Launching the Sappi-RIT Digital Innovation Lab

Innovation is embedded in Sappi's DNA. What's one of the latest expressions? An exciting new collaboration with the Rochester Institute of Technology in Upstate New York.

Sappi is constantly evolving to enhance the digital capability and eco-effectiveness of our mills and operations. And that means continuous and significant investment in innovation, sustainability, research and especially partnerships. Because we understand the importance of collaboration when it comes to sharing and building knowledge. That's why we’ve partnered with the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Upstate New York to co-create next-generation digital solutions that add value both to our customers’ business and ours.

Unlocking solutions with big data

Researchers in the newly launched Sappi-RIT Digital Innovation Lab will study the role of digital business solutions and the user experience in the pulp and paper industry. The lab is situated in the School of Interactive Games and Media within RIT's Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. The faculty is dedicated to advancing the fields of computing and information sciences through creativity and innovation – perfectly aligned with Sappi’s purpose.

The lab is the brainchild of Sappi's Senior UX Designer in Europe, Dr Javed Khan who joined Sappi after a career in academia. As a business operating with an abundance of digital assets, Sappi generates and captures considerable amounts of data around its processes, from our supply chain right through to customer behaviour. But as Javed explains, ‘how to create business value from all this data isn't always evident.'

The collaboration with RIT is designed to unlock business insights and eco-effective solutions that we know are there in the data. 'What’s exciting to me is the opportunity to innovate both within the company and in academia. Sappi has a wealth of data that academics can only dream about accessing. RIT's strength lies in knowing the latest methods you can apply to unlock the most value. We'll also have the opportunity to partner with other institutions, which might lead us down even more exciting innovation avenues.’

Going deep on the customer experience

Initially, the team will focus on leveraging the data to unlock a deeper understanding of the Sappi customer. As Kouris Kalligas, Head of Digital Transformation at Sappi explains: ‘To each one of us, the word ‘research’ brings up a different image. To some, it might be a human in a dark room reading scientific articles. To others, it might be doing interviews and running surveys or analysing data. The research we envision will focus on problems and challenges Sappi faces using the most robust methods one can find, accompanied by exceptional talent that can help us leapfrog to new frontiers for paper and pulp. 

The lab is part of a wider innovation and efficiency drive within Sappi to accelerate the transition to a bio-based, circular economy. ‘Already Sappi has established a digital strategy to become more agile and data-driven,’ says Javed. ‘Through this journey we're becoming a more eco-efficient business, reducing waste and maximizing resources to achieve both our business and sustainability goals.’