Recycling firm Close the Loop is using business intelligence to provide valuable commercial insights to manufacturing partners participating in its product stewardship program.
Every business needs a competitive edge to succeed. This applies as much to niche recycling firms as it does to large, well- known corporates. But what about when their paths cross?
How does a resource recovery business prove the worth of product stewardship scheme participation to product manufacturers or suppliers?
Close the Loop (CtL) is Australia’s largest resource recovery company for imaging consumables. It collects and recycles inkjet and laser printer cartridges, toner bottles, drum units or fuser kits for 13 of the major brands of printers, photocopiers and fax machines.
Since the product stewardship program, Cartridges 4 Planet Ark, launched in 2003, CtL has recycled over 28 million printer cartridges, collecting from 30,000 businesses and more than 3,000 retail outlets.
CtL’s program is an obvious win for consumers, providing an easy, cost-free way to recycle end-of-life print consumables. However, the benefits to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners used to be perceived as more modest.
Peter Tamblyn, Sales and Marketing Manager for CtL, explains that as OEMs have to pay for recycling their products, they should be applauded for supporting what is a voluntary stewardship scheme.
The main reasons OEMs joined the program was to meet their environmental goals and to be seen as doing something positive for customers and the environment.
Over the years, Peter says CtL came to realise that participating in a product stewardship program for OEMs was seen as a necessary cost to their businesses.
“It became clear that while recycling is valued as an environmental initiative, it was perceived to offer little intrinsic value to OEM businesses,” says Peter. “A good product stewardship program means they can participate in corporate and government tenders.”
Value to participants
Peter says that as it costs OEMs a lot to take part in the program, they were looking to leverage that investment.
By early 2014, the CtL leadership team recognised that it needed to provide more value back to OEMs to maintain, boost and justify their involvement in the program.
“From an end-user perspective, our program is arguably one of the best product stewardship schemes in the world,” Peter says. “We collect a lot of useful data as part of our process of handling so many cartridges, and knew we could leverage that with clients.”
Previously, CtL had supplied data monthly to OEMs in spreadsheets containing hundreds of figures.
From a sustainability point of view, it provided the required Resource Recovery Certificates documenting the total weight of cartridge materials diverted from landfill. However, it also included much more information that was not being reviewed or tapped into.
Peter says CtL came to appreciate that clients were “already swimming in data” and that nobody had the time or resource to do anything with it, except extract their recycling performance figures and high level statistics.
The data was often stuck in a silo of environment or sustainability teams and not used across an organisation, where other departments could potentially find it useful.
“We realised how this provided us with an opportunity to pre-analyse the data to provide valuable insights,” Peter explains. “That’s where the idea for our business intelligence platform was born.”
Business intelligence (BI) is an infrequently-used term around the resource recovery and waste management sectors.
Nic Smith, a prominent marketing specialist for analytics at computer software giant SAP, described BI as “about providing the right data at the right time to the right people so that they can take the right decisions”.
Although CtL’s raw data didn’t provide much obvious value to OEMs, the intelligence derived from the analysed data would.
CtL custom designed and built the BI platform to pull out the information OEM clients requested.
“In fact, we originally built BI for internal use only and then saw the potential value for our clients, such as marketing intelligence or to inform customer service,” says Peter.
CtL’s software had always tracked all the goods coming in and out of the business, including gathering data at the point of cartridge collection and at various touch-points during processing.
It gathers information on which products have been collected from specific sectors, industries, customers and locations, including a description, the brand and quantity of each item.
By exploring each OEM’s business requirements and the information each wanted to find out, CtL developed the BI platform to analyse the data in real time and generate valuable intelligence for them. It was launched this past January.
“Each OEM has quite individual needs. Some have direct relationships with their users or consumers,” Peter explains. “We now engage more with the OEMs and better understand the data to provide BI to them.”
The BI platform analyses data and delivers calls to action based on ‘triggers’ provided by the OEMs aligned to their business key performance indicators, such as tracking counterfeit product, grey market product and market share of returns.
