Digitisation: “An openness for failures on the way to perfection
How “digital” do you think the chemical industry is?
Alexander Madl: I think we cannot answer this question for the chemical industry as a whole. There are pioneers and laggards when it comes to digitalisation – and everything in between. Also, within single corporations, the degree of penetration of digital technologies and mindset might differ from function to function. I have seen companies that have full automatised logistic centres, with autonomous robots etc. – but a very analogous, paper-based R&D.
In general, I think we as an industry are not as much behind as we sometimes might have the impression. For instance, the use of sensors and data in production to get a digital representation of the material processes has been used for decades, in form of DCS. At the same time, of course, there is a great potential to transform fully into a digital, data-based chemistry.
What are some of the biggest potentials of digitalization in the paints and coatings industry?
Madl: When I think about the paints and coatings industry, I first think of complexity. This industry has such a diverse customer base, with a wide range of applications, such a diverse raw material base, such complex formulations. Digitalisation or digital tools have a great potential in managing this complexity. From understanding the changing desires of a global customer base, over procurement and supply chain to data or model-based R&D and new business development: there are many opportunities to create value with digitalisation.
What are some of the common mistakes companies should avoid when moving towards a more digital business?
Madl: In my observation, what we are missing most in our industry when it comes to the digital transformation is something that we actually know best: experimentation! On the one end of the spectrum of „mistakes“, there is a too conservative approach: digitalisation is seen as another tool to save incremental cost.
On the other end, there is a too perfectionist and also too impatient approach which asks for a direct impact on the balance sheet immediately. Digital transformation is a slow, but continuous process. It will change the organisation itself; it requests new talents and, moreover, new ways of thinking of the people in the organisation. What we can learn from the digital pioneers such as Google, Vimeo, Amazon, etc., is an unconventional approach of learning and an openness for failures on the way to perfection.
Alexander Madl will give a presentation on this topic at the Gulf Coatings Show. The new industry event takes place from October 17-19 in Sharjah and features a trade show, conference as well as many short courses.