Photo: Dow, Inc.
When you’re one of the top three chemical producers in the world, the technology you rely on needs to drive your innovation efforts—not just support them. And when you have approximately 36,500 employees who use that technology, your approach to change management will determine whether those many digital programs and rollouts will die on the vine or drive value for the business.
The Constant in IT Is Change Management
This is one of the many things on Chris Bruman’s mind. As a global IT director for Dow, Inc., his team has led technology change management initiatives through mega-programs such as the Dow/DuPont merger. For example, in part one of our interview with Dow, ASUG spoke with Chris about what the business is gaining from its “one global ERP” approach and what he has seen in the past 30 years that he has spent working across various business and IT roles at the company.
In the second part of our interview, we share some research ASUG did with SAP customers in the chemical industry and discussed with Chris how those insights compared with what he’s seeing at Dow. We learn about the various stakeholders Chris and his team need to consider when it comes to technology change. We also discuss some tools Dow uses to help tackle technology change—such as the cloud, Agile project management, and the DevOps model—as well as the most important trend Chris thinks the chemical industry should be paying attention to now.
Ann Marie: When we did research with SAP customers in the chemical industry this year, one of the pressures that came up was a lack of real-time visibility into the supply chain. How does Dow manage the complexities of its global supply chain?
Chris: This is an important area of focus for Dow because we have products moving all over the world at all times, depending on supply and demand and where we’re able to manufacture different items. We also work across so many modes of transportation—marine, barge, rail, truck, you name it. There are service providers that we are partnering with to bring more visibility to our supply chain. We think of this technology as a control tower that allows us to see where our products are, where they need to land, and where there are shipping challenges we can predict and address.
We refer to this as digital transportation, and it’s one of the biggest focus areas for us at Dow. We’ve made really good progress over the last two years that will continue into 2021.
Ann Marie: Another pressure that came up in our research was the effort required to keep up with changes in technology. I know you mentioned that adoption is one of the items on your list of responsibilities. What are some of the tips and tricks you would pass along to other SAP customers about how to make sure their change management programs are going well?
Chris: We’ve put a renewed focus on adoption. The point is, if you don’t achieve adoption, you never get the value out of your technology projects and they end up dormant. This is a timely topic for us.
We just came out of the big Dow/DuPont merger, which was a mega-program that went on for several years. There’s a huge amount of integrated change management that goes with mega-programs like that. Now that we have come out of that major M&A work, we have many different transformation programs running simultaneously. They are not completely independent, and they require a more purposeful view of integrated change management than a mega-program.
What we discovered this year is that we needed an integrated change management team to look across all of our different digital programs and consider their effects on the business. For example, will some of those programs impact customer service? And if they will, who is working with customer service, and how are we ensuring that we won’t bombard them with changes all at the same time from various systems or programs? So, we put this integrated change management structure in place this year and it is paying dividends already.
We also did the same for technical integrations. We realized that we had some collisions going on with all of our different programs in technical integration, whether it was related to testing or moves to production. We put in place a technical integration structure spanning several teams that is focused on change management and integration. Now, we can look across 10, 15, or 20 of our major programs to keep them more connected.
Ann Marie: There can be real change fatigue that happens with people, too, that causes them to feel like enough is enough.
Chris: It requires work for our users to learn these new capabilities. They’ve got their day jobs they are trying to keep up with, so fatigue is a good way to describe it. We need to be careful because at the end of the day, these folks aren’t at Dow to learn more digital applications—they are there to do a specific job, and we’re leveraging digital capabilities to make that job easier for them.
Ann Marie: One of the interesting findings in our research was that more SAP customers in the chemical industry are in the cloud and have a cloud strategy in place than in other industries. What is Dow’s cloud philosophy?
Chris: Like many companies, we have adopted a cloud-first strategy, but we’re early in that journey. We have moved many of our systems to the cloud, including some of our legacy systems. We take advantage of software-as-a-service providers—for example, SAP Concur and SAP Ariba.
Even though we are cloud-first, we evaluate every opportunity from the angles of cost, security, reliability, usability, and the ability to innovate. You need to look at each of those factors in every opportunity to answer whether it makes sense to move to the cloud or not. Unless there are real barriers to move an application to the cloud, we will move in that direction.
Ann Marie: How is Dow taking advantage of the cloud?
Chris: The big thing we’re taking advantage of with the cloud is flexibility that allows us to scale up and scale down very quickly versus what we can do on-premise. On-premise, it might take us months to bring in new servers or months to turn them back off. The advantages of that scale up/scale down flexibility can be really powerful.
The other benefit that comes with that is the real-time visibility of your costs and the implications of scaling up and scaling down. It’s hard to compute that when you’re on-premise. If you have a cloud provider, you’re able to look at the cost implications of the changes that you’re making almost daily, or at least weekly or monthly.
Ann Marie: Do you and your team interact with the Digital Innovation Centers at Dow?
