Lessons from Holcim & CEMEX: Future Proofing Frontline Operations
In a very special episode this week, we’re joined by two experts from the manufacturing industry who are using Parsable to power their digitalization efforts — Jim Carroll, Director of Land and Environment at Holcim, and Steve Switzer, Plant Manager at CEMEX. What’s unique about this conversation is that these two leaders from two competing organizations have found common ground in their effort to improve the day-to-day experiences for their frontline workers. By sharing their experiences and exploring common problems that need to be solved, they’re helping drive innovation within the industry.
Join as we discuss:
- Factors driving digitalization on the frontlines
- The inefficiencies that occur when using paper-based processes
- Finding and implementing a digitalization tool
- The power of partnering with Parsable
- Results and impacts they’ve accomplished with their team
Experiencing disruption on the frontline? We can help. Request a demo today.
Check out the full episode below:
[00:00:00] Josh Santo: Are talking about how two global cement manufacturers are using digitalization to future-proof their frontline operations. What you’re going to hear today is a sit-down conversation with two experts from the manufacturing industry who are using Parsable to power their digitalization efforts. With us today, we have Jim Carroll who is the Director of Environment and Land at Holcim US. Now, Jim is located in Maryland. Holcim US, if you don’t know, is a global leader in innovative and sustainable building solutions and is enabling greener cities, smarter infrastructure, and improving living standards around the world.
With us also today is Steve Switzer who is a Plant Manager at Cemex. He’s located in Tennessee. Cemex is a company focused on creating sustainable value by providing industry-leading products and solutions to satisfy the construction needs of their customers around the world. My name is Josh Santo. I am calling in from Austin, Texas today and I’m with Parsable. Now, Parsable is the premier Connected Worker platform that industrial leaders use to unlock new unique data on frontline activity, uncover insights, and enable their industrial workforce.
Thank you, everyone, for being here today. We’ve got a 45-minute discussion scheduled for today and we’re going to explore a variety of different topics. We’ll talk about the roles and responsibilities that both Jim and Steve have to understand what’s their day-to-day look like. With that, we’re going to explore the opportunities, the challenges, the problems that they encountered that they wanted to solve for. We’re going to talk about their digitalization strategy. How do they go about resolving those problems using modern digital tools? We’ll also be sure to touch on the results that they’ve experienced.
Now, we’re conducting this in a couple of different spots. We’ve got Zoom, and the Zoom session is being recorded. We also are streaming on LinkedIn Live. For those of you who are on LinkedIn Live, make sure to add your reactions to anything you find insightful, maybe even controversial. Here on the Zoom, if you have questions, post them in the chat. We’re going to answer questions as we go and if time allows, we’ll have a dedicated Q&A section to make sure everyone who’s attended this call here on Zoom gets their questions answered. If for whatever reason we don’t get to your question, we will make sure to follow up with you.
With all that upfront information out of the way, let’s get into what we’re here to talk about today. Jim, Steve, thank you so much for being here. A lot of our conversation today will be based on your perspectives and experience within the industry. What I’m excited about is that both of you have had very different careers and experiences and that’s enabled you to develop these perspectives. I’d love for both of you to share with us a bit about your background, your current role, and your responsibilities. Jim, let’s start with you.
[00:03:00] Jim Carroll: Okay, so I’ve been with Holcim now for just over three years. Before that, I’ve been an environmental consultant, I’d worked for a major oil company and I ran the State of Maryland’s Hazardous Waste Cleanup program. Since coming to Holcim, one of the things that we have in this region is we have 35 sand and gravel facilities, asphalt plants, hard rock quarries, and we also have ready-mix concrete plants. Our big challenge is trying to maintain compliance over this particular region which encompasses Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
[00:03:44] Josh: Awesome, thank you. Steve, I’d love to hear from you. Talk to us about your role, your responsibilities, your day-to-day.
[00:03:53] Steve Switzer: My role here in Knoxville is to run the cement plant here. My experience is I came up in the industry straight out of college essentially, and have been doing this now for 23, 24 years now. I’ve worked in various roles in the production, engineering, continuous improvement, maintenance before I got into the position that I’m in now, and at the end of the day, love what I do so that’s the fun part.
[00:04:26] Josh: That’s the important part too and it’s going to come through in our conversation today. Just a quick follow-up question for you Steve, how many people are you responsible for at your facility?
[00:04:38] Steve: I have 125 direct reports.
[00:04:45] Josh: That’s a lot of people. Jim, on your side, how many people are you responsible for in your role, and not necessarily as a direct manager, but who your role impacts?
