3 Examples of How Digital Transformation Accelerated During Covid-19

Written by: Nancy White

Read Time: 3 min

At PTC, we’ve been championing the idea of digital transformation for many years, and supported thousands of companies in their journey to improve their business by leveraging our technologies.

But, none of us could have predicted what has happened with digital transformation in the last year.

President and CEO of PTC Jim Heppelmann recently highlighted the positive: “We have pulled together on a massive scale to collectively reconfigure our daily lives for the greater good. We have seen incredible demonstrations of commitment and compassion in our frontline -- and we have seen incredible demonstrations of innovation and flexibility everywhere around us.”
Heppelmann spoke as part of a recent virtual event co-sponsored by PTC and the Financial Times earlier this month, Future of Industrial Innovation. The digital forum included a keynote from Heppelmann (read the recap here or watch the full presentation here), an economic outlook from an economist, and a panel discussion featuring experts engaged in digital transformation within their own companies. 

The panel was moderated by Claire Bushey, reporter for the Financial Times, and included:

  • Bharat Amin, Chief Innovation Officer, Huntington Ingalls Industries
  • Josef Hjelmaker, Chief Innovation Officer, Thor Industries
  • Kristen Riggs, SVP, Chief Growth Officer, The Hershey Company
  • Tessa Myers, Global VP, Software & Control, Rockwell Automation

The panel covered a wide range of topics, including the financial impact of digital investments, now and in the future, how the nature of human work is changing with digital innovation, and the state of recruiting in the manufacturing space.

Among the most insightful topics of conversation was about if and how the pandemic has led to an acceleration in digitization. The panelists shared examples from his or her own experiences in 2020 and offered a window into the evolving speed of digital transformation for the enterprise.

Below is a recap of this part of the conversation:

S’mores Sales and Digital Tales

A s’more takes three simple ingredients (graham cracker, chocolate bar, and toasted marshmallow, for the uninitiated) and turns them into a special treat. A campfire tradition, s’mores is a family activity primarily during the summer months. 

According to Kristen Riggs, SVP, Chief Growth Officer, at The Hersey Company, s’mores became more than that this past summer – and sales of 6-pack Hersey Milk Chocolate Bars skyrocketed as a result.

“During the pandemic, people were looking to (s’mores) for that family connection moment,” she said, and were making s’mores at home, at the backyard BBQs to “bring joy to the family.”
Because of the foundational analytics they had in place before the pandemic hit to gain real-time consumer insights, which involved a cross-functional team, Hershey was able to recognize this trend quickly and react accordingly to capture growth.

Sales teams were able to understand geographically where sales were strongest – down to the zip code – and better understand the consumer perspective.

“With the signals from the retail level, we were able to redeploy inventory, think about our manufacturing process and how we might correctly make more inventory than we had even forecast quickly,” she said, adding that the result of this digitally-unified supply chain was a record sales season for s’mores.

Remote Work Increases 10x

Bharat Amin, CIO at Huntington Ingalls, said pre-pandemic he had a vision having 10% of his workforce be 100% remote. The idea was to “bring work to employees, not employees to work.”

His goal was 10 percent – and he achieved 8 percent in large part due to the company culture that put value on the need for in-person collaboration. Then, the pandemic hit. And his workforce, like many others across the globe, became completely remote within 30 days. “It was nerve-racking because we hadn’t done it before.”

With training, particularly to address cybersecurity concerns, the workforce adapted – and productivity in software development went up, he said. He estimates the pandemic accelerated his company’s digital transformation journey, which they had been working on for two years, significantly.

Digital Selling Approach Comes Front & Center

Thor Industries is the owner of many leading brands of recreational vehicles (RVs) that together represents the world’s largest manufacturer of RVs. Josef Hjelmaker, Thor’s Chief Innovation Officer, said Covid-19 has broadened the company’s customer base – and because of that shift, accelerated their transition to digital. 

“The pandemic revived our core values, in terms of freedom, safety, flexibility, and mobility,” Hjelmaker said. Health and safety concerns, as well as travel restrictions, limited vacation options and as a result, more people than ever were looking to travel by RV. Pre-pandemic the bulk of their customers were Baby Boomers, who traditionally preferred in-person sales. With Generation X, Generation Z, and Millennials now interested in RVs, coupled with Covid-19 safety concerns, creating a digital experience came front and center.

“We saw traditional sales channels basically overnight were practically eliminated we had to refocus and accelerate our approach to be digitally present on our webpage and start selling through digital means,” he said.

Thor isn’t alone in this customer shift. A McKinsey study found that the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated customer interactions by years. Nearly 60 percent of interactions were digital in July 2020, a mere seven months prior that number was closer to 33 percent.

Confidence in the Face of Crisis

Rockwell Automation’s Tessa Myers, Global VP, Software & Control, summed up the panelists’ comments with this, “The pandemic has shown us we could go faster than we ever thought possible.” 

However, she noted, that the companies that were further along in their digital transformation journey – the ones who had laid the foundation for digital – have been able to be more responsive and confident in their strategy during this time.

The entire panel discussion is available to view on the Financial Times until Jan. 4, 2021.


Tags: Industrial Internet of Things Digital Transformation

About the Author

Nancy White

Nancy White is the content marketing manager for the Corporate Brand team at PTC. A journalist turned content marketer, she has a diverse writing background—from Fortune 500 companies to community newspapers—that spans more than a decade.