Croda International’s customer-focused digital transformation through strategic partnerships

Croda International’s customer-focused digital transformation through strategic partnerships

Established in 1925, Croda is the name behind high performance ingredients and technologies in some of the world’s biggest and most successful brands: creating, making and selling speciality chemicals that are relied on by industries and consumers everywhere.

Croda has a network of over 4,500 passionate and committed employees, working together as one global team across manufacturing sites and offices in 38 countries. A FTSE100 company with a flexible structure, the business has focused on developing and delivering innovative, sustainable ingredients that their customers can build on in: Personal Care, Health Care, Crop Care, Polymer Additives, Lubricants, Coatings & Polymers, Geo Tech, Home Care and Industrial Specialties.

Named among Management Today’s top three most admired companies in the UK, Chief Digital Officer Dave Cook says this success in the public eye has been facilitated by a deeply ingrained ethos of customer centricity. “Croda prides itself on its customer focus: customer intimacy, innovating with customers, having the right products, and providing the right services,” he explains.  This drive to improve the customer experience in all its forms is the basis for the firm’s commitment to digital transformation. Cook joined Croda in January 2018 and has since led the company’s digital strategy through this exciting time. “One of our goals is to become a digital leader within the industry,” he says.

While remaining customer centric, Croda also places considerable importance on the employee experience, and its positive culture surrounding digital transformation exemplifies this focus. “Over the last 12 months, we’ve put more emphasis on digital and there’s a certain positivity about the fact we’re on the journey. Having the buy-in of the employees comes from that commitment to improving their experience alongside the customer experience,” he explains.

Strategic partners

Croda’s approach to IT vendor management positions vendors as strategic business partners, fostering relationships that maximise value. SAP has been fundamental to this approach ever since SAP ERP became its core platform nearly 20 years ago. One of its first extensions was Qlik’s data visualisation solution sitting on top of SAP Business Warehouse, which has provided insights into daily operations and raised data literacy across the organisation significantly. However, more recently, the company’s focus has shifted to marketing and sales.

Perhaps the most outwardly striking result of Croda’s digital transformation is its elegant, informative and easily navigable website, driven by the manufacturer’s strategic partnership with Sitecore. “There’s been a general revamp of our web presence through the Sitecore Experience Platform,” Cook notes, adding that Qlik’s analytical capabilities are augmented by Sitecore. “Sitecore comes with its own analytics which, along with Google Analytics, enables us to understand what our customers are doing in the digital realm and how that influences their behaviour further in the buying cycle.”

The benefits of this tactile and well-presented web presence are boundless and began presenting themselves straight away. “We had an immediate uplift in traffic,” Cook says. “The classic KPIs you look for in web engagement all increased as the sites went live.” Despite this success, the drive to take full advantage of Sitecore’s benefits to the business is no less potent. “The real opportunity is how you take it to the next level. We are still working with Sitecore on the next phase of leveraging their experience platform,” he says. Croda’s interest in this area is particularly focused on the burgeoning concept of B2B personalisation. The concept, which has long been a core aspect of the B2C space, is now beginning to drive B2B actions to improve customer experience through tailored relationships.

While Sitecore has reimagined Croda’s online identity, Croda’s strategic partnership with Hootsuite facilitates its advanced social media presence in a landscape where this is increasingly necessary. “Customers are starting to move away from traditional marketing routes. The live event space, with traditional stands, still happens, but customers are increasingly either visiting the website or interacting with our content on social media. With social media we wanted to work with a company like Hootsuite who could bring that strategic partnership element to the table,” Cook explains. “We were keen to think not only in terms of their product range but also the services they offer that could help to define the strategy we’re going to employ, to more effectively measure the impact of our social media presence, and to enable employee advocacy. There were a series of components that we wanted to integrate into our approach, and we felt that Hootsuite were the best partner for that.”

SAP’s C4C CRM platform is also part of the mix. “We were looking for a solution that would easily integrate with the rest of the estate and C4C was an obvious choice. The links between Sitecore, SAP C4C and SAP ERP are fundamental to a broader agenda,” he adds.

Cook is also mindful of the company’s supporting functions and Croda’s implementation of the Cornerstone talent management platform is indicative of an attention to detail that extends behind the scenes, ensuring that the supporting functions of the business benefit from the application of digital transformation technologies. “Bringing Cornerstone in is about how we consider the people in the business, particularly in terms of learning and development. We asked ‘how do we provide the right environment to help people on this digital journey and help them to acquire new digital skills in the process?’” Cook is quick to reaffirm the importance of this approach to the firm’s wider success with digital transformation. “It’s one of those examples where it’s not necessarily front of mind but, without that enabler, it’s very hard to achieve your bigger objectives. You need to have the skilled people in place to make the journey successful.”

Growth through acquisition

Cook is confident in Croda’s ability to source the best partners to help solve business challenges and drive innovative processes, adding: “Where we don’t have a skill set, we’re very confident that we can find the right partners and bring those skills into the organisation.” This ethos extends to Croda’s acquisition strategy, with an example being the addition of an in-house team of machine learning specialists through the company’s 2015 purchase of Incotec. At Incotec, the team developed a machine learning solution that can autonomously assess the quality of seeds and their likelihood of germination, boosting yield through this intelligent seed selection. This expertise in development of sophisticated technologies is now being applied to Croda’s other manufacturing processes with a view to drive efficiency and boost production rates.

It is clear Croda’s digital strategy is positively influenced by the company’s open-mindedness to the digital operations of the firms it acquires. The companies that Croda acquires are frequently leaders in their own fields, which offers an intriguing prospect for locating complementary technologies for its digitisation strategy.  “Because they tend to be forward thinking, they may have some interesting examples of where they’ve used technology that maybe Croda hasn’t adopted yet,” Cook says.

Croda is certainly in an extremely strong position as it continues its digital transformation journey, with a culture of excitement coupled with positive change management and measured flexibility that ensures the selected digital solutions are the right ones to drive the company forward. All of this is compounded by an unerring commitment to customers and ensuring that the firm’s focus is on being the best in the industry. “I think we are incredibly positive about how we can use digital to improve our organisation in order to deliver a better service to our customers,” Cook adds. “We’re very pleased with how far we’ve come, but there’s still a lot to do, and we’re very focused on achieving the outcomes that we’re after.”

Dave Cook