[00:04:55] Jim: Within the Mid-Atlantic region, there’s approximately 700 people who work at all the different locations. Out of 700, I would say there’s probably about 50 people who are responsible for performing many of the environmental inspections at our facilities.
[00:05:15] Josh: Great. What I love exploring about these two different roles in our conversation today is you both are holding very different roles, at least in titles and responsibility, but by the nature of your roles, you have to identify opportunities for improvement and you have to drive change. I think that’s a perfect starting point for today’s conversation. Steve, let’s start with you. What was your organization facing that led you to prioritize digitalization on the frontline?
[00:05:48] Steve: I think first and foremost for me, and this has been building over many, many years for me, has been just how slow it was that information would travel from the frontline employees, through the management system, to where we could make good decisions. The information was literally on a sheet of paper that could be in the back pocket of somebody’s in their pants, in their shirt pocket, in the bottom of a bucket. It could take a week, it could take two weeks. I recently saw something that took six months to get from the employee all the way to where it needed to be.
[00:06:30] Josh: What kind of problems was that causing for you and your role or the operation in general?
[00:06:38] Steve: It’s hard enough to make great decisions every day. It’s even harder when you don’t have all the information, so that was the driving factor.
[00:06:49] Josh: Understood. In those cases, you mentioned the sheet of paper. You mentioned in some cases, one to two weeks to find out a certain situation, six months finding out. From your perspective, why was it so difficult to share that information?
[00:07:07] Steve: In the paper process, it starts off with the employee taking the time to physically write something down. They’ve got to remember everything they’ve seen over the last 8, 12 hours and get it written down, get it turned in. Now it goes to the next guy. He’s got to process it, decide what’s valuable, what’s not, take their time to punch it into the next system. At each one of those transitions, a little bit of information gets lost and there’s a little bit of a risk of something getting misplaced.
[00:07:44] Josh: Got it. Okay. I think that’s an interesting point. I’d love to hear, Jim, from your side, what was your organization facing, what led you to prioritize digitalization, and do you see any similarities to what Steve described.
[00:08:00] Jim: Actually, it is very similar to what Steve described. The biggest issue is that we have people out at the plants. Their main job is in many cases, to take big rocks and make little rocks. Going through and doing the environmental inspections, that’s another task that they have to keep track of and their ability to manage paperwork. They can do the inspection on the paper and then if they’ve got a log book, they put it back in the truck. Well, there’s always the possibility it might stay in the truck and not get transferred back into the office.
It’s that flow of information and really, it can be very time-consuming, particularly if you’re tasked with multiple objectives out at the site, at the plants. Our goal with going to a digital platform is we wanted to make the working experience more efficient. We wanted to minimize the amount of time that people had to handle paper. Going to what Steve had described, when we have somebody doing a water discharge log, they’re going in and if it’s the paper system, they’re recording the information on the paper, then they’re scanning it in, and then they’re emailing it back to us so we can include it in the discharge monitoring reports.
Now we’ve got a system where when they enter the information into their digital device, it automatically is available to us so we’ve eliminated a number of steps. That was a huge advance for us.
[00:09:29] Josh: Prior to that, Steve mentioned some of the issues that he saw is that because it took so long to get the information, they were having to make decisions either on, let’s say, outdated or not complete information which certainly has an impact. What was the impact on your side, either in your role or in some of the roles that you work with, of not being able to get access to this information when you needed it?
[00:09:55] Jim: Well, part of the problem is if you don’t have access to that information, say it’s a discharge monitoring log, or if it’s an inspection report for tank systems that you potentially could face notice of violations from a state regulatory agency. Not having access to that information has financial and liability consequences. That was another component, one of the other reasons why we wanted to go digital so we could try to close that gap so we wouldn’t have those issues coming about.
[00:10:30] Josh: I think that’s a great example. Just to recap some of the things that we talked about, really this idea if I were to summarize both Steve and Jim, your responses is really this idea of these paper-based processes which paper is like one of the most common tools used on the frontline right now. It is inefficient for capturing the information and making it available to all those who need that information. There’s breakdowns that occur, and as a result, you’re not able to get that information that you need, Steve, in your case as the plant manager, to make sure that you’re making the right decisions at the right time so that you can meet the goals that have been set on you.
Jim, it sounds like you were experiencing that as well in the case that you described. You had activities that were occurring, things were happening, but because you couldn’t access the information to prove that it was occurring, it put you at risk at that point. Would you say that’s a fair summary of the commonalities of what you described?
[00:11:34] Jim: That really is. One of the key takeaways from environmental compliance is if you can’t demonstrate that you have done something through a checklist, then the state regulator is going to look at it and say, “Well, then I can’t believe that you actually did it,” so you have to have that information so you can demonstrate, yes, here is exactly what I have done.
[00:11:56] Josh: Yes, that idea of being able to prove it I think is pretty important. Steve, on your side, have you encountered any situations in which there’s a need to prove that this is the work that got done?
[00:12:08] Steve: Oh, it always helps. There’s a moment of he said, she said that comes up all too often. We’ve told people, hey, this is a great way, the digitization process is a great way to help really validate you did do your job and you did it the right way.
[00:12:27] Josh: I think it’s interesting, one of the opportunities I’ve had is to talk with people like yourselves as well as people within other verticals of manufacturing and see some of these common problems. What you described, just the fact that you can’t access that data that’s being captured, therefore, there’s going to be a delay in you finding out about issues. Sometimes it’s not even about finding out about issues, it’s about can you just efficiently hand off information to the next person that needs to take an action. Those delays there cause breakdowns in the flow.
When that happens, now we’re talking about inefficiency, we’re talking about non-value-added activities. We’re talking about, with these issues that pop up or with these delays in following up, we’re talking about downtime, right? Now, a big one that both of you hit on, this idea of compliance, making sure that what is supposed to get done is actually getting done.
Not only is that important from an audit proofing perspective, but it’s important from making sure that a process was carried out on time, in full, the way that it was supposed to do so that workers are safe, they’re able to be efficient, and there’s not any unexpected and abnormal conditions coming from a lack of performing certain activities. Certainly, what we’ve seen is because the right tools aren’t in place, all of that becomes a little bit difficult.
Now, a lot of this conversation is focused around the frontline, digitalization on the frontline. We talked about what you were seeing from your side of things. On the frontline, were there any difficulties that they were encountering that you could tie to the use of paper and wanted to solve forward through digitization? Steve, what are your thoughts?
[00:14:17] Steve: Yes, for sure. The one other aspect that I wanted to bring in here was employee engagement. Employee dissatisfaction was certainly one of the things that we saw. I can’t tell you how many times I would get told, “Oh, we reported that. Oh, we told our supervisor that.” I would dig into it and try to find out where did the system fail us, and all too often it was it didn’t get written down. It was mentioned in passing in the hallway, somebody forgets. When we go digital, it’s locked, it’s in there. As you’ve already pointed out, it can get to you almost instantaneously.
[00:15:01] Josh: Yes. That’s such an interesting point. Jim, based on what Steve shared, did you see anything similar to that as far as employees not feeling heard or that their feedback wasn’t reviewed or appreciated?
[00:15:16] Jim: One of the things that, and I have gone out when I do the training and talk to employees out in the field is that many times, I can come up with a process that’s going to be compliant with the regulations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that process is as efficient for them out in the field. I’ve always encouraged people say, if you see a line of questioning within our paper-based systems and now within Parsable, the question doesn’t make sense, I can work with the plant personnel right then and there. We can walk through, come up with a new way of phrasing the question or structuring the question, or even combining questions together so that they have a more efficient process.
If we had used the paper approach, I’d have to then go back to the office, type that up. I then have to distribute that across all of the 35 facilities. Now with Parsable, what I can do is work with someone in the field, and if it’s a change that’s specific to a particular site, I can make that change within the template and then publish it, and within five or 10 minutes, it is now live for all the next series of jobs. If it’s across the rest of the facility, same thing. I put it into the template, 10 minutes later, it’s published. It’s now a common set of questions that goes across the spectrum.
The good thing is that for plant personnel when they have that kind of involvement and they see that their feedback is getting recognized, they’re more likely to use the tool because they now feel they have buy-in. It’s something that they are a part of the process. It’s not something that’s being forced on them or mandated from on high. They know that they have feedback into it and they can make that system their own.
[00:17:05] Josh: Steve, have you seen similar by taking that approach of engaging them, not just with, hey, we’re hearing what you’re saying, but we want you to contribute to this new activity or this change that we’re trying to implement?
[00:17:19] Steve: Oh, for sure. I have one particular employee that I’m thinking about that he owns, he lives, he breathes safety, and we wanted to get him into the Parsable tool and all of the things that he does to help make the plant better. One of the things I told him, I said, hey, you’re somewhat building your own legacy. I know you’re coming up on retirement, but your investment in this– He got to build that hand in hand with the team that was here helping to build the routes. He does that work. He does that route religiously and it’s great. It’s got his fingerprints all over it and that’s going to be there for a long, long time now.
[00:18:06] Josh: I’m really happy that you both brought up this idea of engaging employees. I think it’s not any secret that the industry is struggling both from a retention perspective as well as a recruitment perspective. Studies show that the more you’re able to engage your workforce, the more likely it is you are to have an impact on retention.
There are some themes that I heard with what both of you described. Jim, one of the examples that you provided was a need for flexibility. It was a bit of a difficult process to try to engage people and then action their changes because you were constantly having to go back and forth in order to even start that process. There’s also this idea of engaging, not just by hearing the feedback and showing that you’ve heard the feedback because a lot of times really the problem is just the inability to effectively follow up with someone.
I’m sure both of you can think of examples where you took action, but because the person who reported it didn’t get that communication, that action was taken, the assumption is that no one listens to me. People don’t value what I have to say. Why should I say anything at all? It’s not just that engaging by hearing, but it’s engaging by including. I love that both of you have clear examples where it’s let’s build this together. It’s not, “I’m Jim, I’m telling you what to do.” “I’m Steve, I’m the boss. I’m telling you what to do.” It’s help me make this a better operation.
Then the last point that I’ll bring up as far as the theme that I heard Steve in what you described, this individual, not only getting them excited and providing them with a way to reach all the people that they’re responsible for, but it’s an idea of we’ve got workers who are about to retire who have a ton of knowledge, not just within their particular department, but at the specific facility that you’re at, and that’s not just at safety, that’s across all departments within manufacturing. How can you tap into that wealth of knowledge, capture it in such a way that’s easy to consume and share with new people? I think that those were really great examples and it’s very consistent with what we see.
Now, I think we did, I thought it was a good conversation of exploring what life was like prior to prioritizing digitalization. Just as a side note, for those listening, I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the chat with what Jim and Steve shared. Does this sound familiar? Does this sound like a story that you see on a daily basis? Have you started tackling these issues on your own? If so, how? Let us know in the comments. What I’d love to talk about now is what you actually decided to do about it.
When you look around, there’s a ton of buzzwords that get thrown about around manufacturing. There’s digital transformation, there’s digital revolution. There’s industry 4.0, I even heard recently, industry 5.0, as well as others. No matter what you call it, you can’t deny that the future of manufacturing operations will still rely on people. To keep up with where the industry is headed, you have to give your industrial workforce a digital edge, and you can only do that by really building a connected industrial workforce. Jim, let’s start with you. What did you do to solve for the situations you described earlier?
[00:21:31] Jim: The first thing is when we decided to go with the digital checklist at the very first thing we did was we identified what checklists were being used out at our various facilities and then started developing the models. Then we picked a couple of what I’ll call it pilot sites. We would then go out and we would meet with plant personnel, get them set up, and we would start running and we’d find out what things plant personnel would react to. Did they like the way that the checklist was set up? What barriers were we seeing? Was there an issue with internet connectivity or wireless connectivity? Then we worked our way to trying to solve that.
As we developed those protocols, we then rolled it out across a broader scope of facilities. Right now we’re across, we rolled it out throughout the company. The key was trying to interact with people to find out how they felt about using a digital device and what concerns did they have and how could we address those concerns. One of the ones that was most common was that they hadn’t used phones or digital devices to capture information so there’s a certain amount of training. Some other people were more reluctant. They wanted to make sure they had the information in their hands.
We worked on ways to make sure that as they entered information into the digital, into Parsable, that they would then be able to print the document out and have it easily accessible at the sites. It was really a way of trying to gain people’s comfort with going digital. A lot of that is really face-to-face communication and getting out and working with people out in the field till they become comfortable with it.
[00:23:22] Josh: You brought up really a couple of great points and I’m going to split them into a couple of categories. One, you talked about the tool itself. Some of the follow-up questions I have is around finding the tool that you even wanted to try because there are a lot of tools out there in the market. You talked about what are we even going to start with. What are we going to try to do in order to just validate that this is a way that we want to proceed? Then you also talked about what I would argue is probably one of the toughest parts is a bit of that change management side. How do we engage people with this is where we’re moving. What do you think, what is it going to take for us to make sure you are successful using this?
I’d love to start with that idea, Jim, on finding solutions. Talk to us about how you went about even, what led you to even find Pasarble to begin with?
[00:24:14] Jim: Holcim has a group that’s called MAQER. One of the things that MAQER does is they look at different companies that are involved in software development and how that software could be integrated into Holcim’s Operations. MAQER had suggested a list of possible software solutions. What we did was we then looked through each of those companies and at the software to try to see what appeared to have the best fit. Once we narrowed that down, then we contacted the companies and we started evaluating the software for how flexible was it? Is it something that could be changed very easily?
For instance, if we are creating checklists but we need to make a change and it has to be sent off to a programmer, what complications does that make? Does that make it easier for us to be able to affect change on the fly? That was one element that we evaluated for. The other was, how user-friendly is it? Is it something that would take very little training to have somebody begin to pick up a device and start using the tool?
We have people who are very good. They run front-end loaders, they know how to repair screens or crushers, but using digital devices is not necessarily going to be the first thing that they would do. We did not want to be putting a tool in someone’s hand that was overly complex and took a lot of trying to figure out how to run it. That’s what we looked for when we were doing the screening, and in this instance, we ended up selecting Parsable because it meant the flexibility and user-friendliness.
[00:26:03] Josh: In your evaluation criteria, how important was it, in your perspective, to facilitate this through mobile devices like smartphones and tablets?
[00:26:16] Jim: For instance, most of the checklists involve going out into the site and walking over to above-ground storage tanks to do the inspections, or if we’re doing stormwater inspections, you’re going out to sediment ponds and looking at the outfalls, so handheld digital devices are extremely important. One of the features that we did like is you’re not only restricted– Let me rephrase that. You can use the digital device or you can go back and you can do the questionnaires on the computer as well. You have, again, that user flexibility. They can do it on multiple devices.
[00:27:02] Josh: Great. I appreciate you sharing that. Before we dig into a few more of those topics that you brought up, I want to turn it over to you, Steve. What was it that you wanted to do to solve the situations you described earlier?
[00:27:16] Steve: A lot of the same things that Jim just brought up there, really in line. I had spent some time working on this, I don’t know, 10 years ago in my continuous improvement lifetime, and we had come across a number of different tools and certainly, the user-friendliness was always one of the big hangups. Then the other one, of course, was connectivity because in our facilities, there’s a lot of electricity, there’s a lot of concrete, there’s a lot of steel, and there are a lot of spots where there is no 4G, 5G, 3G name all the Gs you want. Are we at 8G yet? Not sure. Maybe, I’ve slept a minute.
You can’t have a tool that doesn’t work just because there is no internet at that moment and so that was a big priority for us, but of course, the user-friendliness of it. Certainly, what we found was that Parsable was one of the most adept at meeting all those criteria.
The other thing I would want to add is, as we’re moving from the paper-based process and we’re just trying to transfer that and translate that into the digital space, the tablets and the phones give us so much more capability in the way of pictures and videos. If a picture speaks a thousand words, a video speaks a million, That’s what I like to say. When you’re trying to help one person help a lot of other people, sometimes just getting that video shared among a group of people can really help with the troubleshooting and solving of the problem.
Everybody knows the rule, right? You take your car to the shop because it’s making a noise, and when you get it to the shop, it doesn’t make the noise, but if you can capture that out in the workplace as it’s happening, there’s no denying, there’s no more he said, she said, right? That goes away.
[00:29:24] Josh: That’s right. You’ve got objective proof at that point. I think that’s such a great call out of the power of being able to have that mobile or that mobile component to it is that ability to really be able to document and capture all the details about a situation which is going to help with collaboration, it’s going to help with root cause analysis, is going to help with auditing and making sure what was supposed to get done actually gets done. I love that you brought up both common themes when talking about what kind of tool you were looking for, where you were trying to start, and what are some of the obstacles that popped up.
Just to recap some of those things, you were really looking for something that was flexible and flexible in a variety of senses. Flexible meaning it was adaptable to your particular environment. Steve, one of the things you mentioned is internet connectivity. Even though we have internet at our facilities, there’s a lot of things disrupting that signal. We need the ability to work online or offline and have no risk of losing any information that’s being captured. That’s one of the power points that you saw with Parsable.
Jim, one of the things you brought up with flexibility was not just that ability to take it with you wherever you go, but whatever device that you happen to have on hand, it doesn’t have to be an iPhone or a Samsung Tab A, which I think is an outdated device at this point, but it’s the first one that came to my mind, you can also complete it from the convenience of your computer as well. Flexibility really taking a lot of different components. The more that you can break down and define flexibility, the more you can successfully evaluate the solution.
