At ARC Forum in February, 700 attendees from 300 companies in 25 countries gathered in Orlando, Fla., to discuss the changing landscape of manufacturing. One of the keynote speakers, Peter Holicki, corporate vice president of manufacturing and engineering and environment, health & safety operations, Dow Chemical, has been with the industrial giant for more than a quarter of a century, and he’s seen a lot of change.
Like an elephant, Dow is large, which often makes it difficult to move and take advantage of opportunities. Technology is the great enabler, but Holicki understands that it’s his responsibility to make the elephant dance.
“We are really addicted to technology,” explained Holicki. “It’s embedded in everything we do. Technology is widely recognized as one of the big enablers and one of the big disrupters. Quick implementation of technology is a major advantage. We’ve seen this play out in the chemical industry in the past couple of decades. If you want to be a premier, superior company, you have to grow.”
Technology is optimized when strategy and business objectives are aligned, said Holicki. “It needs business ownership, and not ownership by techies,” he warned. “We must control technology and not let technology, or the companies that supply technology, control us.”
Dow Chemical produces 6,000 products in 36 companies. “You can think of us like an elephant, moving slowly along,” explained Holicki. “While being wise and graceful at times, this elephant can have difficulties changing. How exactly do we get the elephant to dance?”
Companies must constantly cut back, or prune, to grow productivity.
“For Dow, technology innovation allows us to increase our productivity,” said Holicki. “We can do more than ever before. In a single decade, we produced twice the amount of product with half the number of people. When we introduced ERP in the 1990s, it was the first global implementation of such technology of its kind. We stayed loyal to it like an elephant would. But recently we needed a new platform to provide a machine-to-machine view of work processes, so we could make better decisions.”
To remain competitive, even 118-year-old companies like Dow Chemical need to be strong, smart and sure-footed like the elephant. But how do they take advantage of future opportunities and get the elephant to dance?
“The best way to stay ahead of the competition and thrive is through technology development and implementation,” explained Holicki. “Technology and innovation have to be aligned with business strategy to get remarkable results. And you must be willing to part from your strategy when needed. Others will follow you. If you do that, you get the elephant to dance.”