Chris: We have digital centers that work closely with the businesses at Dow to understand their challenges and address them through digital solutions. They focus on innovating and running proof of concepts in three areas: commercial, supply chain, and manufacturing. When they find something that’s viable and that proof of concept succeeds, that’s where our enterprise systems team comes in to scale it up across the company. Once the centers hand these innovations off, they move on to the next thing. Our enterprise systems team will then globally deploy the innovations more broadly to the business.
Ann Marie: Does your team use an Agile approach to manage projects? How does that help you run efficiently as an IT group?
Chris: In my organization, we are running more and more Agile projects. You can imagine that in an enterprise systems team, much of the work has typically used the Waterfall method as we run very large programs that touch the system of record. This is starting to become a hybrid now, where we’re doing Agile within Waterfall in more and more projects. We’re introducing checkpoints and thinking about delivering immediate wins versus waiting many months before we deliver anything to the business.
Ann Marie: What about DevOps?
Chris: We adopted a DevOps model last year as we moved the operations support team under my team’s umbrella. In the past, we would develop an application, deploy it, and then hand it off to an operations team to support it and improve it over the long term.
Now the full life cycle of accountability sits on my team. Because of the DevOps approach, we can understand what’s working and what’s not working, and would use that knowledge to make improvements more quickly. This has torn down some of the bureaucracy that can slow us all down.
It was a big shift for us, though. The team had been very focused on project delivery. We had to change our culture and mindset to think, “I’m going to deliver a project that involves improving a service I already own. I have to own that service for the long term. I’m not just handing it off to someone else.”
Ann Marie: What are the top areas are on your road map to innovate and improve at Dow?
Chris: I would say it all comes down to a huge focus on customer experience (CX). A couple of years ago, our new CEO came in and renewed our emphasis on everything starting with the customer. We have shifted our prioritization of what we work on and how we work to think customer-first.
One of the key areas related to this work is bringing IT automation and intelligence into how we interact with customers. That’s all the way from the upfront marketing and sales activities, to how the customer service representatives interact with customers, and all the way to production and delivery of our products—which relates to the supply chain and transportation efforts I talked about earlier. All of these must lead to an improved customer experience.
In fact, there is a customer experience index we track that is baked into our total rewards program. This is how we’re measured as employees and as a company. That has driven us to focus on how we’re using digital and IT to support the customer experience. Not all of it is what you might think of as a true transformation. A lot of it is digital optimization—it’s taking all of these systems and making them work so much better through improved processes, automation, and intelligence through IT.
Ann Marie: That incremental improvement is often what customers really want. They want it to be easier to track their orders or other simple tasks.
Chris: Right. That’s why we’re taking the tools we’ve invested in and making them work better than they do today.
Ann Marie: In your opinion, what do you think are the most important trends that other SAP customers in the chemical industry should be paying attention to?
Chris: It’s tough to pick just one. I would say that the B2B marketplace is really evolving. A lot of us who work with SAP in the chemical industry have some legacy ways we’ve interacted with customers. For example, EDI is a typical way that we interact and integrate with our customers and suppliers. But now there’s a move to online ordering. How do we set that up?
It’s important to think about the outside forces like Alibaba in China and Asia-Pacific, or Amazon in other parts of the world. How we react to the pressures of those outside marketplaces will result in an important position for the chemical industry to take. We have talked a lot with SAP about how we prepare ourselves to innovate and be flexible and offer multiple methods and channels for our customers to approach us—whether it’s to get product information, to place an order, to get their order status, or to track deliveries. Building an appropriate B2B marketplace will be one of the trends that will be key for us.
Ann Marie: As technology has changed our personal lives so much, we are all dealing with a different level of expectations for how any transaction should work. If B2B organizations don’t get going on projects to make their systems easier to use, then that will continue to eat away at their competitive advantages.
Chris: We want the same ease at work that we have in our personal lives. I try to avoid always using the example of an Amazon-like experience, as there is a difference between B2C and B2B. It comes up a lot, though it will not apply to everything. Is that what our customers really want? That’s where we get into customer distinction and customer segmentation. Our large customers may prefer an EDI scenario because they have intelligence that’s already built into their system. When they are low on a product, they can send an automated message to Dow, triggered through their ERP system. That’s a truly touchless system if it’s working as planned.
But for those customers on the smaller side, it may be more effective to go to a website and place an order. Our customers who may not have an advanced ERP capability could benefit from that. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the B2B marketplace. That’s what makes serving customers in a complex material sciences market such a challenge, but something we’re also excited about.
Ann Marie: Thank you for explaining how your team is staying ahead of all the changes going on at Dow, Chris. We appreciate your insights.
Have you upgraded your supply chain technology stack, navigated an SAP S/4HANA migration, or solved an operational business challenge through technology or process improvements? Your peers are eager to learn from your experience at the upcoming ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Supply Chain virtual conference on May 11-12, 2021. Submit your presentation abstract for an opportunity to share your SAP journey.