In much the same way that the First Industrial Revolution was defined by the adoption of mass production techniques and the adoption of machinery and methodologies that supported that shift, the global evolution into Industry 4.0 has been defined by digital transformation. But to really allow organisations to capture the benefits of the countless digital opportunities, deep shifts must be driven across business’ operating models.
“Everything seems to be a digital disruption or transformation these days” notes Eglantine Etiemble, Executive General Manager of IT and Digital at DuluxGroup. “This tends to create confusion and unrealistic expectations.” Etiemble is a strategy and technology veteran with more than 20 years’ experience in diverse markets in over 20 countries.
“Digital transformation. The same two words can represent so many different situations. At one end of the spectrum you have companies whose core business has been disrupted by digital alternatives. For them, digital transformation means changing their core business, their ‘raison d’être’, if they want to survive. At the other extreme, you have companies that modernise a few outdated building blocks of their operating model. That can lead to large change from an internal perspective, but it doesn’t really transform the customer experience. And in between, you have companies that are able to seize opportunities to significantly enrich the customer experience. It could be new channels to market, personalisation or new services opened by technology. It’s not a burning platform, but rather a burning ambition: that’s the space where we play at DuluxGroup,” she explains.
Etiemble joined DuluxGroup early 2018, originally as the company’s CIO. She recalls the role initially had a relatively traditional remit and focus. “My initial mandate was classic: software, ERP, infrastructure, overhauling the digital platforms,” she says. But the other reason she was engaged was to help identify opportunities enabled by digital technology, and drive the organisational changes required to seize them. “The process of identifying and implementing new technologies, is almost the easy part, and is never the end goal,” she reminds us. “To deliver value you need to evolve several elements of the operating model (funding, talent, processes, culture…) which creates risks and tensions in the organisation, if not approached constructively. Moving to a digital operating model and value proposition is the equivalent of the teenage years for an organisation, with the same level of soul searching, learning from your mistakes, and leaning on your strong fundamentals to iterate and thrive.”
A customer-centric ambition
“I believe that, as a company, customer-centricity is either part of your DNA or it is not. One of the things I love about DuluxGroup is our consumer and customer culture,” she adds. “We’re relentlessly exploring ways to enhance our customers’ experience, and better understand how technology can help them realise their goals. It gives our innovation ambition a very specific, sharp focus.”
With this customer-centricity at heart, the need for digital uplift touches many areas of the organisation. “We are very proud of the factory we opened in 2018 in Merrifield, Victoria. In building this new plant, we applied advanced manufacturing principles, and focused on the end-to-end digitalisation of all processes. This future-oriented approach has increased efficiency and quality, reduced time to market, and introduced a level of flexibility that will help customise mass paint production.”
“Creating a superior experience for our customers often means addressing key pain points and providing additional services that complement our great products. Our “Find a Painter” service connects you with Dulux Accredited painters across Australia, whilst our live chat connects you with an interior designer who can help you with what happens to be one of the most difficult decisions you will ever make: “which shade of white should I pick?”.
Etiemble shares one example of improvement enabled by investments in artificial intelligence (AI). “AI features heavily in our operational roadmaps, particularly around efficiency and customer experience,” notes Etiemble. “We have been leveraging it to empower our sales force with real insights and prompts of the ‘next best conversation’ with their customers.”
To support innovation in the digital space, Etiemble set up an incubator program providing coaching, connections, methodology and resources. “Fast-Track” helps design and test new digital services and business models and accelerate the adoption of entrepreneurial methodologies. “We are currently testing six exciting growth projects whilst building our bench strengths.”
How we approach the execution of our digital transformation
Large top down programs are not the only approach, according to Etiemble. “We purposefully stayed clear of a highly structured multi-years transformation program which can divert the business’ attention from the market and wouldn’t deliver the agility shift required. We prefer transformation ambitions underpinned by a series of business-led initiatives, from cultural intervention and talent acquisition to enabling technology implementation. It provides clear ownership, as well as the ability to honestly measure impact and course correct. There is currently an array of initiatives across the group, constantly evolving to adjust to the lessons we learn as we go,” she says.
“Changing our architectural approach, from monolithic long-term stack to a combination of SaaS and point solutions integrated into our ERP, was critical as well. DuluxGroup is really a combination of medium to large businesses; more like a cooperative than one large organisation. So, we need solutions that are more like a Lego set, rather than a couple of big hammers.”
