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The case for digital workplace transformation at Emery Oleochemicals: interviews

AvantiKumar | April 4, 2016
Computerworld Malaysia asked Emery Oleochemicals' Ruj Purnariksha and Avanade's Dato' Subra Suppiah to talk in-depth about the pros and cons of digital transformation in Asia's manufacturing sector.

Emery-Avanade Joint Interview 

Photo- (From left) Ruj Purnariksha, Director, Corporate Communications, Emery Oleochemicals; and Dato' Subra Suppiah, Country Manager, Avanade Malaysia.


"Digital Workplace Transformation is a journey," says Emery Oleochemicals' Corporate Communications Director, Ruj Purnariksha, in the first of two interviews in this manufacturing sector case study with Computerworld Malaysia.  "The end game is all about collaboration, but that is not a one-day exercise - it's a journey."

Meanwhile, in the second interview below, Dato' Subra Suppiah, Country Manager, Avanade Malaysia, notes: "We think an exciting era looms large for the enterprise and employees alike: one in which technologies get smarter and free us up to work on more strategic initiatives that drive value, revenues and job satisfaction."

Emery Oleochemicals Group, which is headquartered in Malaysia, is producer of natural-based oleochemicals commonly derived from natural oils and tallow. Its global operation can be traced back through a 170 year history to 1840, when Thomas Emery Sr. opened a store in Cincinnati, USA to manufacture and sell tallow for use in lamps. Today, the company is a joint venture between PTT Chemical International and Sime Darby Plantation.

In the first interview, Computerworld Malaysia asks Emery Oleochemicals' Ruj Purnariksha to talk above the business reasons behind choosing Avanade to manage the project.

Ruj Purnariksha: As part of our plans to support employee engagement and foster a collaborative culture, we implemented a SharePoint-based intranet called FRIDAY to enable teams around the world to easily access company information and communicate with each other.

We had to find an experienced partner to help us with enhancements. For us, it was essential that the enhancements were centred on user experience. Our employees had to understand how to use the intranet, without training or needing to look at a manual. Most suppliers are either experts on programming, or on user experience - but not both.

We went to Microsoft and asked for some recommendations, and then through a selection process, we chose Avanade. What particularly struck me was the way Avanade manages its own intranet, which I saw as an opportunity for us to benefit from for the FRIDAY platform.

What methods did you use to figure out the ROIs expected from implementing this solution?

As we embark on this employee engagement journey, our goal is to improve employees' work efficiency and levels of productivity. In many organisations, every conversation starts with an email and stays in the inbox. With this approach, the biggest challenge is searching for backdated emails and attachments. Clearly, this is not the best use of our time and effort. FRIDAY is developed in hoping to address this particular challenge.

The intention is to do away with the hassle of sifting through thousands of files, it also stores all our prized hard work in one secure location that can be accessed by anyone in the company. At Emery, it is paramount that we store and retain our Intellectual Properties for future use. In this case, FRIDAY is a priceless benefit for us.
What business benefits did you note using this solution?

When we address short-term benefits, this implementation has gradually increased workplace collaborations as well as improved productivity from our employees. For long-term benefits, we hope that, over the course of this transformative journey, we would be more successful in capturing our treasured IPs and cultivating a thriving work culture, unique to Emery Oleochemicals.

Could you talk about the project implementation - for example, how long did it take to (a) identify the problem and select the solution (b) to plan and implement the solution (c) post implementation training, and so forth?

The problem is pretty straightforward -- we were looking for the right technology to increase work productivity as well as manage our information, especially our IPs. As a first step, we approached Microsoft with our brief. They referred us to one of their experienced partners for user experience and collaboration solutions, Avanade. Its expertise in integrating Microsoft solutions with line of business systems, user experience design and change enablement helps businesses create a high-performance workplace.

We worked closely with Avanade for three months to develop a customised digital strategy and a comprehensive and actionable roadmap to help Emery Oleochemicals increase its business speed and ultimately, value. We first defined the 'end game' and worked backwards to identify the steps. Part of the plan was to also ensure that our employees were comfortable using these solutions in their day-to-day work.

We also discussed the way forward for some of our tactical activities and how we can enrol our staff using the right technology and solutions from Avanade & Microsoft. One example is a content strategy that we developed together with Avanade to create renewed engagement among the company's employees globally. We were able to 'put our best brains together' as a combined group and develop a number of brilliant ideas that gained real traction with employees. One notable success was the launch of a campaign to coincide with the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

What were changes to your workflows and how did all the stakeholders respond to this change?

