Digital - the new normal

As digital becomes the new normal coming out of COVID-19, it is transforming the world of building from the quarry to construction sites!


COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of digital technologies across all aspects of life, and construction is no exception.

“The biggest barrier to digital is very seldom the technology - it's actually the behavior of users,” explains Chief Digital Officer Philipp Leutiger. “But this crisis has broken through all that, opening up a lot of opportunities to enhance safety, efficiency and sustainability.”

From the start, Holcim’s digital strategy has been bottom up, advocating for change at local level, while scaling up whenever it makes sense. Through its MAQER platform the Group taps into open innovation across startups globally.

This approach has paid off since the outbreak, with the Group turning digital into an essential ally to service customers and communities in a safe and healthy way, share best practices and harness its deep network across the startup community. As a founding partner of ‘Startups against Corona’, the Group joined forces with more than sixty corporate partners and four hundred startups to tackle the pandemic-related challenges that keep arising.

Helping customers

As the outbreak unfolds, Holcim has equipped its teams around the world with the right tools and solutions to provide uninterrupted service to customers.

When Maryland became one of the first US states to go into lockdown in mid-March -- with the exception of construction sites which were deemed essential -- Jenay Brown, Supervisor Dispatch Aggregate Industries US, suddenly faced the challenge of having to serve customers on job sites while working from home. “Our interactions very quickly started moving over to our Concrete Direct app,” says Jenay.

Requests through the app have increased by 40 since the lockdown began, ensuring contactless concrete deliveries and thus curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Another case in point: our Zambia division signed an agreement with AfriDelivery, an e-commerce company, to provide end-user customers with a digital platform when ordering cement. