Customer Service Digitalization in Manufacturing Industries

Roy van Griensven – Mitsubishi Chemical Advance Materials

About this episode

In this episode, we discover the role of Roy van Griesven as Chief Digital Officer in a company like Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials.
He tells us everything we need to know about bringing an industrial company into digital transformation: 🚀

– the challenges
– the benefits of AI
– how humans and machines collaborate for the greater good
-the projects MCAM is carrying out with Inbenta.

Listen to the full episode or read the transcription below. 💪

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Interview Transcript

Jordi Torras:
Welcome to the Future of Customer Service Podcast by Inbenta. Really happy here to be today with this new episode where we are honored to welcome Roy van Griensven. Roy is the Corporate Digital Officer at Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials. Hi, Roy, how are you?

Roy van Griensven:
Hi, Jordi. Yeah, doing well. Thank you. Good day. Good to see you again.

Jordi Torras:
Absolutely. We are so happy to have you here. I believe our audience would love to know is more about yourself, right? What is the CDO? What is a chief digital officer doing? And if you could tell us about yourself, that would be great.

Roy van Griensven:
Yeah. I will. So I joined MCAM as we keep it short for Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials a little bit over a year ago in the role as a CDO. Now, what is that role? Typically, I explain it in two ways. Either it’s a license to spend a lot of money on great digital tools and then, afterwards, we come to realize that we’ve got great tools, but we’re not actually changing anything of our business.

Roy van Griensven:
Or a way to help enable and accelerate and execute the strategy that we have as a company enabled by digital opportunities that we have. So, the typical way I explain is that digital is not a goal. It’s not a purpose in itself for us. It’s a means to execute our business strategy.

Jordi Torras:
That’s amazing. And of course, everybody knows the brand, the Mitsubishi, right? But with such a big brand and the family of corporations once you look at the corporation a little bit closer, then you realize how gigantic it is, right? We’re talking about here about Mitsubishi Chemical Advanced Materials, right? That’s MCAM for short. So for the folks who are listening to this podcast thinking, “Hey, so, what are chemical advanced materials?” What is the nature of the business?

Roy van Griensven:
So, I think maybe let’s say it upfront, Mitsubishi, as you said, it’s mainly known from vehicles, automotive. But if we look at it, actually Mitsubishi and the automotive part is a small component of the Mitsubishi Group in the end. Mitsubishi chemicals is also a combination of over 300 companies as a holding group, out of which advanced materials (MCAM) is one of the bigger operating companies within that holding group. Now, what do advanced materials mean? I can give technical details, a description of what we make. For people to understand it in a more simple way it is, we engineer and create solutions, which are mainly based upon plastics, for typical application challenges in a range of industries.

Roy van Griensven:
Now, what does it mean? For example, in aerospace, we create solutions, leveraging plastic materials, where we’re replacing, for example, metal components, like side panels of airplanes and etcetera, but also components in renewable energy (i.e. windmills). We also cover the automotive industry, where hyper sportscar, the most expensive sports car has components that we produce as part of that car. Why? Because they’re more heat resistant, they are better bendable, they have a better structure, and are tougher than certain other materials and etcetera.

Roy van Griensven:
And next to that, yeah, we also produce plates and rots that are more massively used across the industry. We like to position ourselves and explain that we’re mainly solution providers in areas where the challenge is huge, and the OEM doesn’t know how to solve a certain problem.

Jordi Torras:
That’s fascinating because it’s kind of a B2B, right?

Roy van Griensven:
Yeah.

Jordi Torras:
This is working with business, right? I mean, nobody goes buy on an MCAM shop directly from Mitsubishi, right? It’s part of a long value chain. And then on top of all that, which already sounds complex, there is the digital transformation, right? To some extent, in verticals very specialized like yours, it’s yet another layer of complexity, meaning ‘What is our vision for digital transformation? Where do we want to go? What are the steps that we want to follow? That’s what a chief digital officer does. I would love to know what is that vision. What is the strategy in a company like MCAM, and how is this digital transformation going to be rolled out?

Roy van Griensven:
Now, I think it’s a nice question, Jordi. If you would ask the same question to a consulting company, you would probably pay a lot of money to get a digital vision and you would have to wait for six months. I’m a bit of the opposite.

Jordi Torras:
A message for the audience. You are going to get these now free of charge.

Roy van Griensven:
Free of charge. Exactly.

Jordi Torras:
So. That’s amazing.

