Dow’s Melanie Kalmar on Defining the ‘Next Normal’ as We Emerge From the Pandemic

Originally published at corporate.dow.com. Melanie Kalmar is Dow’s corporate vice president, chief information officer and chief digital officer. Dow ranked No. 22 on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020.

 

In 2020, COVID-19 reshaped our lives. One of the biggest changes was the rapid adoption of digital technologies that helped keep us safe, healthy and productive during a time when homes became our primary hub for daily life. Many people stopped going to the office and began working from home. Schools mobilized virtual classrooms to keep teachers and students connected. And social interactions were limited to video chats. As we move toward a post-pandemic world and the “Next Normal,” the tremendous appetite for technology is causing companies like ours to rethink how we work and find new opportunities to connect at the speed of need.

As a company, our commitment to stay connected to each other and our customers never changed. The early investments we made in our digital tools and capabilities kept us working together as a team, innovating with our customers, even improving the customer experience and optimizing our operations. And watching how our team at Dow quickly embraced the use of technology as our new way of working has been a source of pride.

 

The proof is in the numbers

Our decision to transition to cloud-based solutions two years ago helped us swiftly move to a work-from-home environment. Suddenly, over 80,000 laptops and devices were going mobile. We were conducting 25,000 virtual meetings a day using video capability, allowing our teams to stay connected to our customers and each other despite the physical distance. We engaged with our customers with nearly 25 times the number of webinars and virtual trade shows versus 2019. And we expanded our e-commerce capabilities and introduced GPS shipment tracking, so our customers could easily transact and better monitor deliveries. By necessity and the resilience of our people, the pandemic showed the capacity of our 123-year-old company to truly be a digital company.

 

Taking lessons forward

Our rapid shift to a remote work environment also taught us valuable lessons for the future — lessons about reinventing the customer experience, about the value of agility and real-time insights, as well as the importance of designing and leveraging technology to help employees work more seamlessly and intuitively. As we look beyond the pandemic, digital transformation will continue to be center stage in driving innovation, long-term value creation and productivity. That’s why we’re accelerating our investments in breakthrough capabilities that harness the power of digitalization.

 

Accelerating our digitalization investments

Building on our solid foundation, Dow recently announced plans to further advance our digitalization efforts by investing in three key areas:

Innovation: To more quickly respond to evolving consumer and customer needs, we will continue to implement digital tools to accelerate materials science innovation. This will include exploiting machine learning and advanced modeling techniques in our product development processes. We also will ramp up the use of digital collaboration platforms and sentiment analysis to guide new product development and identify market trends.

Customer experience: We will further enhance our e-commerce buying and fulfillment experience for our customers. We will do this by broadening our on-line product catalog and infusing new responsive technologies to improve the on-line buying experience.

Manufacturing: To enhance productivity, reliability and safety, we are adopting additional real-time digital manufacturing insights, operational data intelligence and demand sensing by further investing in robotics, artificial intelligence and analytics technologies.

 

A modern way of working

To be successful, investing in digital also means investing in people. The focus shouldn’t be on technology alone, but also on how technology fosters greater collaboration, eliminates silos and elevates performance. This requires a cultural shift. As we accelerate our digital transformation, we will encourage our people to embrace new ways of working, seek learning opportunities and develop their skills as new tools and practices come along. We firmly believe our commitment to advancing digital at Dow will help improve how we serve our customers, transform how we work and open up new growth opportunities. As we emerge from the pandemic, we know there may be other disruptions that will become part of our “Next Normal.” But we’ll be ready. Our digital acceleration better positions us to face the challenges ahead and thrive – no matter what comes our way.

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