“We’re focusing on small things, as well as larger scale projects. From an app that does one very specific job for our customers, to a large integrated ecommerce platform,” explains Etiemble. “The group approach had been to invest in one big project at a time – usually ERP – that would be implemented across the whole organisation over multiple years. Now we’re embracing the idea of disposable technology that we can build quickly for a specific value test, and then throw away in six months if needed.”
“This ability to create and deliver specialised software solutions at pace is key, given our focus on customer-centricity and our particular organisational structure. There’s been a massive shift in understanding that one size doesn’t fit all. And that with the current pace of change, part of our technology stack is constantly evolving or being replaced,” says Etiemble.
The DG Tech team members that Etiemble leads are clear in their roles as DuluxGroup business leaders. Technology isn’t the goal; enabling DuluxGroup to achieve its ambitions is. A deep belief in co-creation ensures that a collective vision is developed in key areas such as digital marketing, innovation, and data and insights. “We can’t do this in isolation,” she says. “We need to take an adaptive approach; understand the systems in which we operate and be prepared to change if necessary.”
Introduction of Design Thinking, Product Management and Agile methodologies – where it makes sense, not because they are the latest trend - and the move to an activity-based working office set-up are key pillars of this transformation. “A key learning for me is to stay clear of “purist” methodology: it is all about what helps the organisation to move forward, and in our case how it will create value for our customers and consumers.
“Understanding the talent and experience required and addressing the talent gap through development plans and talent acquisition was one of our early focuses as well. We were very fortunate to onboard amazing people bringing digital and complex change experience whilst equipping our long-tenured, highly engaged workforce with targeted learning opportunities. We moved as well from a heavy reliance on a couple of large vendors to real partnerships with a variety of large, medium and small players, who bring specialised thought leadership and the ability to scale.” As a result, a department that used to complete between one and two large-scale projects a year is now working on more than 15 medium to large projects concurrently.
This will continue in the second half of 2020 as the company is launching an ambitious initiative to improve its IT infrastructure and operations, including reshaping key partner relationships and insourcing most of its offshore services back to Australia.
The global pandemic forced closures of businesses, lockdown measures and an adoption of remote working practices on a scale never seen before. We asked Etiemble how the COVID-19 pandemic affected DuluxGroup.
“When the COVID-19 crisis hit we, as the Executive team, had two key priorities. First and foremost, protecting the safety of our people and customers, whilst protecting their jobs and livelihoods by ensuring our different businesses were ready to adapt and safely execute their business continuity plans – in the context of each business’ specific and evolving market/industry impacts. This latter imperative was largely enabled by technology,” says Etiemble.
“DuluxGroup Tech team had introduced ambitious programs over the past two years to future proof key elements of our architecture, and ensure we were ready for different potential market requirements. Our infrastructure is now mostly hosted in Azure. Many of our key applications are SaaS. We have a strong cloud-based collaboration suite with Office 365. We worked with SureCity Networks and Telstra to improve the flexibility and reliability of our network. When the Australian Government implemented confinement measures, the importance of that work clearly showed. The office-based workforce remained operational without disruption. Even our Customer Service teams transitioned home from one day to the next without dropping a call”.
“Analytics played a big role during the pandemic as well. The insights they provided allowed us to build a rich picture of our business, our industry and the market. Analytics also helped us better assess how to pivot existing businesses, and quickly test new business ideas. In that sense they helped us unlock future opportunities, even in that difficult business context.”
Etiemble adds that the past three months have encouraged DuluxGroup to take a bolder approach to innovation. “The pandemic has changed customer expectations. Customers saw how many organisations had to adapt quickly in a constrained environment. So they are quite open, and this gives us more freedom to experiment with new digital channels to market and new digital offerings for customers. It has created an appetite for bolder projects.”
DuluxGroup is on track to weather the storm of COVID-19 and continue to deliver on its growth goals. Reflecting on DuluxGroup’s own evolution, as well as the industry’s, Etiemble says: “Digital doesn’t have to be disruptive. 100-year-old organisations can have the passion, focus, courage to keep evolving, and reinvent themselves. DuluxGroup is a beautiful Australian success story, and its drive for customer-centricity continues to fuel its ambition. As it starts to embrace the full power of digital, there has never been a more exciting time to work in DuluxGroup’s tech team.”
- Eglantine Etiemble