Valin shows how digital transformation can be truly transformative

Companies everywhere are grappling with the demands of digital -- new opportunities, yes, but also new systems, business models, ways of thinking and competitive threats. Many companies are talking about digital transformation, but how many are taking action? And, furthermore, how many are thinking about transformation as an ongoing activity rather than an item to cross off a to-do list?

On Wednesday at the NAW Executive Summit, attendees heard from Valin President and CEO Joe Nettemeyer, who was concluding his year as chairman of the NAW Board of Directors. Nettemeyer spoke about Valin’s desire to transform and adapt, but his wasn’t the only voice heard. He showed a video that highlighted Valin’s efforts across departments through the words of his team.

What is Valin? It’s a privately owned diversified wholesale distribution company with many offerings, including providing “comprehensive solutions to the process markets including technology, life sciences, energy, and transportation." Based in Silicon Valley, it has a bird’s-eye view of technological transformation, and it’s been in the midst of its own multi-year digital roadmap.

The video Nettemeyer showed offered several key points for distributors when it comes to digital transformation. Among them:

  1. Don’t think about digital just as a tech plan, multiple employees said in the video. Digital must be a way to drive outcomes and to transform business processes, go-to markets and internal as well as external customers.
  2. Be deliberate about choosing technologies. “What is your software application foundation?” said a employee in the video.
  3. Middle managers are key drivers.
  4. Don’t think of this transformation as a one-and-done project. It’s ongoing.

Be deliberate

Valin’s digital roadmap was deliberate in a couple of ways. One, the company started with a clear focus: pricing optimization. Valin found that this focus opened up funding for further technological and culture investment.

Two, the company was precise in what technologies it chose. Valin was specific about addressing enterprise resource planning systems and customer relationship management software -- and how it connected ERP and CRM to its e-commerce offerings.

“It’s the quality of your data that’s going to differentiate you in the marketplaces -- the quality of your data and the information exchanged with your employees,” Nettemeyer said.

Leadership matters

Top-down leadership buy-in is key for any strategic push, but Valin also found that middle managers were vital.

As one company official said, “Middle managers are the key. … They have to understand how to use the technology better than anyone else, and they have to constantly be helping the people learn it, over and over and over again, and never giving up until the whole organization starts to move.”

This leadership extends to the culture. Nettemeyer promotes Valin as a “a learning organization” that reaches across the multiple generations in the workforce. Other employees talked about how employees can do more when they speak the same language and are focused on the same goals.

Keep expanding the scope

This technology push wasn’t limited to distributor-specific functions. Better data collection, faster analysis and on-demand access have been a key for Valin across functions. Digital transformation has touched how Valin engages with job candidates, how it tracks them, how it handles expense reports, and how leadership promotes learning within the organization.

Valin isn’t the biggest company out there, employees noted, but it was able to find the funding and the will to tackle digital transformation. “Just because you don’t have the billion-dollar budget doesn’t mean you can’t become a relevant player,” one employee said in the video.

The final key for Valin is not thinking that technology is a one-time project. One employee shared how he is looking at a roadmap two years out, and how that sends the message that the transformation is a continuous journey to apply technology to business purposes.

 

James daSilva is the longtime editor of SmartBrief's leadership newsletter and blog content, as well as NAW SmartBrief and other newsletters. Before SmartBrief, he was a copy desk chief at a small daily New York newspaper. Contact him @James_daSilva or by email.