07 April 2022 | Technology

Attendees Left LogiChem 2022 With These 3 Trends in Mind…

How are chemical companies navigating issues like supply chain disruption and an increasing pressure to undertake digital transformation?

Last week the Conexiom team went to LogiChem Europe in Rotterdam, Netherlands where we had the opportunity to hear from and speak with the people looking for solutions to these challenges.

If you aren’t familiar, chemical supply chain professionals attend LogiChem to discuss or discover trends, network with peers, and learn from industry experts. Between walking the show floor, attending sessions, and sharing the stage with our customer, ExxonMobil, we noticed three recurring themes throughout the event.

Our Conversation with ExxonMobil about their Automation Journey

Maybe our conversation with Michael Van Veghel, Global Supply Chain Process Integration Manager at ExxonMobil, didn’t trend like Digital Transformation, but it was standing room only by the time it started.

ExxonMobil’s experience illustrates one of the primary benefits of automation – it scales and evolves with your business. When they started on their automation journey, the goal was efficiency and cost-cutting by reducing manual order entry. Now with oil prices rising, instead of cutting costs, they’re focused on what they can do with the time they gained through automation.

1. Building a Business Case for Digital Initiatives (like Automation)

The pandemic accelerated many organization’s plans for digital transformation, including an increased use of automation beyond the factory or warehouse, but some attendees we spoke to shared they still weren’t sure where to start with automation. This makes sense when you consider the many types of automation available and the myriad ways to use it. We always recommend starting a business case by examining inefficiencies in your current process. Once you’ve agreed on these pain points, the next step is assigning a value to either removing or improving them. Use this to calculate the return on investment you can expect from pursuing automation.

Companies want to ensure they can deliver on the promise of the business cases they create when beginning an automation initiative. Why would automation fall short on improving your KPIs? Usually, it’s when the case builders select a technology with strengths that don’t align with the desired outcome.

For example, we chatted with a few attendees about their initiatives to increase touchless orders. Even though many had implemented robotic process automation (RPA), they weren’t achieving the touchless order numbers at the core of their business case. RPA requires a human-in-the-loop, either to confirm the process is working or to fix it when it’s not.
If you do achieve your goals for touchless automation, what do you do with the time you’ve gained? Many companies struggle to articulate that new reality while still understanding why they need to reach it.

It’s important to remember that automation is a “prove out and grow” type of digital initiative. Start with a focused use-case and invest in what works.

2. Enhancing the Customer Experience

Continuing supply chain volatility is a reminder to control what you can, like delivering an exceptional customer experience. We noticed (and attended) multiple presentations on ways to optimize customer service or keep up with rapidly changing customer expectations. Providing a flexible experience is key. Customers want to buy in whatever way suits them, which could mean ordering online or phoning a rep. Companies can use these preferences to inform how they structure customer-facing teams. For example, one presenter shared how their company structured service and support teams to align with varying customer expectations.

To enable this type of experience, businesses need to examine how their customer-facing teams spend time. Often, these teams can’t deliver competitive experiences because they’re overburdened with repetitive, manual work like processing documents.

3. Developing a Modern Workforce

Many attendees shared their challenges attracting and keeping employees. Regardless of industry, companies continue to face hiring gaps and increased competition for new employees. Employees feel pressured to deliver more with less while companies find themselves unable to grow. Another dimension to automation – a proven way to increase productivity without added headcount – is your staff’s perception of what its implementation means for their jobs. While your workforce wants to be doing meaningful work, they might also see automation as a threat.

While LogiChem is aimed at supply chain professionals working for Chemical companies, we’ve seen and heard of these trends from customers in other industries. Digital transformation is necessary but complex, making it challenging to find a safe entry point to experiment with technology like automation.

Customers continue to have more options and greater expectations for service. What attracted employees to companies and kept them feeling engaged and valuable a few years ago no longer works. Businesses need to identify a blend of strategy, technology and culture that enables them to navigate these volatile circumstances.

 

Photo credit: LogiChem Europe