product development cycle continues.

Materials, Formulations, and Ingredients

After upstream teams make new materials available in the materials library, designers can start the process of applying those materials to new styles and designs.

Product design workflows are highly iterated, and vary significantly across industries.  In mass-market apparel and footwear, for example, designers select textiles and other materials from a list.  Then, they prototype ideas: first within the design team, and as they are refined, with broader and broader circles internally and eventually with retail customers.

In the old world of information silos, these materials lists were maintained manually, always out of date, and missing critical information like visual swatches and up-to-date volumes available.  This traditional approach is extremely time consuming and inefficient — which is why product companies today are changing it at the speed of digital modernization.

When teams rely on physical samples, time-consuming manual processes put designers and downstream product teams out of step with one another.  Designs are sent for prototype production, and by the time the prototype is ready for review (usually several weeks later), modifications have already been requested by another team, or a material is no longer available.  New samples must be ordered with alterations to accommodate these changes, as well as any changes made after reviewing the prototype.

Wholesalers face an additional round of review and iteration with their retail customers.  These changes can have major impacts on profitability and time to market when each small, iterative change requires new sample production and review.

With a modern DAM, businesses can accelerate prototyping and sell-in to drive faster, more responsive design cycles.  With full control over materials libraries and relevant data on cost, availability, and product appearance, the modern DAM makes it possible for design teams to have confidence in their materials choices, for less rework and faster design cycles.

Design files can be kept connected and contextualized in their master formats, as well as easy-to-share formats for quick review and approval by people without access to design tools.  With automated, configurable workflows and built-in annotation capabilities, approval cycles take less time and involve less rework.

Design without limits

Whatever the stage of the lifecycle, when it comes right down to it, product development is about information.  And when the process is fueled by collaboration, co-operating and information sharing — the results can be extraordinary.  You might just find that your company creates something great: a product that customers love and experience that keeps them coming back.

Designing the next big hit means responding to consumer preferences fast — but streamlining just one part of the product creative life-cycle simply doesn’t go far enough, and may even make work more difficult for teams at another stage.

In traditional product design and creative processes, content moved downstream from one stage to the next, but the associated context didn’t follow it.  Companies pay a high price for low visibility: time-consuming reviews and approvals, searching in multiple systems, and versioning chaos.

Today’s PAM focused solutions go beyond traditional marketing DAM – they connect product information, workflows, approvals, and all the product and version context that brings products and their associated assets from ideas to reality.

These modern PAM platforms adapt to your design and development processes, integrating content and data from across your existing systems and enabling teams to collaborate seamlessly across multiple functions and stages in the product creative life-cycle.

Design without limits – that’s the goal.  Today’s modern PAM platforms scale to accommodate an unlimited number of assets, from the simple (images, documents, video, product data) to the complex (3D renderings, campaigns, talent records).

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