What I love that both of you called out is that it had to be user-friendly. It had to be something that people would want to use and wasn’t difficult for them to use. I’ve seen in my experience implementing this technology on the front lines, some of the resistance comes from past experience. Using tools like SAP. Very powerful solution, don’t get me wrong, but nobody is raving about how easy it is to use SAP. That also ties to one of the points, Jim, that you brought up is are we able to effectively manage this on our own or are we going to have to invest in technical resources to make the changes What you were looking for was the ability to own that. I think that was great and I appreciate both of you sharing it.
What I think is also interesting is that both of your organizations have approached implementation differently, and I think that’s a powerful point to discuss with the people on this call. There’s not necessarily, a right way to start. There’s just different strategies and options that you have at your disposal. Jim, at Holcim, your team has kept the use very laser focused and has reached a ton of people across the sites that you have mentioned. Steve, at Cemex, you and your team are finding and adding new uses pretty consistently. Jim, talk to us about your approach to digitalization on the frontline. Why was it important to start with that laser focus?
[00:32:27] Jim: Well, the very first thing is we wanted to make sure that as we developed the templates and jobs, i.e the environmental inspection checklists, that those checklists were number one, they were geared specifically to a facility and that they were easy to use and easy to complete, and most importantly, they hit all of the necessary information points that we needed to gather.
Because you don’t want to develop a checklist and omit a key element, which if you then turn the completed checklist in, a regulatory agency says, what about this particular area, I don’t see this information. How do we know that you’ve actually been completing it? That’s why we decided to take the pilot approach first and be able to focus our checklists and get them so that we had standardized templates that could then be rolled out across the rest of the com company.
Now, as we develop those standardized templates, just in my region I’ve got four different states. Those states, while they do have certain common information requests, they also have specific questions that are for that particular state so we had to do some customization. Just like water discharge template for a ready-mix site in Washington DC, it’s going to be slightly different than a water discharge template for ready-mix sites in say Pennsylvania or Maryland. You have to allow for that flexibility, you have to allow for completeness and so we wanted to make sure that what we designed and implemented was going to meet all of our needs in terms of regulatory compliance because that really was first and foremost.
Then it became, now what are people’s reactions to it? That’s why we took that particular approach on focusing on small scale first, get our model, and then roll it out through the rest of the company.
[00:34:28] Josh: I think that’s such a great breakdown. Too often we see with pilots, people aren’t thinking about the broader deployment. Even though you’re starting small and focused, you do have to think, is this something that’s going to scale? I love how you brought up the fact that that was something that you had to prove out. I love that you really brought that idea of even though we’re going to have these standards, they still have to be adaptable at the local level and provide, again, that flexibility so that people can make those changes that fit their particular situation.
Steve, from your side, talk to us about your approach to implementing this digital tool.
[00:35:04] Steve: We definitely took a little bit different of approach. Because of some previous experience, and you’d mentioned earlier, Josh, the stigma that we sometimes deal with that gets labeled onto things, I had seen some of these attempts come and go, and so I didn’t want to label this as a safety tool or as an environmental tool. We went right for the big enchilada and stuck it right into the production world, and since then, we’ve let it expand into the environmental and into the safety world and into the maintenance worlds, but we went right for the middle of the plant, you could say, and stuck it into the production department and started to expand it from there.
We did not go to all the sites. We started off just here in Knoxville. We’ve since expanded, but in a similar way to what Jim was talking about, we went and really pushed it hard into the one facility to try to work out the bugs and get all the little things figured out, and that really helped us learn all the different things we could do with it, which is what, of course, led to us using it, and in just about every department we’ve got.
[00:36:19] Josh: Now, when you think about using it in just about every department that you got, I’m assuming, and correct me if I’m wrong, that that didn’t come from you necessarily. You reached a point where people were asking, could we do this in Parsable? Is that the experience that you encountered as far as expanding the use?
[00:36:39] Steve: I think we would see a need and we would fill a need, so that is one of the big advantages that I see. Jim talked about this. It’s quick and easy and flexible, you want to make a change, you get it done. We had a couple of things come up in the plant where we just needed to validate until we could get the right instrumentation in place that a certain thing was being taken care of, and within an hour, we can have a Parsable route built, executed, and pushed out to the team and say, hey, take care of this. I need you to inspect this like this for the next two weeks while we wait for this part to show up.
[00:37:17] Josh: That’s such a great call out, that agile approach of being able to quickly build, deploy, see how it works, gather data to help you make an objective decision on, is this how we want to proceed? Are there things that we need to change?
