Forrester Study: How To Transform Product Sustainability Into Performance Initiatives

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The Data Maturity Playbook

What is data maturity, how does it impact sustainable design and manufacturing, and why is it necessary for your organization to succeed? Find out in this playbook.

Section 1: The problem

Today, the world runs on data – and that leads to two questions we hear more than any other from our customers. Do I have enough data? And is the data I do have good enough?  

But to answer those questions, we need to examine what ‘the data’ actually is, what the concept of ‘data maturity’ means, and why it should matter to your organization.  

The regulatory landscape is perhaps the single biggest driver for a business seeking to improve its data. With the regulatory net widening and the penalties increasing in severity, there is an urgent need to act. But what data do you need to have at your fingertips? Below is a basic – but by no means exhaustive – checklist: 

  • Operational data (resources, waste etc) 
  • Environmental data (processes, materials, and components – and in which life cycle phase) 
  • Agricultural data 
  • Third-party data 
  • Supply chain data 
  • ESG data (safety, labor practices, D&I metrics etc) 
  • Financial data 
  • Customer and market data 

Many businesses – no matter location, industry or size – face a common data problem: they have decentralized data, and they have it in different quantities and qualities. With regulation tightening both in the EU and North America, manufacturers know they need a solution to the challenges they face when sourcing components and complying with sustainability and regulatory commitments.    

Compliance and sustainability are now intertwined, and the consequences of non-compliance are severe. Complexities in the regulatory landscape surrounding sustainability reporting are becoming more and more prominent, and there is a clear need for the better governance of downstream environmental data.  

However, the demand for meticulous environmental data is not just a matter of regulatory adherence — it’s also a crucial driver for achieving ambitious sustainability targets to which many businesses are now committed. Consumers, partners, and the broader market are more informed and more concerned about the environmental impact of their consumption than ever before. They require comprehensive environmental data to evaluate the sustainability attributes of products. This data empowers them to make informed choices, differentiate products, and ultimately promote environmentally friendly options over their less sustainable counterparts. The visibility of environmental credentials has become a key factor in purchasing decisions, thereby influencing sales and enhancing brand loyalty.    

Additionally, market leaders and competitors are not sitting idle. There is a clear acceleration towards the integration of sustainability data into products and corporate value propositions. This trend underscores a shift in how sustainability data is perceived — from a regulatory requirement to a strategic asset that enhances competitive advantage.  

Companies that successfully incorporate high-quality environmental data into their products will not only meet regulatory demands but can also position themselves as leaders in the transition to a greener economy.  

And yet many businesses face a common problem: they have a vast array of unique tools with data having some relevance to carbon decision making, but they don’t know how to translate that data into actionable insight.  

Sustainability champions find themselves in a position where they’ve been put in charge by leadership teams who made the commitment to be Net Zero in two decades when they’ll most likely be retiring within one. Every piece of software that you use to break down silos and harmonize processes really just creates more of the same. You can’t conduct LCAs at SKU level, and you can’t scale LCA due to manual processes and inefficient tools. And to top it all off, inherent uncertainties in all LCA methodologies make accuracy difficult to achieve.  

For many, ‘mature’ data is centralized data – having the right information in the right place in order to carry out sustainability, cost and compliance work to an appropriate standard. But data maturity isn’t really about data being centralized. In order for it work, you just need to have a clear understanding of where your data is and an acceptance that, in a corporate system, data will never be 100% perfect. It will be imperfect – and there’s nothing wrong with that.  

If your data has gaps and if it’s decentralized, it doesn’t have to be a barrier to progress. With a tool like Makersite, AI-driven technology can be used to reliably fill the gap and improve data systematically. The value comes from processing the data into a result and highlighting where it needs improvement.   

The problem is, at its core, one of enablement. Organizations want their people to act on sustainability, cost and compliance but they can’t do that when they’re spending all of their time trying to fix data. Firstly, and most importantly, those people need to understand where they need to fix and improve that data. Technology provides the bridge for crossing that gap. 