Digital workplace transformation is a journey. The implementation will be carried out in multiple phases to gradually ease our employees into this new way of working. We have just begun, and there is still a long way to go before we truly realise the results we targeted. Since its initiation, it's been well-received by our employees. FRIDAY is being utilised, however, it will take our employees time to learn and apply the technology in their day-to-day work, to its fullest potential.

How did you get buy-in from your staff and customers to the new solution?

We believe in an interactive approach when deploying workplace transformation as this, in our office. We started by giving our employees a sneak peek into the new portal (FRIDAY) to gauge their level of interest and comfort. Once they embrace and grow comfortable with the tools provided, we will open our doors to more advanced tools to help them further. It is pertinent that the level of maturity grows with technology. When we sense a higher maturity, we will open our doors completely for more advanced workplace technologies.

What were some of the features of the solution that you felt were not right for your scenario and which you had to customise or localise?

The fast-pace of technology can often be exhausting. As technology continues to improve, it requires a larger investment of our time and effort to keep up with it. In our case, it was a race to keep up with the technology. At Emery Oleochemicals, it is crucial that we strike a balance between productivity vs. technology.

What pointers would you like to share with other organisations planning similar projects?

Always take the top-down approach. It is crucial to get the buy-in and full support from the highest levels of the company. They need to understand the value of digital transformation to the company and how it makes a difference in our employee engagement strategy.

Users come first. Any technology that is meant to improve efficiency should also be user-friendly. Highly complicated tools or solutions will only slow their progress.

Finding the right fit for your business. It is important to assure that the solution is aligned to the company's work culture and the nature of business.

Selecting the right partner. Select a partner that can deliver a consistently complete set of services in the user experience discipline. You would require a team of designers and developers who are used to working together collaboratively to deliver exceptional user experiences.

Digital Workplace Transformation is a journey. The end game is all about collaboration, but that is not a one-day exercise - it's a journey. 

Computerworld Malaysia started the second interview by asking Dato' Subra Suppiah why Emery Oleochemicals selected Avanade. He said:

Emery Oleochemicals had implemented a SharePoint-based intranet called FRIDAY, as part of their plans to support employee engagement and foster a collaborative culture. They wanted to enable teams around the world to easily access company information and communicate with each other.

For them, it was essential that the enhancements were centred on the user experience. Emery's users had to understand how to use the intranet, without training or needing to look at a manual.

We formed a multidisciplinary team to develop a solution, including a blend of experience design and SharePoint technology experts, to ensure that their user experience and functionality objectives were met. Following an initial assessment, we implemented a number of user experience and policy enhancements to the FRIDAY platform. We converted a number of niche third-party customisations to best practice coding configurations that will make it easier to manage and enhance the platform going forward.

We also worked closely with the Emery Oleochemicals team to develop a content strategy that would create renewed engagement among the company's employees globally. One notable success was the launch of a campaign to coincide with the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Using gamification techniques to reward employees for participation, the campaign helped to drive awareness and usage of the updated intranet, with almost 65,000 page views recorded across the globe.

Could you give some reasons why your solution and approach is superior to others?

At Avanade, we believe collaboration is all about transforming how you work together to drive competitive advantage for your enterprise. By connecting people, improving content and optimizing processes - in addition to making it easier to find the right people and right content right when you need it - you add value to the organization.

Avanade is a global leader in Microsoft collaboration solutions. Our collaboration specialists offer end-to-end services, from planning, to building to running your solution. We have deep expertise in user experience design, governance, and change enablement, which are critical to the success of collaboration initiatives.

Our team is also experienced in the needs of different industries and can help you tailor your collaboration solution to yield the most value for your organization. Collaboration fosters creativity, innovation, and serendipitous discovery. It also gives everyone a role in success, enabling you to realize the following results:

- Business agility: Work more nimbly internally and with partners and suppliers
- Improved knowledge sharing: Better harness human capital knowledge and intellectual property
- Operational efficiency: Streamline processes and workflow. Improve planning, visibility and access. Reduce technology and travel costs.
- Workplace satisfaction: Create an environment to attract and retain a progressive workforce. A digital workplace is also more environmentally friendly and aids sustainability objectives.

Moving forward, what are your plans for Avanade?

Digital workplace technologies are instrumental in fostering this transformation as business leaders rewire their organizations. Today's modern digital business will orchestrate a superhuman blended workforce the same way a symphony leverages a group of uniquely valuable individuals to create a magical collective.

On the consumer side, Microsoft's Cortana, Amazon Echo and Xiaoice in China are all proving that we've only just begun to reveal the potential of wonderful user experiences made possible by intelligent machines. But we are at an enormous deficit of understanding of how this applies to the enterprise. In our recent research, we found that 91 per cent of global business and IT leaders believe that by 2020 their organization's workforce will need to change substantially as smart technologies become more widely used.


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