Why embark on digitalization when you are an SME, world leader, positioned in a traditional business, and giving full satisfaction to its customers with reliable and sustainable products? The experience of Sophie Donabedian, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at Sediver (Seves Group).
Was the digitalization at Sediver natural?
A few words to understand Sediver‘s profile: about 1000 employees, 70 years of existence, a world leader in the manufacture of glass insulators, strategic components installed on high voltage power lines. Our customers do not push us towards innovation, they want reliable and durable products that will last for 40 years. We are very far from the disruptive professions that immediately saw digitalization as a business catalyst.
Within our company, the impetus came from shareholders and the CEO who, in a visionary way, considered digitalization as a means to be deployed in order to support the strategy. It remained to be seen what could be done with it…
What avenues have you explored?
We have refocused on our customers’ needs, which paradoxically is not so obvious when you are a leader and the company is doing well. We have looked for ways to differentiate ourselves and increase customer satisfaction to maintain our leadership.
We have been thinking about new business models, including the creation of services around our products. At the same time, internally, we are setting up processes and digital tools that promote collaborative work, facilitate exchanges and impact the company’s image…
What are the first successes of this digitalization?
Here is an example. We know that pollution impacts the performance of our insulators. For our customers, who have thousands of kilometers of high voltage lines to manage, the maintenance of this equipment is a real challenge. Starting from the customer’s need and thanks to the IoT – sensors installed on the insulators – we have developed a real-time monitoring offer for predictive maintenance. This reduces insulator maintenance costs and also improves line availability.
In our field, this is an innovative, disruptive approach. On the one hand, because this new service proposal changes Sediver’s image among our customers; on the other hand, because it allows us to have more frequent and regular contacts with them; and also because it opens up new opportunities for us in the world of smart grids.
Five projects are already being deployed around the world, and several others are under discussion. This service offer project is a driving and unifying force for the various functions of the company. The employees are proud of it.
What is your role in this transformation?
I have to get people on board, convince them of the benefits of the approach, bring them together around projects, show them the benefits they and their customers will get from it. I am at the crossroads of the professions in the company – IT, marketing, innovation – because I have to make sure that everyone works together, by breaking down silos.
As an agent of change, I have to get the organization and its employees to look at issues from a different angle.
To do this, as in sports, the team must warm up, achieve its first victories, try again and again to succeed and progress. My role is to create this dynamic. For example, we conducted a communications operation with our customers at a trade fair using an application developed by a start-up. The idea was to track in order to see what type of information (technical, commercial, etc.) was of priority interest to our customers in order to guide our future actions.
This operation allowed the employees to see that new approaches were within our reach and that there was no risk in testing them. It created an opening. And that’s also what digital is all about: testing, failing, learning, pivoting, starting over. All this very quickly. I like the strategy of small steps. For example, I overcome the reluctance to use new digital tools by using Microsoft Planner for day-to-day project management and Klaxoon for collaborative meetings, and by making them essential tools.
Employees have their own habits, especially since seniority is important within the company. I have to make them want to try and to do that, I have to take every opportunity. The CDO must show perseverance, be an educator.
If you had to summarize the impact of digitalization on a company like Sediver?
I compare it to a segment of DNA that modifies the organism but which quickly becomes aggregated, integrated into this organism. Digitalization redefines the contours so that the company can guarantee its future with new assets.
For the SME, this transformation is complicated, they do not know where to start. The prerequisite for digital transformation is a clear and shared strategy – although it still needs to exist – to launch pragmatic and impactful projects, and avoid the pitfall of disorganized and inconsistent popcorn innovation.