iPoint: Digitising product life cycles and supply chains to encourage circularity
As sustainability becomes a priority for regulators and consumers alike, companies are under increasing pressure to be transparent about the environmental and social effects of all kinds of products. Achieving such transparency allows companies to understand exactly how their products are made and which materials they contain. This insight facilitates a more circular approach, encouraging efficiencies and even prompts a business model shift.
For the latest instalment of our podcast on the Circular Economy, we spoke to Joerg Walden of iPoint, which uses software to digitise product life cycles and supply chain relationships. In doing so, iPoint provides companies access to data which can be analysed to report on the impact of their products and processes.
One of the key challenges in gathering data is that information is typically siloed. “Companies have an independent department of sustainability, which looks at water usage, energy usage and material usage independent from the product,” says Joerg. “But today, if you want to have a carbon neutral product, you have to combine this information with the product.” In the drive for efficiency, companies have crept slowly but surely into silo-driven domains. According to Joerg, breaking down these boundaries and combining the various information systems is essential in creating a truly product-centric overview.
iPoint joins the dots between design, technical and engineering systems, collating information from multiple channels, both on the supply chain side and internally within companies. Data about materials is drawn from a range of sources, such as libraries, supply chain documents and testing centres. “We heavily aggregate data and give you information, and this is where you start connecting different data points that represent the composition of your product or your design,” says Joerg. “The more data points you get, the better you can understand your dependencies and risks.”
This new knowledge empowers companies to think differently. Just like Kaer, which has shifted to offering air conditioning as a service, more and more companies are changing their business models and integrating circularity and sustainability into their core operations. “Do you really want to produce more and more? Definitely not, because you need to spend more resources on the same output,” says Joerg. When companies can see the impact of their product, they start asking questions about recycling, energy usage and even what happens to a product once they’ve sold it. Armed with this insight, companies can make unprecedented improvements to efficiency, which can in turn lead to a complete business model shift, from product to service. According to Joerg, a vast knowledge gap still exists in most industries, but he believes that this will change in the next 10 to 20 years.
Innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), which allow all kinds of everyday items to become ‘smart’ and connected, are making data gathering much easier. “The more assets are digitised, the better we can learn and improve usage,” says Joerg. “It opens up all kinds of possibilities to make products and materials more efficient.” At the same time, blockchain technology is helping companies overcome concerns about intellectual property and privacy. “Losing control of information is tough for some organisations, so having this trusted infrastructure really helps,” he says.
Increased transparency, achieved through sharing and connecting data, sets the stage for what Joerg calls “co-competition.” For a company, understanding your supply chain means seeing your place in the ecosystem and reveals mutually beneficial opportunities for collaboration. For Joerg, this prompts an interesting set of questions: “How can we co-compete and cooperate to build new business models in higher innovation cycles, learn faster, understand better, and consume knowledge from business partners in our product design and innovation?”
Ultimately, the challenges faced by companies are diverse and multifaceted, and iPoint works to understand these different positions and align them to generate the best output. In this context, technology is the tool – the means to an end, and that end is making things better, easier and more understandable: helping companies to survive and thrive while making decisions that have a positive impact on the wider industry, as well as on society and the environment.