Last month’s ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Chemicals conference (June 21–22, in The Woodlands, TX) brought together SAP customers and executives with industry thought leaders to network with peers and discuss building the future of efficiency, agility, and resiliency for the chemicals industry.

In this exclusive interview, Laura Tibodeau, a respected senior executive in the chemicals industry and ASUG Board Director, reflects on her involvement in the conference as well as the importance of unlocking business value with digital transformation.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q. Laura, thank you for taking the time to share your perspectives with ASUG membership. Let's begin by discussing any key takeaways from the ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Chemicals conference. 

A. As you might remember, this was the first in-person SAP conference for our chemicals industry since 2019. It was amazing to reconnect with industry peers and partners, and to hear so many inspirational stories about how SAP is being utilized to drive significant business transformations. It was certainly an action-packed two days, wherein we lived the ASUG mantra of “learn, connect, and grow.”

Q. Being back together in person, can you reflect on the importance of returning to face-to-face events?

A. The richness of the engaged conversations made it instantly and abundantly clear that there’s no substitute for the value of face-to-face interactions at industry professional conferences. It was heart-warming to see how attendees actively engaged with speakers, sought clarification around key questions on their minds, and gained insights into pressing industry issues. I loved the fact that sessions were active dialogues rather than one-sided conversations. I also thought it was important that we made time to build and grow both personal and professional relationships at the end of Day 1. 

Q. Opening the conference on an inspiring note with your keynote, "The Resilient Chemical Enterprise," you discussed overcoming supply chain challenges and building resiliency. Can you comment further on that call to action? 

A. My keynote focused on leveraging digital innovation to grow top-line revenue, reduce operating expenses, and improve green-line performance. 

There have been so many lessons learned from the recent pandemic. But, certainly, the need to invest in optimizing one’s supply chain to adapt to dynamic business conditions is paramount. Pre-pandemic, it would have been difficult to imagine the supply chain disruptions that we now deal with on a near-daily basis related to weather disruptions, material and feedstock shortages, staffing constraints, and the war in Ukraine. The companies that are actively investing in supply chain optimization will grow stronger. Those that do not or cannot invest in optimizing their supply chain risk consolidation.

Q. Can you expand as well on improving green-line performance?

A. Sustainability is about improving the quality of life today and inspiring a better tomorrow. Great companies aspire to operate without compromise with regards to energy, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, water, and waste. Green-line performance is about setting strategic and aspirational sustainability goals and then actively measuring our performance to achieve those sustainability goals. It’s also important to reinforce, as Eastman's Director of Data & Analytics Molly Leita did in her closing-day keynote, that making the circular economy real is an important tenet of corporate sustainability plans.

Q. You also co-presented a session with Vikas Lodha, Chief Solution Advisor for Business Technology Platform at SAP, around the concept of keeping one's "core clean" and its application for the chemicals industry. What were the highlights of that session?

A. Firstly, I should say that it was certainly an honor to co-present with Vikas. We talked about what a journey to a “clean core” looks like for companies utilizing greenfield or brownfield approaches to get to SAP S/4HANA. We shared thoughts on a progression plan and tools or services that can help. We reinforced the value of removing technical debt. We also emphasized that there is no time like the present to start that journey.

SAP BTP, by which I also mean SAP Analytics Cloud, SAP Datasphere and SAP Signavio, is certainly a critical enabler in transforming data into actional insights to make informed strategic decisions, improve operational efficiency, and heighten business productivity. It’s all about delivering easy-to-understand visualizations and bringing the power to the people. These are step function advancements, and it’s great to see that SAP is critically investing in this area.

Q. Customer success stories are key to the member value that conferences like ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Chemicals provide. Can you recap some of those standout sessions for readers?

A. It was an action-packed two days, and it was impossible for me to attend all of the amazing sessions on offer. With that said, let me summarize a few key themes…

The chemical industry is actively adopting SAP S/4HANA. Celanese took a brownfield approach to adoption and was able to move to S/4HANA in just 12 months. Ingevity, INEOS Olefins Polymers and AdvanSix successfully executed greenfield implementations. And Mosaic is well on its way… And, over and over, our speakers reinforced the importance of optimizing their supply chain.

What was exciting to me is how each participating company shared recipes for success and lessons learned, so that others in attendance could benefit. Our speakers all reinforced the importance of partnerships. In my mind, the positive messages shared at this conference helped inspire those that have not yet made the leap as to the art of what is possible. They also helped us understand how “it’s better on the other side."

Q. The ASUG Women Connect panel was another anticipated session, giving the stage to Allison Martinez, SVP of Business Transformation & CIO at Chevron Phillips Chemical; Sheree Fields, Senior Director of Information Technology at Ascend Performance Materials LLC; and Kathy VanLandingham, CIO of LyondellBasell, alongside Carolyn Dolezal, ASUG's Chief Operating Officer. What was your experience of attending that session?

A. This was a truly uplifting session. It was great to give a platform to senior female executives from LyondellBasell, CP Chem, and Ascend Performance Materials to hear about their companies' Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs. Each leader was truly inspiring in their own right. And each leader generously shared techniques that others could adapt to be their best self. I loved every moment of this panel discussion.

Q. How would you describe your overarching role throughout this conference?

A. As a member of the ASUG Board of Directors, it is my responsibility to “lift up” the great leaders of this industry by giving them a platform to share the stories of their transformation journeys. I thus reached out to friends in the industry and asked them how they could help us to make this event successful. I was truly appreciative by the amazing response I received. The rich dialogues that ensued were a testament to the importance of collaboration. We are clearly “better together.”

Q. Any final comments you would like to share with ASUG members?

A. Chemical companies play an important role in achieving a brighter and more sustainable future. This industry has faced, and continues to face, strong pressures that challenge each of us. It’s how we face those challenges that define us.

Resilience, positivity, and a penchant for driving positive change are key. Resiliency is key, because resilient leaders perform well under pressure, cope with disruptive changes, adapt, and bounce back from setbacks. They learn and grow from reflecting upon both their own actions and the lessons learned from others. 

It is my belief that the attendees of this ASUG conference successfully leveraged their time together to share stories, gain insights, and unpack the power of digital innovation. And, for that, I am immensely proud and appreciative. In fact, with this event now behind us, I am already looking forward to the 2024 ASUG Best Practices: SAP for Chemicals conference!

Q. Thank you for making time for this interview. We are all appreciative for the leadership you demonstrate across the industry, and it was great to hear your thoughts about how SAP and ASUG are propelling digital innovation across the chemicals industry.

A. It was certainly my pleasure. 

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