Now, we’ve talked about this conversation and we’ve touched on that idea of change management, how to get buy-in from the people that would have to use it, how to work with them and engage with them. What I’ve seen firsthand is that, look, our organizations, there’s difficulty finding the resources to participate in a project like this. It really comes down to what kind of support are you getting not just within your own organization but from the partnership provided by the company that you’re working with.
Jim, Steve, I’d love to hear about your experience working with the people of Parsable and how the customer success and accounts teams have really contributed to the success that you’re seeing.
[00:38:13] Jim: I’ll go first. So when we began talking with Parsable about adopting it throughout the company, Parsable came and put together a support team that provided us advice as to how other companies had gone about rolling Parsable out throughout the different areas. What the team was able to do was help us customize an approach that was specific to Holcim and our operations.
Then as we developed our checklists, they worked with us to train our staff so that our staff could then go out and train other people in the plants. Not only in terms of how to use Parsable but in some cases we needed people out in the different regions who were able to come up and create specific checklists that became inspection jobs that we were using. I don’t think that we could have done it without the Parsable team. They also helped in terms of developing dashboards and metrics so that we could measure not just the rollout but also a number of jobs that were completed and how we could keep track of that.
[00:39:25] Josh: That’s great to hear. Steve, on your side, did you experience something similar? Talk to us about working.
[00:39:32] Steve: Yes, absolutely. The team they were very focused. They had a lot of effort on the change management side. They knew that you couldn’t just throw us the tech and we would go figure it out and roll this out, so they had that power, they had that knowledge, they had that experience. They did a lot of coaching, holding our hands through the whole process. It was very helpful getting the program launched and up and running.
[00:39:58] Josh: I think that’s such an important part because it– Any change and then implementing technology on top of that change, it can be difficult, not because the tool is complicated but just everything that has to happen to really drive the organization forward. One of the things that really makes me proud of Parsable is the fact that we’re able to offer these professional services and make sure that the people that we’re working with are able to achieve their goals because that’s how you help improve the industry.
Now, we’re running up on time, and just a heads up, we might run a little bit over, but one key topic that I want to make sure we talk about is the impacts that you’ve seen. As much as we want to do just the right thing we still have to prove that these investments in time, resources, technology, that they’re having an impact. This impact could be financial, but it could also be cultural which we touched on some of those as well. It can also be hard to measure the total value, both hard and soft benefits. This is what I would love to get your thoughts on as we start to wrap up. Steve, we’ll stick with you. When you initially began, what results were you expecting to achieve?
[00:41:09] Steve: First and foremost, what I started off with, which was communication. That whole sticky paper phenomenon where it just sticks to the desk or sticks in the pocket. Getting all of that influx of information happened because the team was immediately overwhelmed with how much data we were getting. The brakes almost to try to slow it down because it was too much. We weren’t ready for it.
The secondary benefit that was near and dear to my heart was the engagement side and getting that positive feedback cycle back to the employee that we heard them, that we saw it, that we listened, and we’re paying attention to what they’re out there doing. That was also a huge part of it.
[00:42:02] Josh: Especially on that last part, how did you recognize that the employees were able to see that you were listening and investing in them?
[00:42:12] Steve: Straight-up posting it on the TVs is what we ultimately did and acknowledging it could just be a passing comment like, “Hey, I saw you had a problem with that. Great.” The immediacy of the information allows that to happen in a far more timely fashion. It kind of water under the bridge if it’s a week or two weeks out by the time you find that report.
Just a short story, I was presenting to a team about investing into the Parsable product. While we’re sitting there, I’m doing this web meeting and it pops up in the corner of my screen that we were having a problem with our number two cooler Plattco valve. One of the guys I was presenting to that was on the procurement side was the previous plant manager here in Knoxville. He was completely blown away that while we were sitting there in the meeting, I got an alert at the plant manager’s level that there was a problem.
The ink wasn’t dry. The guy hadn’t even gotten back to the office and here I was getting a notification that we had a problem immediately sending out a text message, “Hey, let’s get some extra people over here to take a look at this.” You got to know that the guy felt good about, he clicked the button and something happened.
[00:43:35] Josh: Yes. Something happened, the organization’s able to respond faster and a little bit what you’re getting into is, this is going to be the way of doing work. It’s that real-time, that instant approach to transferring information. Jim, on your side, when you initially began, what were you expecting to achieve and how does that compare to what you’ve been able to achieve?