Data as the Differentiator 

Makersite’s recent study with Forrester underlined how clearly data maturity separates ‘Novice’ organizations from those who are catergorized as ‘Advanced’. Maturity impacts manufacturers’ ability to incorporate sustainability into Product Lifecycle Management (PLM.) Novices struggle with manual processes, data silos, and limited collaboration, while Advanced firms embrace sustainability metrics as a differentiator.  

More than 40% of respondents confessed to haphazard or non-existent monitoring of critical sustainability metrics, such as waste generation (43%), scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (42%), and scope GHG 3 emissions (41%); 40% said tracking recycled or reused materials or components is manual, ad hoc, or non-existent.   

No more than 30% actually use reporting data in predictive product development modeling and forecasting to meet standards or regulations. The large gap between respondents’ recognition of the importance of adapting to new regulations and their low use of predictive modeling and forecasting suggests that many manufacturers are missing out on opportunities to stay ahead of regulatory changes and capitalize on faster product launches   

Sustainability across the product lifecycle — from design, production, and maintenance to end of life — is becoming business- and time-critical for manufacturers that want to maintain a competitive cadence of successful new product launches. Stakeholders across functions must have access to granular, product-level data in order to make trade-offs rapidly and accurately as they design products and source materials and components from suppliers. 

Immature manufacturers have a steep hill to climb. Manual processes, data and decision-making silos, and a lack of collaboration hamper the typical Novice manufacturer. They also struggle to track and verify the sustainability credentials of their suppliers. Even Advanced firms still have a way to go in maturing their data usage. Some 50% of Advanced and Intermediate manufacturers reported that maintaining availability, cost, sustainability, and performance data in their materials and components libraries is a challenge.  

Ultimately, it comes to down to something quite simple: data quality and accessibility form the foundation of efficient product design and sourcing. Getting your data in order can seem like a daunting prospect, but with the aid of the right solution it doesn’t have to be. Now is not the time for indecision or reticence. It is time to act.

“Product design and sourcing leaders respond to external demands by prioritizing sustainability in product development. Changing customer expectations, an emphasis on the circular economy, and supply chain transparency drive their organization’s product initiatives. Product design and sourcing leaders are addressing the intersection of sustainability, resilience, and business performance; they’re prioritizing initiatives like enhancing sustainability reporting for compliance and to support sales or optimizing reliability and efficiency when sourcing materials.”

Forrester x Makersite 2024 PLM Research Study

Section 2: Why you need to act

Another common question we receive: why now? The answer is straightforward. The business environment of today (and tomorrow) is one built on data. Data management. Data stewardship. Data maturity. Companies who take steps – or have already taken steps – to get their data in order will thrive. Those who don’t will soon realise the need, but they will struggle to catch up. 

But why act now? Why should you see data as something more than just a tool for reporting. Let’s take a look at the challenges and risks that will arise if you don’t: 

Your organization becomes hostage to sustainability regulators 

As regulations – from CBAM to Scope 3 – expand and demands grow, businesses that fail to follow recent developments will find themselves with a significant amount of ground to make up and very little time in which to do it. The risk of financial penalties and reputational damage also becomes more pronounced. Staying ahead of the regulatory curve is a way of futureproofing your business against the many challenges it will face in the years ahead 

Your revenue becomes more and more reliant on a shrinking customer base at the same time as more switched-on competitors expand 

Without the depth of data necessary to meet regulatory requirements or manufacture products that meet the demands of an increasingly sustainability-focused customer base, revenue dissipates. Procurement, compliance and design teams need to know the impact of products because of both regulations and customer requests 

Losing market share 

In a competitive business environment, organizations that see the opportunity ahead when it comes to making better products faster will quickly gain ground on competitors who fail to act. Those who do act now will be able to maintain an advantage 

Disrupted supply chains 

We live in volatile times. From pandemics to natural disasters to regional conflicts, potential supply chain disruptions are coming from more angles than ever before. Failure to look into and develop alternative options and an overreliance on one supplier or group of suppliers can lead to disruption across raw materials, transportation and production. Look to build an enhanced supply chain data backbone as a priority 

Unpredictable costs 

In a similar vein to supply chain disruption, world events and a lack of preparation can quickly spiral into significantly increased costs. Without a resilient supply chain and an ability to pivot to alternative options driven by deep-tier material databases, dependence on certain suppliers or materials when they become less accessible drives prices up 

 

There is an increasing amount of risk and less time than ever in which to tackle it. If you don’t, it will be harder to catch up and you run the risk of falling foul of regulations as well as falling behind the competition. But with better data, businesses are able to make the best possible design and purchase decisions. 

