Why digital transformation starts with workflows that unite people and technology

By | 4 minute read | November 13, 2019

The business problems were not going to be easy to solve — if they could even be solved at all. One of the world’s largest food and beverage companies needed a process to measure sales and to rapidly deploy new solutions across its portfolio of 200 brands. And elsewhere in Europe, companies small and large were trying to move into international markets, only to encounter legal entanglements, shipment delays and cash-flow crunches.

In confronting existential challenges, these businesses learned an important (if unexpected) lesson: Technology could certainly assist them, but it wouldn’t be a panacea. A.I., for instance, could give the food manufacturer new insights into its field sales. But the company would need to pair this knowledge with adjustments to its supply chain, product development and distribution. Blockchain could bring more fidelity to trade in Europe, but it couldn’t single-handedly facilitate millions of transactions.

What these companies discovered is that transformation comes from technology-powered process improvements rather than specific tools. Businesses must focus on workflows to get the most value from their technologies.

Companies can advance by adopting intelligent workflows that fuse data, analytics and automation across business units, allowing people to work differently and organizations to rapidly deploy capabilities, says Teresa Hamid, the chief technical officer of cognitive process platforms at IBM.

“I describe intelligent workflows to my three young children as energy packs we place within enterprises,” Hamid says. “Intelligent workflows allow you to be yourself. So, you still have your arms and legs, but now you can do so much more. Maybe automation gives you an extra set of legs, and analytics and A.I. tell you when to slow down — or speed up.”

Here’s how intelligent workflows have helped two businesses innovate across their organizations and stay ahead of the competition.

Withstanding trade winds

Imagine your business is on the precipice of a major international expansion, with new markets and products on the horizon. Then the trouble starts. Your key partner alters terms of the agreement at the last minute, restarting the already lengthy legal review process. At the same time, you have products waiting to ship and dwindling cash reserves.

Complex (and sometimes chaotic) deals are common in international commerce, and it takes significant funding to pursue global expansion and withstand vagaries. Yet nearly 70 percent of organizations lack financing to mitigate trade obstacles and pursue game-changing opportunities.

We.trade, a start-up funded by a collection of European banks, has introduced technology that helps businesses overcome potentially calamitous trade obstacles. Shortly after it began working with we.trade in 2018, IBM helped the company define goals, establish a minimum viable network and launch a commercial platform. The result is we.trade’s shared, centralized trading database, which is based on the IBM Blockchain Platform and runs on IBM Cloud.

This system now provides two key tools to make cross-border trade more transparent and punctual. The first, a distributed ledger, ensures that all trade parties have access and control of the same information, helping businesses trust one another. “With blockchain, importers and exporters can do business more easily and securely, because everyone on the transaction chain is independently verified,” says Roberto Mancone, the co-founder of we.trade.

The second tool, smart contracts, automatically triggers payments when certain terms in the blockchain ledger are met. This helps reduce transaction delays and cash-flow crunches. Together, the distributed ledger and smart contracts allow companies of any size to safely and smoothly navigate international trade.

“The IBM team has been extremely valuable in that they set the tone for the entire project,” Mancone says. “They were very responsive and agile in the way they helped us overcome any issues that arose. We.trade saved nine to 12 months by working with IBM, which helped us enter the market before competitors.”

Local insights, global impact

Kraft Heinz products fill pantries (and bellies) in more than 200 countries. That Maxwell House coffee in your pantry? It’s made by Kraft Heinz, as are more than 200 other beverages and foods you most likely enjoy. But like many large companies with a global footprint, Kraft Heinz was challenged by the magnitude of its reach. With millions of customers and tens of thousands of employees in over 40 countries, Kraft Heinz faced the daunting task of continuously tracking sales and adjusting distribution and promotion across its vast stable of brands. To lead in a fiercely competitive food market, the company needed to reorient the business toward rapid adjustments and minimal viable products.

“Kraft Heinz is always trying to find new products and improve what we’re already selling,” says Jorge Balestra, the director of IT and COE Analytics Solutions at Kraft Heinz. “But it’s hard to make sure the right product is going to the right place at the right time, and we needed an analytical brain to help us answer this.

Working side-by-side with experts in the IBM Garage, a shared innovation space, Kraft Heinz developed an A.I. algorithm that measures real-time product information, predicts sales and recommends distribution alterations.“The garage is an innovation think tank,” says Arun Abraham, a lead account partner for IBM Services. “It helps companies move at the speed of a start-up with the scale of an enterprise.”

Kraft Heinz’s analytics were powerful on their own, but Abraham and others at IBM encouraged Heinz Kraft managers to embed the insights into intelligent workflows that can connect different technologies and teams across the company. Now Kraft Heinz’s product development, supply chain and sales teams are synced, and they collaborate to rapidly prototype and deploy new products based on live store data. After its initial success, Kraft Heinz is working to apply A.I. embedded in intelligent workflows to other areas of the business, from human resources to supply chain.

“I would like to expand the IBM Garage at Kraft Heinz,” Balestra says. “We want to tackle more problems and make sure decisions are made with data and assisted by A.I.” Applying technologies to disparate tasks is akin to a guessing game. You rush and rush, only to lose sight of the overall process. By carefully investigating challenges, defining goals and rethinking processes before choosing specific tools, you can maximize the potential of people and technology. Intelligent workflows can help you make tools, data and teams interact harmoniously.

“The ‘aha’ moment is when people have live data from across the enterprise at their fingertips,” IBM’s Hamid says. “They realize intelligent workflows allow them to move faster and do more with their business.”

Learn more about how IBM can help transform your business.

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