Roy van Griensven:
The way I also started in MCAM and I’m telling the same story at the holding group is that a digital vision and strategy is actually quite simple and straightforward. It has two components: the first one is customer focus (outside-oriented) and the second one is internal focus. Now, within that, the way we define our strategy is to analyze any opportunity that we have to leverage digital to improve your customer focus. That’s part of the transformation

Roy van Griensven:
The second part is internal, where digital is not, as I said, a goal in itself, but it’s a means and an opportunity to move from running your company and your business processes from a manual to a digital way. So, if you look at the internal part there, I’ll be the last person to say digital transformation is all about cloud or about whatever, because that’s not the purpose. It’s about how can you improve the effectiveness and efficiency and quality of your supply chain by, instead of leveraging human knowledge and many steps to touch in the process, trust in data and information based upon automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and etcetera.

Roy van Griensven:
So, you’re changing actually your business process as such. That’s the internal one. Well, externally, it is all about improving the customer experience and the customer journey as such, i.e.trying to get early in the decision process. Understand how they make their decisions of what to buy, when to go home, whom to consider, etcetera. Again, very straightforward. It’s all about influencing the funnel from awareness to interest, to consideration and etcetera, and leveraging digital means in order to do that.

Roy van Griensven:
Our digital strategy also for MCAM was quite simple and straightforward. Now the complexity of course is, what are the actions that we then need to take, and what are the preconditions in order to do that? That’s where, of course, the complexity and the hard work come in. That’s typically data structures, data governance, internal business processes, people competencies. And to be honest the technology, in the end, is the platform. That’s the easiest part because selecting a platform is not a difficult thing. Moving information or data from an on-premise server to a cloud, that’s easy. I hear a lot of people ay ‘look, great cloud transformation‘. To be honest, who cares? That’s the easy part.

Jordi Torras:
That’s amazing. And you make something that is essentially complicated into something that is very simple. So that’s amazing. One of the things that you mentioned is knowledge, data, human processes, and artificial intelligence and machine learning, and eventually natural language processing. What is your vision of AI? How AI is helping you guys power this digital transformation.

Roy van Griensven:
That’s also the way I tell the story internally. You don’t have to worry about the capabilities of AI and machine learning and NLP and workflow automation, etcetera. That’s, I think technology is far more advanced than us humans can even understand. That’s where, in the end, the biggest attention and effort goes in. It’s finding the right way to help people stop mistrusting machines, but showing them what the platform, what the data actually tells us.

Roy van Griensven:
And I think in MCAM we have in multiple areas some great examples of confidence building. Helping people understand that technology is not there to replace them, is not taking away their jobs. Instead we’re actually making them more effective and efficient by letting technology do things humans are not even best equipped to do, but then let the humans trust that part of the data and let them focus on the engagement towards suppliers and customers and etcetera, because that’s where you can give differentiating value. For example, towards competition, giving a human touch to the interaction with the customer can make a difference.

Roy van Griensven:
But don’t spend your time only doing. We had a great example internally where one of our colleagues said, “I can do the same that the platform does, but I’m never given the time to do it.” And that’s exactly the point, where you might need three weeks to perform an activity. Well, it’s questionable whether the output is exactly the same as if you let the platform do that. The platform does that within a second. So, why would we want to spend three weeks on something that can be done within a second? Because you can spend the three weeks on far more value-added activities.

Jordi Torras:
We have several customers that have indeed mentioned similar things, and at first, they say, “Hey, artificial intelligence might sound like a threat.” That’s like a pattern that we have seen in many, many of our customers. Then, later on, they’re like, “Oh, actually it’s an interesting project.” And everybody involved enjoys making sure that they help bring scalability to the business.

Jordi Torras:
And third is, at the end of the day, we have to embrace and buy artificial intelligence in order to keep our employees because otherwise, they would live for other things. And my personal recipe here with artificial intelligence is, it is here to help humans do boring stuff. That’s what we want artificial intelligence to do. It’s just boring stuff. I mean, it still requires intelligence data and all that, but it’s something that can be done in seconds by a machine. That’s something that will free humans and employees to do something more and more interesting. Right?

Roy van Griensven:
I think it’s exactly the point. For example, we’re trying to invest and actually implement it in a couple of areas. For example, in a planning area, in a world using technology you see that, for example, statistical forecasts are far more accurate than what planners manually and individually do. These people, they don’t want to do the same thing every time, over and over and over again. They don’t want to prepare thousands of forecasts. When they get energized is when they think about what are the business rules we need to give in order to optimize our demand forecast, for example. They start focusing on how they can optimize the AI. They think about the type of rules we need to apply to external factors, and, all of a sudden, their work becomes far more interesting.

Roy van Griensven:
And so I think that’s important, and I an additional comment here. What’s critically important, and I think by now in Mitsubishi that is well understood, is that these things are not for a short-term gain. If you start these things with doubts and it shows a return on investment within the first three weeks, then stop it. You need to understand -and I’m happy that we got that notion- is that this is something that is helping us become the company we need to be in two and three years from now. So, not everything is about solving a practical operational problem today. This is changing the type of company you are, and that has a bit more of a long-term benefit.

