Digital Transformation Core to Croda’s Growth Strategy

Digital Transformation Core to Croda’s Growth Strategy

Lale Kof, CIO of Croda, shares how digital transformation is modernising its operations and enhancing business efficiency and customer centricity

A leading developer and supplier of high-performance ingredients and cutting-edge technologies, Croda is world-renowned in the specialty chemicals space. Steered by its purpose ‘Smart science to improve lives’, its ingredients are supplied to and ensure the success of some of the biggest global brands, from the beauty, home care and fragrance industries to pharmaceutical, vaccine, crop care and seed enhancement giants.

Approaching its 100th anniversary, Croda still manufactures in Yorkshire, UK, employing more than 5,500 staff at its manufacturing sites, sales offices and innovation centres in 130 locations globally. As the business continues to grow, it is harnessing both expertise and experience while looking ahead to the future with digital transformation at the core of its evolution.

Chief Innovation Officer Lale Kof joined the business at a critical time — the divestment of Croda’s Performance Technologies and Industrial Chemicals (PTIC) business in 2021. A computer engineer by training, experienced technologist Lale is driven by her passion for creating solutions to problems that impact people's lives. At Croda, she has a different skillset to her colleagues and operates at the intersection of technology, engineering and life science. 

“Divestment of the PTIC business was a strategic decision to allow Croda to focus on its consumer care and life science business,” she begins. “With an innovative and sustainable portfolio and therefore new ownership structure, this approach best serves PTIC going forward to create a stronger platform for future growth. What I see in Croda is that we do everything to make sure we actually make a difference, providing holistic solutions.”

Digital transformation driving Coda’s progress

Croda is split into two main businesses: consumer care and life sciences, the latter of which was recognised with a Best Production/Process Development award at the 17th annual Vaccine Industry Excellence Awards for one of Croda’s sustainability-enabling solutions.

“Croda is going full speed in making an impact in the consumer care and life science spaces with specialised innovative and sustainable solutions,” Lale continues. “As CIO, I’m seeing a lot of change in the IT and digital space to enable this, but also have a seat at the forefront of it all.”

What this means for Lale and her colleagues is facilitating the concept of driving end visibility and transparency of Croda’s entire value chain, a shift driven by customers and demanded by consumers. With this comes resilience and agility, especially after a time which was challenging for a variety of markets off the back of geopolitical uncertainties and COVID-19.

A people-focused company

“Technology is all about how we anticipate or predict what's coming and really, in a volatile world, that’s changing all the time,” Lale says. “Data and insights are becoming really important for us and ensuring Croda’s customer and human centricity.”

Not only focusing on the needs of its customers, technology facilitates the creation of a better experience for Croda employees.

“We’ve been exploring what ‘digital’ means for Croda,” she continues. “Digital and technology transformation is embedded in the company — we’re running a digital transformation programme rather than a separate, more federated one with joint ownership.

“Because we’re an innovation company, we produce patents. Our differentiation comes from how fast we can engineer a kind of solution that nobody has made before, connecting the dots and scientists around the world — and that has been the primary focus for us.

“It’s not just about building the capability, but also looking at what value this will bring and how this will enable Croda’s strategic priorities.”

In 2023, Croda renewed its corporate strategy, which is divided into six pillars. One in particular focuses on ‘doing the basics, brilliantly’. For Lale, this is about driving operational excellence and leveraging all kinds of transformation, instilling digital transformation as one of Croda’s core strategic priorities.

This is twofold: by taking a more outcome based-approach — compared to one that is project-driven — Lale and Croda are able to ensure customer excellence through a more human-centric approach. Then, it’s for the benefit of Croda employees, securing the end-to-end experience they want. 

Partners key to Croda’s success

Croda’s digital transformation undertaking has been hugely successful thanks to a variety of existing partnerships.

“My biggest challenge today is ensuring we can actually keep our agility while streamlining and simplifying how we run the company,” Lale says. “And with that comes literacy, because ‘digital’ or ‘technology’ means different things to different people. It’s a journey and we undertake through training webinars to show versus tell and help people feel at ease with the change in technologies.”

Thanks to its rich technology ecosystem, Croda works collaboratively with a number of organisations and business partners. These relationships are mutually beneficial, with Croda aided with the optimisation of platform operation and delivery and the management and securing of assets, to name a few.

“Partners are vital and are becoming even more so,” she explains. “They bring a diversity of thinking, something different to the party, and I believe the partners bring their best to the table.”

Operating in a digital world, Croda’s partnerships with Rapid X and SAP are vital to its success. Lale says that, as a mid-sized Yorkshire-based chemical company opposed to being headquartered in London, it’s extremely critical that its ecosystem creates a magnet effect to attract the right kind of talent and proposals.

For example, SAP collaborates with Croda in a number of ways, as it has been using SAP as its single instance ERP system for more than a quarter of a century. This partnership strengthens Croda’s business model across both consumer care and life science and, thanks to SAP’s focus on digital transformation, it leverages technologies like AI and data analytics to enhance Croda’s product innovation, supply chain management and customer interactions. 

Its partnership with Rapid X is equally crucial in driving Croda’s transformation and ensuring the success of its digital initiatives — allowing it to put process mining in its SAP environment and understand how effective it is in this space. Rapid X is able to provide insights and expertise as an outsider to help Croda in its transformation journey. Lale feels this benefits all involved because, although Croda’s diverse business operations span different sectors, she acknowledges they cannot be experts across the board.

“We don't know what we don't know,” Lale adds. “This is where the idea of creating our own ecosystem came from. I'm very pleased with these relationships and partnerships in our SAP world. They tell us what our blind spots are and how we can maximise engineering value, making sure the value of our investments is realised. 

“Through this experience we’ve realised companies can become part of our ecosystem and act as a very good sounding board, which I believe is fundamental for a technology transformation or digital journey to minimise the risk of failure.”

Focusing on a digital future

With 100 years of company history behind it, Croda — with Lale at the helm of its digital transformation — is looking to continue innovating as it looks to navigate the road ahead.

Preparing for a busy time, Lale concludes: “The next 12 to 18 months is really all about strengthening our business model. My personal mission is to change the way my team operates so we are more business-focused and technology advisors for Croda as well. This journey of IT business partnering will continue while we work with business technologists that drive transformation in the company.

“We will continue to build a foundation — especially with SAP and data — so we can continue accelerating dramatically.”

As part of this, Lale’s primary focus is data and AI. Her team’s expertise means they are well-versed in what some would see as a recent phenomenon, although Lale’s experience in this space stretches back to her engineering studies in the 1990s. Moving forward, her excitement is set to grow as AI is harnessed to propel product innovation and disruption.

This will not be without its challenges, however. While leveraging AI will help Croda to further understand market needs, the business must integrate technologies into existing processes in order to stay ahead of its competitors. It also requires very efficient data operations with clear governance and an ownership model. But this doesn’t faze Lale as she, her team and Croda as a whole are steadfast in navigating the complexities and driving innovation in their industry.

“Technology brings lots of opportunities, as well as lots of risk,” she says. “We need to manage lots of disruption — but I’m really excited about the opportunities that presents.”



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