I recently attended the second day of the Best Practices for Chemicals conference earlier this month in Houston, Texas. Much of the messaging focused on digital transformation for chemicals and its benefits. Based on the customer presentations, the market is slowly progressing in this direction.
Dow’s Digital Transformation: Powering Customer Experience Transformation
Guillaume Deudon, IT Director with The Dow Chemical Company, presented on his experience with digital transformation within a 120+ year old company. He introduced Dow as an old company that produces molecules by building and operating manufacturing facilities safely. Dow also believes that inventing in-house is the best method of doing business. He then made a rather profound statement, Dow is an expert in ‘history.’
He did this to frame the transformation challenge. Because of Dow’s age, its history/legacy, the past is now an ‘anchor point.’ Because of Dow’s molecular focus, science with its precision and exactness is the standard. Its focus on safety means that there is a cultural aversion to risk. The culture has a reverence to its history of innovation that has also led to the belief that inventing within Dow is the best approach. Mr. Deudon framed the situation like this to point out that Dow is not like the Googles, Ubers, and Airbnbs of the world. He also did this to point out that understanding what makes your company tick is extremely important if digital transformation initiatives are going to be successful.
Mr. Deudon explained that he is responsible for the equivalent of an incubation lab within Dow. He spoke on the importance of addressing culture, being agile and flexible, and open to insights from all sources. He also described what I would term a “culture within a culture.” This sub-culture is like what you might envision a Silicon Valley startup to have, however it works within and supports the broader company, and in this case, the broader company is the sole customer. Just like any other project, there must be a need, proper justification, and a measurable return.
Digital Transformation for Chemicals: Dow’s Learnings
Mr. Deudon wrapped up with a list of learnings. As you might expect, perseverance was on the top of the list. He mentioned the importance of being connected to the core, after all, this is who pays the bills. Regardless, communication is key to success. Being fast and subtle are also important, as well as focusing on who you serve. Interestingly, he noted the importance of taking care of the team. Many older managers fail to understand the needs of these innovators and the inability to maintain the team will cause havoc to an ‘agile’ effort. ARC has written quite a bit on the topic on Digital Transformation and the people aspect. Subscribers can read more about the topic via my colleague’s (Michael Guilfoyle) blog.