Megatrend digitalization – act now or lose out later! (Part 2/2)

Dr. Stefan Girschik, Michael Grysczyk, August 20th 2020, Muri near Berne (CH)

Part 2 – Experiences & practical recommendations

Last week’s read shed light on the potential risks and opportunities that come with digitalization in polymer trading including digital sales channels, differentiation, data management and digital business models such as B2B marketplaces.

This week, we would like to offer some insight to our own experiences and the key learnings we made along the first steps in our digital journey.

  • Digitalization is a management issue and must be defined comprehensibly

Digital change is a top management task. It must be personified and authentic, starting with the CEO through to C-level. Adaption to the specific needs of the company and its stakeholders is a must. A clear definition of what digitalization means and encompasses for the development of the respective company is vital, along with a clear understanding of why it is important for business. Digitalization is a marathon in which the CEO and the management in particular must prove their staying power. Walk the talk!

  • Working in networks with selected partners and orientation towards customer benefit are key

Today it is neither feasible nor reasonable to establish and maintain all the technologies and capacities within your own company. Not only because of skyrocketing costs but also because of the enormous pace of change. In fact, professionalized cooperation and network competence are of enormous importance and can provide a competitive edge. Anyone who can speak the language of start-ups and next gens on an equal footing will be ahead of the field in digitalization in the future. The well-orchestrated set up of a powerful cooperation network made up of customers, suppliers, start-ups, innovation labs, institutes, other implementation partners, or even competitors, guarantees the necessary flexibility and speed. It most likely saves costs too and helps keep current trends on the radar in "real time". Due to the different angles one can take, it is more likely to develop solutions that match the "Pains & Gains" of the target groups instead of "missing the market". At the same time, customer needs must always be the focus of its actions!

Meraxis as an example:

The Meraxis Elevator cooperation network was set up shortly after the launch of Meraxis. Our agile Elevator team immediately started building up their network, winning customers for ideation and validation meetings, developing first digital prototypes, such as the Meraxis Customer Portal and new logistics services. Customer benefit was a top priority from the beginning. The team exchanged information on the latest solutions and planned developments with suppliers, start-ups and competitors as well as distributors and digital pioneers from other industries, such as Klöckner. The team continues to share information with a wide range of market participants on a regular basis. We have already been able to form strategic partnerships with some of these to elevate the digitalization of the polymer trade to the next level.

  • Develop a clear vision, strategy and roadmap tailored to your needs right from the start

Taking into account the aforementioned external market influences, customer needs, re­quire­ments and your very own core competencies and corporate strategy, an initial digitization roadmap should be worked out at an early stage. It should be based on clear objectives and developed in an iterative and agile manner. The goals for the next 3-5 years should be defined. The strategy roadmap should be critically reviewed, taking into account the experience gained, market developments and opportunities, and adjusted if necessary on a regular basis. The definition of focus areas and easily comprehensible development steps is essential for communicating and transferring the digital strategy both inside and outside the organisation.

Meraxis as an example:

Market: A sustained growth in demand for recycled material on the customer side and a highly fragmented offer on the supplier side has been identified. Numerous digital approaches & business models are currently emerging, especially in the trade with secondary raw materials.

Corporate strategy: Meraxis is positioning itself as a one-stop shop for polymer converters, and intends to significantly expand its recycling offering in addition to its existing product and service portfolio, thereby opening up new business potential and actively contributing to the further development of the circular economy.

Requirements & Competencies: With its position in the value chain, Meraxis is well-situated to collect data on both the supplier and the customer side (material data, application data, delivery data, prices, etc.) and can also draw on years of experience in the procurement, preparation and conversion of recycling materials with its strategic partners. Technologies from areas such as Big Data Management & Artificial Intelligence have already become reality and can be used together with the partner network to create added value for Meraxis and other market participants.

This is why we at Meraxis have made "Digital Recycling Solutions" a focus area and anchored it firmly in our roadmap.

  • Speed is everything

In the digital world, product lifecycles are significantly shorter than in the analogue world, and technologies become obsolete much faster. Pressure to act is growing exponentially due to digital change. Operational speed is increasingly becoming a decisive factor for success, particularly in supply chain management. In the platform economy, market mechanisms and network effects often lead to the success of the "first mover" and to monopolistic positions. However, if the dynamics are underestimated, the "nightmare competitors" strike mercilessly like speedboats and suddenly challenge the market position of one’s own "tanker".