[00:43:57] Jim: Our goal always has been let’s move all of our checklists into the digital environment. What I’ve seen is that there’s a growing acceptance of this tool to the point that we are at this point 100% using the tool across our company. One of the other things that I’ve seen is I’ve gone out to the plants, I’ve sat down, people have described, I’ve got this issue with how this question is set up, where I never did understand this particular question that was on the paper. We talked through it and I pulled up the laptop, I’ve opened up Parsable, I’ve gone to the template and I’ve said, “Okay, let’s wordsmith this.”
I’ve made the changes to the question. They suddenly was like, “Oh, that makes complete sense.” I hit save, I hit publish and I go, “Okay. You are now set.” We’ve got your template customized and it now reflects what you have seen that’s been an irritation for the last couple of years, and now we’ve solved it. It’s that responsiveness.
The other thing that I think has been really important is as you are developing your templates and you think about the questions, certain questions if they’re asked in a particular way, you can specify that they trigger a deviation. Basically, it means, is the sky blue? If I answer no, then there’s going to be an alert or at least a mechanism that says there is some issue with this particular thing, and then you get notified just like Steve was describing with his plant.
That notification goes up You can develop a corrective action that would take some kind of action to resolve the problem. In the past, that form would have to go back to an office, you’d have to type up an email, you’d have to send it on, so you’re looking at a certain amount of delay and Parsable now, the digitalization of these tools has eliminated much of the lag that can occur in the information transfer.
[00:45:58] Josh: That’s great. I love that there’s similar experiences between two of you. Again, even though you’ve got different roles and responsibilities and different scope of what you work with, you’re finding power in getting that information you need right when you need it so that you can do something about it.
We had a couple of questions come in and I think this first question really ties well to what you both just brought up, that idea of finding out about issues and responding to them. The question, and I’m going to summarize it at a high level, it’s on that idea of tracking issues and taking corrective action within a certain timeframe but the complication being an offline environment.
Steve, you’re the one that mentioned really having some problems with connectivity but you’re also tracking these issues. What has been your experience of being able to share that information even though it might be captured offline? Can you talk to us about that experience?
[00:46:56] Steve: Sure. We have a programmed SAP Work Manager and we have Parsable and we’re running those two programs in sync. Well, not in sync but in parallel. The SAP Work Manager, you already mentioned SAP, it’s not exactly user-friendly, and one of its not very user-friendliness things is you have when you get back to a signal, you really have to go in there and push a button in order to get it to go. With Parsable, as long as you’re still in the app and you get back in signal, it immediately is trying to do that sync. It’s very seamless and behind the scenes.
[00:47:38] Josh: Part of this question there’s a follow up is really what they’re bringing up is the concern about this lack of connectivity. One thing to be clear, if there’s no way to transfer the information then there’s no way to share it with others. If you’re in an offline environment and you’re documenting that there’s an issue but without that connectivity which is a superhighway to transfer information between people and systems, there is going to be a delay.
The goal eventually will be to promote connectivity completely but that’s going to take years in order to get to that point. You have to recognize that no matter what tool you’re using, if you’re in an offline environment, that’s going to impact how quickly and easily you can share information. What you can do is exactly what you talked about Steve, is the fact that as soon as that connection is restored it shares the information and it’s still leading to finding out about the issue taking action, and doing something about it as well.
Look, I know we’ve run over time. I think this has been a great conversation. I really want to encourage our listeners here, our audience here to connect with both you Jim and Steve. I’m sure both of you’d be happy to share more information about your experience and about what it’s been like working with Parsable. For those of you on the call, check out stories like these and more on Parsable’s website, www.Parsable.com. If you enjoyed this conversation, subscribe to the Conquering Chaos podcast which features interviews with people just like Jim and Steve who share the innovations and experiences they’ve had improving their operations.
With that, I would really like to thank everyone that is here today. Thank you so much to our audience for joining us for this live-stream event on how two global cement manufacturers are using digitalization to future-proof their frontline operations. A big, big, big thank you to both of you our panelists, Jim and Steve. Thank you for being here, sharing your experiences. It’s the action of people like you, the action that you take and sharing that experience that really drives innovation within the industry, so thank you for sharing that.
Then a big shout out to the Parsable team supporting Holcim US and Cemex. The fact that they spoke so highly of that partnership and we’re willing to come on and discuss their experience, that’s huge. Thank you to everyone behind the scenes as well. With that, we will wrap up this webinar, so thank you again for attending.Listen to find out how industry leading manufacturers use Parsable to reduce costs and improve operations!