Talk of digital is pervasive these days. What is digital and why should chemical companies embrace it?
The textbook definition of digital is the convergence of social, mobile, cloud, and analytics. This definition seems to have a business-to-consumer spin, which can make our industrial clients believe it’s not relevant. That is certainly not the case. Digital is all about taking advantage of technology to make quantum improvements in business strategies, processes and people.
Accenture focuses on helping our clients think through how digital can unlock disruptive business value—and chemical companies are no exception. It’s shocking what has happened in the industry over the last 12 months. For example, many chemical companies have seen a dramatic drop in their stock price while others are considering or have been part of game-changing merger and acquisition activity. However, those that are holding their ground are differentiating on digital technology and service to optimize business efficiency.
At the same time, what was borderline “science fiction” a year ago is becoming real with respect to Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities. Drones, virtual reality headsets for mechanics and cloud-based, real time optimization platforms—these are all real now.
What are some real-world examples of what it means to be a digital chemical company?
We frame the conversation by breaking it down into the functional areas of a chemical company--enterprise, plant, customer, procurement and supply chain. This makes it more tangible.
At the enterprise level, it’s about empowering employees to do their job efficiently and providing them with a work experience that aligns with what they expect in their personal lives. One example comes from a client that spun out of one of the major chemical companies. The new company decided to focus on their core competencies and digitize everything else. Now they access technologies in the cloud, leverage as-a-service offerings and use analytics to optimize processes.
The plant space offers the most opportunity for operational cost reduction and efficiencies. Digital solutions run the gamut—from modernizing manufacturing execution systems and distributed control systems, to asset optimization services that drive step-change maintenance and reliability. The area that I find most exciting right now is our digital worker offering. Accenture has built some impressive solutions in adjacent industries, such as mining and utilities, which we are looking to bring to chemicals.
Turning to customers, there are niches in the chemical industry, specifically in specialties and with distributors, where more customer interactive business-to-business offerings can drive cross-sell opportunities and increase customer retention. One company has even seen double digit, year over year growth in online sales since launching a new website just a year ago.
In procurement and supply chain, we have invested in solutions that take expertise from our Management Consulting practice and digitize it into the Accenture Insights Platform. This gives us the ability to spin up a big data platform, with data extraction and visualization capabilities, and run rapid assessments to solve industry-specific challenges. A great example here is the flow path optimization tool we built to optimize the total landed cost to serve, from procurement through transportation, for a client within a fixed distribution network.
What are the steps to become a digital chemical company?
Adopt the right mindset, then build a digital strategy and roadmap. Instead of thinking about digital in the context of information technology, think about it more like R&D. Start with a big challenge that your company is working to address, and then determine how digital can help enable top-line growth and increase profitability.
You are a big runner in your spare time. Why do you love to run?
There is nothing more invigorating than a nice long run outside. It gives me the opportunity to get “disconnected,” which can be a bit of a challenge in my role. As it happens, I come up with some of my best work ideas while running. And of course, it’s the easiest way to stay fit while on the road.
One of your other roles in Accenture is as the Corporate Citizenship lead for your home office of Philadelphia. Tell us more about that.
Accenture’s Corporate Citizenship program, with its focus on helping people get sustainable jobs, provides a platform to give back far more than I could as an individual. One of the things we do every year is a pro-bono project with one or more of our local Corporate Citizenship partners. It’s an unbelievably rewarding experience to do what Accenture is great at, while doing it for a cause.