• Manufacturing

Digitalization is not the aim – delivering customer value is

According to Antti Valtokari, Executive Vice President, IT and Process Performance, at Huhtamaki, digitalization links the company’s strategic objectives together. Digitalization enables the company to meet its ambitions in terms of growth, competitiveness, developing talent and embedding sustainability in everything it does.

From Antti Valtokari’s perspective, digitalization involves two interconnected elements: data and digital technology. "As we become digitally integrated from shopfloor to customer interface, we gain end-to-end visibility to manage operations more efficiently. By going digital, we are able to also execute processes in a better, smarter way, automating repetitive tasks."

This greater end-to-end visibility, meanwhile, is all about the next part: data. "We use advanced data analytics to connect internal and external data sources, for example, for demand forecasting, quality control and sourcing. This lets us make better decisions that are very much driven by customer needs and expectations," he says.

Digital technology and data as a means to reach a wider goal

All actions Huhtamaki takes a company must help it achieve its goal of becoming the first choice in sustainable packaging solutions. "There are two broad domains where digitalization can enable sustainability," he points out.

The first is in terms of the sustainability of Huhtamaki’s own operations, particularly in manufacturing. "By digitalizing and connecting our shopfloor and factory network, and using the data collected for continuous improvement, we can optimize how we use energy and raw materials and thereby eliminate waste. All these make it possible for us to reduce our environmental footprint."

The sustainability of packaging itself, and especially the issue of efficient post-use management, is another area where digital technology can and will have a big impact. "Modern, industrial-scale, automated recycling is only possible when packaging has a digital identity and the whole value chain works together around it. Digital can allow consumers to make the right decisions – for example, in choosing which bin is right for which type of packaging."

"A successful digital transformation starts from understanding customer needs and expectations."

Valtokari says that another interesting use of data for sustainable packaging is to combine available information on the recyclability of different materials in different markets and use that in packaging design and material choices. "By knowing which materials are best recycled in Germany, for instance, we can steer the design of packaging specifically for that part of the world to maximize recyclability."

Meeting customers’ rising expectations

For Valtokari, a successful digital transformation starts from understanding customer needs and expectations. "Huhtamaki’s key customers are actively investing in digitalization and many of them are digitalizing their supplier interface. We are working on our digital collaboration capabilities to become the best in industry customer experience," he shares.

A lot of this work entails taking customers’ digital agendas into account, figuring out how Huhtamaki can become the easiest partner to work with, and then working backwards from there. Valtokari says that this requires thinking horizontally rather than looking at digitalization in siloed steps.

"Becoming a digital company requires more agile ways of working. For example, we use a ‘fast track’ method to quickly pilot and test ideas, and a ‘solid track’ to build scalable solutions for global deployment," he continues.

For the longer term, Valtokari says that the company has also defined a vision of how the digitalized Huhtamaki will look like – from both a customer perspective and internally – to communicate the direction to stakeholders in concrete terms. "By understanding where we are currently, then showing the roadmap towards this vision in the form of tangible projects, this helps the organization understand what will be done next."

Preparing for the future by embedding digital savviness

In the years to come, digitalization will continue to reshape packaging along with the way Huhtamaki does business.

"Packaging itself is transforming. On the one hand, it is and will be about protecting food and also minimizing food waste and promoting hygiene. On the other, packaging is also about engaging with consumers in new ways, creating new value such as traceability of products and enabling new business models like food delivery," he states.

To prepare for this, Valtokari says that digitalization must become business as usual. "Digitalization is about redesigning business enabled by data and digital technologies, which has to be an integral part of our business, and the results are delivered as a sum of all our actions."

Digitalization is more a leadership challenge than a technology problem, so merely installing new hardware or software is not the solution. "Digitalization is not something that happens in isolation. To change our way of working, we need to change our way of thinking and embed digital savviness into it. We must understand the opportunities and the impact that digitalization presents across everything we do as a company, especially when it comes to delivering customer value. We should then drive digital transformation in own area of responsibility with the support of experts and the use of technical solutions."

To develop digital savviness, Valtokari says that a lot of it has to do with learning by doing, engaging teams widely into the company’s digital initiative, and making available training and learning tools to suit everyone’s personal learning methods. "We are building on our values Care, Dare, Deliver – all of them are necessary for Huhtamaki’s digital transformation. It’s an exciting journey and the important thing to remember is ‘Dream big, start small, but start’."

This article is part of a series where different stakeholders discuss the opportunities offered by digital innovation for the manufacturing sector, ahead of our virtual roundtable ‘How can digitalization deliver circular and sustainable manufacturing?’.

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