In your daily life, are you more of a digital or an analog person?
Well, I like my music analog—vinyl and tube amplifiers, guitar, piano, horn. But in business, digital is enabling entirely new opportunities for chemical companies. It’s not simply about doing the same things more efficiently or at a lower cost, but about introducing new capabilities and new strategies that weren’t previously possible.
One thing that remains the same though—the relationships are still analog. We succeed when we’re speaking with clients, walking in their shoes and understanding their issues and opportunities. So overall I would say I have one foot in digital and one foot in analog.
Speaking of music, and vinyl, do you have any favorites?
I like classic jazz—Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis are my favorites.
What does the digital opportunity mean for chemical companies?
Digital enablement certainly brings benefits like efficiency and effectiveness to chemical company processes. It also it could bring cost-reduction opportunities, and these things are always interesting.
But more than that, we’re seeing clients really excited about using digital to create new business opportunities, enhance revenue and differentiate in the marketplace. They’re viewing digital enablement as a value driver across the entire enterprise, spanning processes from customer-facing and R&D through plant and operations, asset management and capital projects.
Are chemical companies embracing digital more quickly than other industries?
They’re embracing it faster than you might expect—and faster than some other industries. In some ways, they’re pursuing digital enablement similarly to what we see in retail companies.
Are you seeing any particular industry game changers when it comes to digital?
There are a few particularly hot areas gaining traction. One is in the marketing and communications and customer engagement area. We are seeing many of our big chemical clients starting to move away from commodity-type products and more toward market-differentiated products and services that are more competitive, more innovative and higher margin.
This is changing the way clients interact with B2B and B2C customers, as well as driving new needs in supply chain, sourcing, R&D and other areas.
The other area getting a lot of attention is inside the plant—in operations, maintenance and asset management. That involves mobility and analytics solutions which help the workforce run things more efficiently and safely, produce more or better output and flex their operations with more agility.
What challenges might chemical companies face as they look to achieve value from digital initiatives?
Because digital is so ubiquitous across processes, business units and functions, no particular group within a company owns it, so that’s been a challenge. We’ve been able to be the integrators of all those components for chemical companies, even just to bring them together for the first strategic dialogue.
From there, we help figure out where digital enablement can drive the most value for the company. That has been the fun part about it—helping create something new inside chemical companies they didn’t previously have or know how to address.
You have an electrical engineering background—how did you get into consulting?
I studied electrical engineering because I love science, math and problem solving—I still do—but I didn’t want to be in a lab for a living. After summer jobs at a pizza place, an auto body shop and a bolt factory—I was lucky enough to land an internship at Accenture. I knew I’d found my home. But the truth is I’ll always be a gearhead. My wife and kids are confounded when I refer to math as truth, beauty and art—and start singing the “Math” song from the movie School of Rock.
What are you reading right now?
I always travel with a few old stand-bys on my tablet for periodic reference—my favorite is Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I first read it in college and it’s been a go-to of mine ever since.
I’m also a history buff. The last few books I’ve read are The Great Terror, which covers the Russian Revolution and Stalin’s purges, The Tragedy or Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution, and The Storm or War: A New History of the Second World War. The World Wars, social revolutions and uprisings seem to have my attention right now.
As a history buff, if you look at where chemical companies have come over the past several decades and where they’re going with digital, what does the future hold?
I think chemical companies are going to continue to change and evolve with the markets they serve—more market- and customer-facing, more agile, more value-focused, and seeking more innovation and differentiation.
To enable this, I think the industry is going to need to become highly digital enabled, from the customer all the way back through the plant. Companies will need to focus on operational excellence, digitizing the plant, enabling more agile M&A and joint venture activity, variablizing business functions as well as IT—all with the focus on differentiating and creating more business value.
I understand one of your hobbies involves a bit of chemistry.
One of my many hobbies is coffee roasting. I have a hundred pounds of green coffee beans from all over the world in my basement. I recently roasted a few pounds for my clients and Accenture colleagues.
Coffee is a lot more complex than people may think. Every bean is different and every region, plantation and crop is unique. There’s art and chemistry in the roast and in the process of brewing. Think about that next time you’re enjoying a nice cup of joe.