One of the key steps that must be undertaken to enable digitalization in the paints and coatings and chemical industries is to digitize data on raw materials and make it available to customers and researchers in a digital form. In this industry, the main medium for the exchange of information is still a digitized document (PDF or Word files) that is manually processed at various stages in the supply chain.
While everyone is talking about going digital, there seems to be a hurdle that chemical companies (suppliers of raw materials) cannot overcome: product data sharing.
Somehow, product data, in terms of technical and safety data sheets, as well as additional, detailed information on product properties, is considered “confidential,” and is available only to qualified, authorized customers.
Imagine, say, buying a smart TV, but being required to contact the supplier in order to learn about the display resolution or software installed or how many HDMI ports it has? Or even worse, imagine that process when someone has to authorize you just to get the required information.
Among the measures or requirements for product data protection on the internet (websites, portals…), we can even find email domain access restrictions – i.e. if a user has a domain basf.com, they cannot access Clariant’s products.
Raw materials are normally purchased by highly-qualified researchers and R&D professionals who require detailed information on these materials, and yet they are required to waste their time and talent on extracting data from fiddly documents (technical in the form of PDF and Word files).
Why is the chemicals industry so different? Is it really so different?
(Why don’t basic sales and marketing principles apply here?)
Well, let’s take a look at the most common myth in the chemical industry: if the safety data sheets ended up in the hands of our competitors, they could copy us.
Four Hard Truths
First: safety data sheets are not considered confidential documents. Chemical producers must create and provide (material) safety data sheets to their (potential) customers. This is required by law.
Second: like it or not, your competitors, if they are any good, already have all your safety and technical data sheets. They even have your samples and they have already studied all your advantages and disadvantages. How? Well, competitive analysis is a common approach in the sales and marketing. It has been for decades. Just think, how do you differentiate from your closest competitors?
Third: product properties are not the key competitive advantage nor even a decisive factor. It’s all about sales and marketing (like brand, values), responsiveness and customer support, let alone prices and conditions. Also, relations matter, so why not provide your customers with the key data immediately and focus more on building or nurturing relationships?
Fourth: safety data sheets contain only limited information on the chemical composition (like hazardous substances) and physical and chemical properties. They do not contain any information on the production process, the technology nor, of course, the recipe itself. This means that no one can copy your products solely on the basis of information from (M)SDSs. However, there are experts, just like you, completely dedicated to this field of research and they could basically guess their way through most of the process, on the basis of very limited information. Heck, it took no time at all for competitors to figure out McDonald’s “secret sauce” or the “secret recipe” at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and it’s the same in the chemical industry, even for complicated formulations. There is nothing you can do to avoid or prevent this.
At the European Coatings Show 2019 I had a chance to talk to an experienced R&D expert and I asked her what she can tell from a (M)SDS of their competitors. Interestingly, she replied that she doesn’t need (M)SDSs because she just knows.
These facts show that by “hiding” information and data, you hide it solely from your customers. Your competitors will get it anyway.
Digitizing product information is of key importance for the further digitalization of the chemical industry. However, like every technological advancement, digitalization brings advantages as well as disadvantages. To win in this new environment, organizations will have to adapt their company policies and embrace new technologies. Others may deny progress at their own peril.
It’s up to your organization to determine which way it will go, but for those organizations that are serious about digital transformation and want to take the first step, there is Allchemist – the first digital platform that enables you to quickly and easily digitize your product data without spending a fortune on costly, custom-made software, infrastructure, and an army of IT experts to run the whole thing.
With Allchemist, we’ve got you covered.