Meraxis as an example:

In order to keep pace with the dynamic developments, we have established an innovation network around the Meraxis Elevator - as described above - and work in agile projects and with design thinking methods geared to customer needs. Thus, the evolution from the idea to validation and development to the go-live of the first projects has taken just one year. In order to gain speed in the operative business too in the future, the second focus area "Connected Supply-Chain" will become a decisive competitive factor. Digital interfaces to customers, suppliers, warehouses and forwarders, automated orders, digital delivery instructions and smart logistics services such as "Ordering 4.0" - our new VMI service - are designed to accelerate processes from the customer's depleted warehouse to delivery and payment in the best possible way, while minimizing costs and risks for all stakeholders. 

  • Actively drive your digital presence and stand out through differentiation

Just as private consumers have been using the internet for years to gather information online and are increasingly shifting their purchases to online shops, not least because of the corona crisis, so too is the B2B market not immune to this development. Every good purchaser “Googles” new suppliers, every seller new customers and every employee potential employers. Starting with visibility via SEO, through interest aroused by an innovative website and an appealing brand presence, right down to digital customer retention via LinkedIn and other social media channels, the online presence of trading companies from traditional industries is becoming increasingly important. Digitalization is a holistic approach and must be practiced as such!

Meraxis as an example:

A year ago, we at Meraxis were facing the particularly challenging situation that we were new to the market with no existing brand image and reputation. In addition to traditional press releases, customer and partner information and trade fair appearances, we committed to use online channels from the outset to increase awareness and build digital customer retention. Together with our partners from the communications and media industry, we gained over 2500 LinkedIn followers within a very short time, streamed our trade fair appearances via YouTube and, together with customers and other partners, we developed our customer portal and logistics services that promotes customer retention. Compared to the more traditional competitors in our industry, we regard a modern brand appearance and digital services as a chance to differentiate ourselves as "newcomers" and to position ourselves quickly.

  • And last but not least: get the right people on board

It is no longer a secret, and justifiably named by many digital champions as the most important challenge to the digital transformation. What good is an innovative digital service, no matter how forward-thinking it may be, if the sales department fails to deliver its added value to the customer? How will it affect the morale of the employees if new developments and future investments in the company pass them by, failing to let them actively participate? Digital transformation goes much further than simply developing and implementing tools and services. It starts with the involvement of employees from a variety of departments as early as the ideation stage. It takes into account the transparent communication of strategic targets and individual projects, through to specific digitalization training for employees. Employees have to understand the importance and impact of accurate data. In a networked and digitized world, "external" parties will suddenly receive data from an ERP system that was previously designed for internal use only and is not standardized. Information that was previously unavailable in a digital form in the system, such as material and application data, must be maintained properly and can be used for data analytics, "recommendation engines" or one step further for online business models. To achieve this, employees must be clearly informed of where the company and the industry are heading in the medium and long run, and how they personally affect digital transformation now and in the future, either directly or indirectly. Active support from the CEO and C-Level is indispensable here, while at the same time it is a ongoing learning process for both management and the entire organization.

Meraxis as an example:

We also use the concept of our "Meraxis Elevator" as a vehicle for internal communication, collaboration and training in matters of digital transformation. Our digitalization strategy and the underlying projects and progress are frequently communicated to the entire staff. Webinars on digitalization are also held under the Meraxis Elevator and actively supported by the Management Board. Instead of building an incubator far away from the core business, Meraxis employees are involved in digitization projects wherever possible and supported by external expertise and capacity. This leads to better acceptance. In addition to customers and other stakeholders, employees from a wide range of areas and locations are involved and urged to take part from the ideation to the scaling of new services. Nevertheless, we are still at the beginning of the process at Meraxis and have a long but exciting road ahead of us. To be continued...!

Do you want to elevate the digitalization of polymer trading to the next level together with Meraxis? Do you want to learn more about our digital services? Are you interested in an informal exchange of experiences regarding digitalization?

If so, please contact us!