Ranked as the consumers’ number one provider of fibre cement building material in Thailand for the seventh consecutive year in a row, Shera Public Company Limited is widely revered across the fibre cement industry. However, having operated for more than four decades, the business is routinely aware of its need to remain adaptable and responsive to the ever-changing needs of its customers, by investing in new technologies while upskilling its workforce to retain its global position.
As innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), predictive analytics and intelligent innovation continue to gain momentum, manufacturers are increasingly looking at new, agile ways to create a seamless infrastructure to transform business processes, not only to improve efficiency, quality and safety across their operations, but to remain profitable year-on-year across an emerging digital landscape.
Responsible for overhauling SHERA’s business processes to further engage and enhance the quality of its products and services, Vice President of Information Technology, Athikom Kanchanavibhu, has sought to fully disrupt the market, viewing technology as one of the key tools for growth, not only for distributors and retailers that sell SHERA’s products, but for its contractors, architects and home owners that use its innovations.
“There is a lot of discussion at management level surrounding digital transformation strategy, how to integrate technologies and conduct surveys to understand not only our customers, but also our stakeholders,” he says. “We are in the middle of our journey with over 20 projects in progress. In the past 18 months, we have completed quite a number of projects, such as corporate network and cloud infrastructure transformation while utilising new digital solutions, such as sales force automation to transform how our fields sales approach our customers.”
Whilst SHERA has previously focused on how much it could sell to its customers, through its digital transformation it has sought to invest in the development of new cloud-based technologies on Microsoft Azure, transforming its outdated processes to gain a greater understanding of its customers’ sales and inventory situation, enabling more collaborations to focus on generating demands from end-users.
“We now understand more about how our products are sold to customers. In terms of our IT operations, Microsoft Office 365 and chat bots have been transforming our communication standards internally. We have restructured our team to have people focus more on new digital technologies, evolving teams together in the business direction we are going. Our business data are now on multi-cloud, so we are equipping people with analytics tool to extract business insight from growing data that we continue to integrate from new digital solutions,” he says.
Focusing on its shipping capabilities and the quality of its products, SHERA is aware of the need to provide agile services, built with the customer in mind.
“In the past, we made a product with a set choice of design, but consumers are now expecting products to be more varied in terms of patterns and colours. We need to be flexible enough to allow that trade off. This is something we are addressing. Another focus is on making things more solution centric,” he explains.
“Although we have been innovating on the product itself, we also need to be pushing forward the solution. Everything handled by us will be simplified, from purchasing the products to the installation by contractors. Another area of focus is customer needs for products that promote safer and healthier home living, these are example of things we are thinking about at the moment.”
Across its manufacturing operations, SHERA has been focusing on two essential areas: one being preventive maintenance, the other is quality control. Working alongside a number of vendors, SHERA has gained the ability to monitor and capture vital data, which has been analysed to transform its production operations. Machine learning technology is also being explored to further enhance and automate manufacturing process.
In terms of network and firewall infrastructure, SHERA removed five vendors and partnered with Thailand’s largest mobile phone operator and leading ICT Service Provider, AIS, which has seen the business build a robust ICT infrastructure across its operations.
“Our centralised Palo Alto firewall has also enabled us to have better security and visibility across our factories and head office,” adds Kanchanavibhu. “Previously, if a malfunction or breakdown in equipment occurred, the company would suffer both in downtime costs and productivity, particularly as different sites held alternate policies. Utilising a decentralised model made processes difficult to manage and led to inconsistencies.
“We took time to review all network security policies between six different locations and public internet. With that, we migrated simplified single policy to the new Palo Alto firewall. Everyone is now under a single policy and our visibility is greatly improved. We have just one centralised dashboard to effectively monitor every traffic, including cyber security threats in our networks across factories, private cloud data center and office locations. Our users also get access to network via automatic single sign-on authentication between Active Directory and new firewall.”
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By moving all its operations into the cloud, employees are also able to work on the move, creating a seamless experience, bolstering collaboration. Sales teams are also utilising a new salesforce automation (SFA) system, leaving the business to fully eliminate traditional paper-led processes to fully engage its customers.
“We have fully equipped our field sales with SFA tools from mobileOne. They now have proper route planning for visiting several thousand customers across Thailand on their mobile devices. At the same time, our management team can see all the information in real time,” says Kanchanavibhu. “Aside from that, in terms of cloud infrastructure, we have moved our on-premise data centre to cloud. Our vendor, TCC Technology, has been working closely with us to successfully migrate all our critical applications and servers to run on private cloud.”
Whilst the business has been a roaring success for more than four decades, it will remain imperative for SHERA to remain ahead of the curve, enabling employees to embracing new technologies in such a digitally-led climate and fully skill up its diverse employee demographic.
“All of this takes some form of effort,” notes Kanchanavibhu. “When we moved to Office 365, it was a big change compared with how people worked in the past. Now, they can do it all through web-based applications. We need to educate our people about the benefits that can be unlocked through moving to the cloud, as well as new technologies which we implement.”
As the company remains steadfast on its digital journey, removing outdated legacy processes and promoting connectivity, SHERA has transformed its processes, leading to increased quality, safety and compliance across its operations. With 3,000 employees throughout its headquarters in Bangkok, its five manufacturing and distribution plants in Thailand, its three and expanding oversea offices, the company will continue to provide essential employment opportunities, support local talent and further its world-class reputation for its customer-led services, sustained by innovation.