Jordi Torras:
Exactly right. It’s a transformational process. A digital transformation is not a one-shot project. Now, we Inbenta we’ve been blessed to do a number of projects with MCAM, and we are really honored and happy to be there. I could talk about that for a long time, but I believe that it would be awesome if we could listen to what you think. How is the project going, in which Inbenta has been working and collaborating and how does that match that vision on digital transformation?

Roy van Griensven:
Yeah. No, I think that’s perfect. I think as a starting point, you see that we’re very much looking a bit like a traditional manufacturing company with a lot of very skilled technical engineers and etcetera. Now, they all produce a lot of technical information and data, and etc., but more and more of that information needs to be available and accessible to all.

Roy van Griensven:
The traditional way was to think, “Hey, let’s put it on the SharePoint.” That was the first thought. And then people came to realize, still, it might be there, but if there are hundreds and thousands of documents with hundreds of pages per document, for example, how do I actually find the relevant information? Or maybe we need to search then the documents. Yeah. But how do I know where?

Roy van Griensven:
So, I think the moment that we started to expose, and I typically call it internally the art of possible. So if you start leveraging AI, if you start leveraging natural language processing and etcetera, then that is a different way to think. If you identify the sources of information, how can I get information back based upon asking a question? Instead of asking your employees “You need to understand exactly how we structure huge files.”

Roy van Griensven:
So, I think the first aspect was already changing that thinking. Focus on asking a question. Let technology do its thing and then come back with the most appropriate answers and information related to that question. Now, there’s an internal aspect to that. However, I think the good thing with the solution that we introduced with Inbenta is, this is very scalable. So, externally, our customers have the same kind of questions. They have a question and want to know, “Okay, what does that mean? How does that get to work? What kind of information do I need?

Roy van Griensven:
Now, that information typically was completely unavailable to customers because they had to go to inside sales and then ask for something. Then we hoped that the question was interpreted right by inside sales. Later, they had to go and find information, and maybe six days later, eventually, we were able to send a technical product description to that customer. That’s not good. The customer had a question on the spot right there. They can’t wait and go through five different steps.

Roy van Griensven:
Being able to expose an entry point, even for customers, to just ask a question and with that simply get the information. You can even look in multiple places from a simple search, and on the spot, give that information back to these customers. That’s gold, because then all of a sudden people think, “Hey. This company is so easy to work with! I don’t have to wait for an answer or wait for someone to send me an email with a technical product description three days after’, or that we force them to find my way on the website to see exactly where the technical product document is stated.

Roy van Griensven:
Now, with Inbenta, I can just ask a question. I get an answer back because basically, with natural language processing, the interface understands the question that I’m asking, and, on the spot, I get the information. I think we’re touching one use case here around technical product information. Again, that’s what I like in terms of the Inbenta’s solution. This is completely scalable for us in many of the areas where we can apply the same logic. We’ve just scratched the surface of the art of possible with this, but at least we already have a scalable solution that we can now start exploring.

Jordi Torras:
That’s amazing. From our side, I’ve been personally involved in this project, and it’s amazing the amount of the things that we have discovered and how, at the end of the day, it all comes back to ‘Hey I have a question. I want an answer and I want it now.’ Then everything else is complicated, but trying to simplify all that and say, “Hey, I need something to answer questions immediately.” That’s fascinating. As you say, there are many other areas over here that we will look the future to keep on helping.

Jordi Torras:
Hey, Roy, we would be talking here for hours and I believe our audience would also appreciate it but I want to be respectful with your time because you are a super busy, busy person. So first of all, the question is if the audience say, ‘Hey, I want to I to contact Roy’ somehow, maybe on social media. How could the audience try to reach you?

Roy van Griensven:
Now, by all means, if those questions are the things that they can help connect with us, then I’m more than happy to do so. People can find me either through Inbenta but also most certainly on LinkedIn. Send me a message, Roy Van Griensven. There’s not a lot of people with the same name. So just find me, send me a message, and then we’ll get in contact if I can help.

Jordi Torras:
All right. Thank you so much Roy. It’s been great having a conversation here today and for all our audience, thank you so much for listening to that. And we’re going to be back soon with some very amazing people talking about AI, natural language processing, and the Future of Customer Service. Thank you so much. Thank you, Roy.

Roy van Griensven:
Thank you.

Thanks so much for tuning in. This podcast was brought to you by Inbenta. Inbenta symbolic AI implements natural language processing that requires no training data with Inbenta’s extensive lexicon and patented algorithms. Check out this robust customer interaction platform for your AI needs, from chatbots to search to knowledge centers and messenger platforms. Just go to our website to request a demo at inbenta.com. That’s I-N-B-E-N-T-A.com and if you liked what you heard today, please be sure to subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review. Thank you.

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