The calls to action are sent by email to specific people or departments, or a number of contacts within a company, to act on the alert.
One example of how CtL’s unique data-capture capabilities generate BI is through identifying how much residual toner is left in each cartridge. Any toner unused by the customer presents a cost to the manufacturer.
“We feed this intelligence back to the manufacturer of the cartridge and it aids them in their design development of their products to ensure optimum toner usage,” Peter explains.
The service department could use that same BI to see if it indicated a common issue with a particular cartridge. Then they could check if there was a problem with the automated ‘toner low’ alerts generated by the print device.
“One piece of intelligence might be used by sales, operations, service, finance or marketing – or the same detail by several teams at once. This is now driving collaboration across companies and helping clients drive their businesses,” adds Peter.
The CtL BI platform integrates with any client’s business software or applications. This means the BI can be picked up automatically. With applications such as SharePoint and SalesForce, clients can also track and evaluate the new sales or marketing opportunities generated.
“OEMs can now get real value for the money they spend on product stewardship and measure the success for their business goals,” adds Peter. “This results in higher participation because it drives more intelligence. In turn, this aligns CtL and OEM business objectives more closely.”
Whilst it’s early days, BI is already showing signs of significant value to clients. Peter says that the cost of taking part in the program is offset as clients are able to respond to the intelligence received and pursue increased revenue opportunities.
OEMs are now using the CtL- generated BI from a strategic perspective and to collaborate across departments. For example, a client can explore whether a drop in sales to a customer is a customer satisfaction, retention or growth issue.
Peter says that for OEM sales teams, BI can lift the level of engagement they can have with their customers. He says it lays the foundations for more meaningful quarterly business reviews and changes how they interact.
The breadth of BI provided by the technology has had a similar impact for CtL.
“It’s changed our experience with clients dramatically,” Peter says. “Now we’re talking to more than only sustainability and environmental personnel. We’re dealing with various parts of a business, which has led to more valuable conversations and new directions for us.”
Increased product stewardship
In addition, the BI input has encouraged increased commitment to the product stewardship program. Peter says that 16 months ago, OEMs were mindful to control the costs of participation. After experiencing the benefits of acting on CTL’s BI, they want more stores, government departments and workplaces on board.
Due to their experience of the invaluable nature of BI for the ongoing relevance and growth of CtL’s business, the leadership team thinks capturing data and generating BI would be beneficial to the waste management and resource recovery industry. However, Peter says this is where there is a gap.
“My initial thought is that most of our industry can’t generate relevant data,” Peter says. “They deal with a ‘waste’ stream, and it is collected in bulk and managed as waste materials. Whereas we have never viewed the cartridges or products that we process as waste – they have a circular life.
“We can track product from the moment it leaves a customer, through our front door, and through the factory,” he adds. “We even have data on the broken-down materials – the metal, plastic and toner – where it ends up with downstream partners, who turn it into new product.”
Peter asserts that data is needed to optimise the circularity of products, but there are challenges in doing this due to how particular end-of-life products are collected.
He cites the example of how old TVs or computers are disposed.
As people drop them off at centralised locations and not back to the retailer, and they are collected by councils and processed in the cheapest way, recyclers are missing the opportunity to capture relevant, valuable data.
“E-waste businesses should be thinking about the potential opportunity they’re missing,” adds Peter.
Since CtL launched BI in early 2015, it has been continually updated as it is customised to meet each OEM’s developing needs. Peter says it’s a never- ending journey and one which will continue to develop as customers and the industry evolve.
“Right now, I know that the data and intelligence derived from our platform is becoming more important to retain relevance in any market. It’s a key to success,” says Peter.
On the back of the success of its BI platform, CtL is now developing an automated inventory management system. This will be customised to plug into BI with the aim of providing “unmatched visibility of product” for OEMs. That is due to launch in mid to late 2016.
“No doubt the benefit of BI to our business is enhanced relationships with OEM partners,” says Peter. “But it’s also enabling our business to grow and look at other opportunities.
“Our business is all about innovation, so we’re excited about where this will take us next.”