Organizations now find themselves in a time where the frequency of Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) and Product Carbon Footprints (PCF) has shifted from an annual to an ongoing (and on demand) basis. But by integrating and harnessing precise, accessible and granular data companies will be able to accelerate their ecodesign capabilities at a greater rate than ever before. 

With many organizations still held back by scattered processes, strategies, and stakeholders starting the transition towards data maturity can be daunting. But with the right solution, standardizing and automating data collection, analysis, reporting, and unifying fragmented systems and data silos doesn’t have to be an insurmountable barrier. 

With demands coming from multiple angles – from customers to industry standards to regulatory bodies – and each requiring detailed attention at the product level, the key to navigating the challenge lies in successfully implementing an integrated data layer that not only streamlines operations but also injects carbon management and other critical upstream environmental data across various domains. 

By bridging the chasm between engineering, compliance, sustainability, and procurement, this strategic integration shatters longstanding data and organizational silos, paving the way for fluid decision-making processes inclusive of and informed by both data-driven insights and human expertise. 

Section 3: The competitor landscape

It’s all very well laying out the data problem, but where do you look when you want to solve it – and who should you work with? Different businesses are at different stages of maturity and have different objectives in the near and long term. Although the problem remains the same, approaches to resolving it may differ. 

One commonality sits across all options, however. If you don’t start working on solving your data issues today, the costs – whether financial or from an efficiency perspective – will only increase. 

The evolving regulatory landscape is today’s biggest issue and remains a critical driver for instilling data best practices. However, as ecodesign principles begin to hold more weight in manufacturing – and as customers pressure manufacturers to uphold them – it’s worth considering whether the solution you choose is adequately equipped to assist on that journey. An organization that embeds ecodesign thinking at its core is one that will find its reputation significantly enhanced, will conquer greater market share, and will avoid accusations of greenwashing and box ticking. 

When considering data software, it is important to think ahead. Patchwork solutions traditionally used for reporting, or solutions that employ a spend-based approach, simply don’t cut it. The same applies to in-house systems, largely due to issues with scope, reach and confirmation bias. 

The right solution is one that both achieves the necessary strategic business impacts (from driving revenue to ensuring compliance), will remain a reliable partner for future challenges, and has enough of an impact on the business to justify the necessary investment (reducing GHG emissions with fewer full-time employees than manual expert work requires, for example, or having the ability to automate LCA for a particular business unit.) 

The solution you choose has to be right from where you’re at on your data journey. 

Below is a graph tracking the different stages of maturity against the value offered by a variety of solutions and providers.

Data Maturity Market Graph

 

Section 4: Proving the impact

When it comes to making a decision on which solution to choose, it makes sense to look at the experience of other organizations who have already made the choice. 

With Makersite, users are able to map and enhance product data with materials, substances, and supply chain information sourced directly from our extensive database. With slow, siloed data a thing of the past, our solution uses with real-time collaborative data and apps to empower experts, engineers and purchasing teams to make better decisions. 

We often encounter a common objection: ‘my data is incomplete’. But that’s just a starting point for us. Imperfect, incomplete data is just another opportunity to learn. We can bring various data sources together, close the gaps, and clean and even out existing data. Ultimately, data can be used for far more than just reporting.  

It’s what comes after that really makes the difference.  

Let’s take a look at our work with Microsoft and how we matured their use of data in order to drive an entirely new methodology. 

Microsoft has partnered with Makersite to transform their Life Cycle Assessment (LCA software) methodology from directional modeling to a supply chain-specific environmental impact accounting process. The new methodology automates and scales the modeling of complex electronic products with an unprecedented level of primary data coverage. 

