September 8, 2021 / Travis Miller

Product Stewards: The Missing Link


The last three decades have seen businesses outsourcing much of their high-cost and dangerous production to low-cost regions. While this strategy increased profitability, it also hid operational risks deep in supply chains where they became less visible. When the majority of your risk is locked in your supply chain, how do you uncover the data needed to make smarter business decisions? The secret is in understanding the potential of product stewardship.

Regulators and investors are trying to pry that supply chain black box open with more stringent regulatory requirements and demands for more information on supplier environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices. They now want to know if your supply chain is hiding hazardous substances or human rights violations. Reporting that information requires a digital transformation in your current data management practices that prioritizes supply chain transparency as a core value.

Products Stewards Are Change Agents

Historically, the work of product stewards has been seen as a cost center — a legal obligation where money went in, but no value was returned to the company or shared across the organization. Given this mindset, product stewards were often undervalued, because their departments lacked the tools required to unlock and demonstrate value.

Those days are now over. Industry leaders and investors are discovering the broader applications of supply chain data, finding that it has the power to support organizational goals by:

  • Identifying which suppliers pose a risk to brand reputation and production capability.
  • Staying ahead of material restrictions to ensure products can be sold in international markets.
  • Providing ESG disclosures that attract investors to businesses.
  • Improving operational efficiency by identifying better suppliers, parts, or processes.

Product stewards are uniquely qualified to lead the transformation toward greater transparency and to action valuable data. They understand better than anyone the importance of knowing what goes into your products, where those materials come from, and how those materials relate back to international compliance regulations. Most importantly, they can acquire the data.

They are often the only people in their organization with the skill set to find data buried several tiers deep into the supply chain and to understand the significance of that data to the business. It is time to reimagine product stewards as data experts with the power to champion supply chain transparency and unlock immense value in collected data.

How Product Stewards Can Increase Supply Chain Transparency

More than ever, companies rely on data as a necessary business resource, and your supply chain data is an untapped gold mine that requires specialized knowledge to access. Supply chain data has a direct impact on your bottom line. It helps protect you from production delays, guides you in avoiding risks and fines, and assists in accessing new markets. To profit from this data, you need the expertise of product stewards to make your supply chain more transparent.

Product stewards are transformative leaders who can ask and answer these core questions:

1. Are you dependent on a product lifecycle management (PLM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool for all your product data?

+ While these tools are important, they aren’t built to handle supplier data and the risks suppliers represent.

2. Are you working in data silos?

    + You must connect the dots between where you source a material, information about the entity supplying it, and which regulations apply to your company's products.

    3. Is your department aware of the company’s larger ESG goals?

      + Once you know the company’s ESG goals, the next step is to map out which supply chain data points connect to these specific goals.

      4. Do you have a central data repository that can host supplier data, product compliance data, and other supply chain risk metrics, and do other corporate decision makers have access to it?

        +Centralized databases allow an organization to activate the value of the data by making it accessible across the organization.

        By asking these questions, product stewards can highlight obstacles to transparency, and point out where the compliance department can add value to the rest of the company. By addressing any observed issues, you will be able to put the right systems in place to capture supply chain data, document it properly, and share it with other teams to help them start making more data-driven decisions.

        The Potential of Product Stewardship

        In the face of mounting regulatory and investor pressure, product compliance specialists have the potential to become the new data experts in all things ESG, supply chain, and risk. Although many organizations see the new regulatory environment as a source of uncertainty, product stewards should view this moment as an opportunity to reintroduce themselves as value drivers to their leadership team.

        With their specific product and supply chain expertise, they are poised to introduce processes and systems that tap into and share the value locked in the supply chain. As advocates for supply chain transparency, product stewards become key figures in moving their entire organization toward increased profitability and data-driven decision making.

        About Assent Compliance

        Assent Compliance helps complex manufacturing businesses digitally transform their compliance processes to simplify product compliance management and improve ESG programs. Learn how you can streamline your current product stewardship processes: get a demo of Assent’s software here.

        Travis Miller
        General Counsel at Assent Compliance.

        Travis is an international trade and compliance attorney specializing in product stewardship, global anti-corruption, anti-slavery, and corporate social responsibility.


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