Makersite’s artificial intelligence analyzes the bill of material (BOM) of each device and the material composition from full material declarations (FMD) collected from suppliers to automatically model each part, component, and sub-assembly down to its actual chemical composition. 

The benefits of Microsoft’s new methodology include improved quality and representativeness of the modeling of the product’s composition, better identification of environmental impact hotspots in the supply chain, and increased accuracy by reducing the inconsistencies associated with the LCA practitioners’ decisions. 

The percentage of the total carbon footprint calculated based on suppliers’ primary data went from an average of 20% in the previous LCA methodology to close to 50% with the new methodology. 

You can read the case study in full at the link below:

Microsoft’s LCA methodology with Makersite

Section 5: Seizing the opportunity

We’ve already covered the need for mature data, the risks and challenges inherent in not pursuing it, and we’ve looked at the impact it’s had. Now let’s take a moment to run through the opportunities that will open up when you actively look to improve your data maturity. 

It can be difficult to convince decision-makers in an organization why investing in the right data solution is worth it. But at a time when your direct peers and competitors are having the same conversations, getting ahead of others can be a gamechanger. Ultimately, data maturity is about more than just finding a tool to move beyond reporting – it is a step towards becoming a more ‘mature’ business in general. 

As we found in our study with Forrester, companies who act promptly when it comes to developing their data proposition see numerous benefits across both product and operations. An ability to populate libraries with performance, cost, and sustainability data that users can use to select materials, components, and suppliers during design iterations has driven the development of products that will become more sustainable, have a faster time to market, and reap higher profits. Better data quality also goes a long way to improving operations, from supporting product lifecycle decisions to improving the visibility of materials and component supply chains to more efficient sustainability reporting. 

To put it most simply, better data drives stronger business performance. A business that seeks to integrate intelligent, deep-tier material, component, and supplier data into its PLM practices is primed to flourish across numerous criteria – from an ability to charge price premiums to significantly quicker time to market.  

Many organizations are concerned about the amount of primary data they have. But finding a solution with the ability to integrate unintegrated data with a sophisticated AI-driven data mapping and calculation engine negates that problem entirely. Whether you have 20% or 70%, having the ability to quickly fill the gaps in your data can shave years off your maturity curve. 

Let’s break down the key opportunities and benefits that will arise from this approach: 

Market leading products 

An organization with more mature data is one that is seen as reliable to all parties – from consumers to partners. The ability to manufacture products that meet regulatory requirements and satisfy the demands of an increasingly educated marketplace will give your business a seat at the top table. This, in turn, will lead to greater access to finance – a crucial differentiator in the current financial climate 

Greater market growth rates 

The global Green Technology and Sustainability Market is projected to reach USD 61.92 billion by 2030, according to a recent Forbes report. With a growing preference for sustainable and eco-friendly products, an ability to tap into the demand for more sustainable products or services in a particular market offers the potential for lucrative growth for companies with the foresight to get there first 

Increased market share 

With data-driven decision making improved, organizations will find that smoother operations and better products will solidify existing market share as well as opening up new markets and customer segments. Achieving regulatory compliance as a result of better data breaks down barriers to markets previously inaccessible due to new regulations. Similarly, having products that are better for the environment and more in-tune with contemporary developments will open up new customer segments (sustainability-focused millennials, for example) for your existing products 

Price premium 

Multiple recent studies have shown that not only are customers buying more sustainable goods, but that they’re willing to pay a significant premium for them. As PwC’s 2024 Voice of the Consumer Survey found, consumers are willing to spend an average of 9.7% more on sustainably produced or sourced goods, even as cost-of-living and inflationary concerns weigh. As the report notes: “more than four-fifths (80%) of consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable produced or sourced goods. In terms of a price premium, some consumers are willing to pay on average 9.7% more for goods that meet specific environmental criteria, including locally sourced, made from recycled or eco-friendly materials, produced in a supply chain with a lower carbon footprint, and more.” Research from McKinsey backs this up, making it clear that the potential for increased price premiums will drive investment in products with sustainability attributes. 

Predictable costs 

With deeper, more reliable and more actionable data at a time of both economic and regional volatility, organizations can put preventative measures in place early on to counteract any disruptions, whether due to supply chain issues, a lack of material availability or increased costs. This not only saves money but helps to keep businesses efficient and agile. A more resilient supply chain and an ability to pivot to alternative options when needed can make a significant difference 

 

To put it simply, a business defined by greater data maturity will benefit from defining new markets, product driven decisions and sustainable sourcing. Mature data is instrumental in shaping the future of responsible manufacturing and sustainable industry practices. Companies at the forefront of prioritizing data quality, overcoming technological limitations, and mastering integrated carbon decision-making will not only align with global compliance and sustainability mandates but will also secure a leading position in the green economy of tomorrow. 

In the digital age, the value of data is greatly enhanced by its accessibility. Focusing on the digitization and publication of consolidated environmental data involves pushing the data to platforms and repositories where it can be easily accessed by customers and stakeholders. Such transparency is not only a marker of a company’s commitment to sustainability but also serves as a differentiator in the marketplace, showcasing the environmental credentials of their products. 

To elevate the integrity and market value of products, it is crucial to not only generate but also consolidate product environmental data and rigorously validate sustainability claims. This consolidation involves synthesizing collected and upstream data into coherent, actionable insights that accurately represent a product’s environmental footprint. By doing so, businesses can ensure that their sustainability claims are not merely aspirational but are firmly rooted in empirical data. 

Perhaps most importantly, when we talk about data it’s not just about maturity – it’s about actionability too. Companies must make sure their data is actionable in order for it to have an impact on their operations and processes. For many, it’s a catch-22 situation: you hesitate to use your own data because you’re worried it’s not perfect, but you won’t get perfect data until you start working with what you have. In order to complete the process, you must trust in the possibilities of what something like AI can bring to sustainability and take the first step.

“Cross-functional collaboration, and a single source of truth is critical in enhancing product design and sourcing as well as gaining a competitive edge. Respondents agree that adopting product lifecycle intelligence drives sustainability improvements by enhancing data quality and supporting collaboration among stakeholders. They expect the solution’s business value to be reflected in a faster time to market, higher profits, and operational enhancements.”

Forrester x Makersite 2024 PLM Research Study

Section 6: Summarizing the business case

At some point in the process, you’ll invariably have to answer this question: why does data maturity matter? Let’s summarize: 

  • Finding – and utlizing – the right data solution is about realizing that data is about more than just sustainability reporting. With mature data, organizations will reap the rewards financially. Supply chain risks are minimized. Time is saved. Headcount can be lowered. Reputation and retention among your customer base is enhanced. Market share grows. You establish and maintain a foothold in an increasingly competitive market. Your business is futureproofed 
  • Your data doesn’t have to be perfect. There are tools available – like Makersite – that, through AI, will help you to fill in the gaps and turn your data into something both tangible and actionable. You can move from simply compliance reporting through to complete data visibility and, ultimately, to full intelligence 
  • Automating and scaling your data is essential. Time pressures (from regulatory developments to shareholder and stakeholder pressure) are increasing, and the need to derisk is more pressing than ever. Hiring consultancy firms to drive your decisions in this arena isn’t the way forward – it is expensive, time consuming and slows down the process when acting quickly is paramount. Regulatory and competitive pressures are increasing and the opportunity cost of selecting the wrong solution to achieve the desired business impact is enormous 
  • In taking the opportunities presented by data maturity that we’ve outlined above, businesses can assert their sustainability claims with confidence, offering tangible proof of their commitment to environmental stewardship. This not only meets the growing demand for transparency in the green market but also positions companies at the forefront of sustainable innovation, distinguishing them in a competitive landscape 

With more mature data, businesses are able to calculate and understand the comprehensive environmental impact of their products, from CO2 emissions to broader sustainability metrics.  

Our digital era demands that this rich environmental data be made accessible through digitization and publication, enhancing transparency, and distinguishing a company’s products in the competitive marketplace via their environmental credentials. In doing so your organization will stay firmly on the front foot, positioning itself for success for the foreseeable future. 

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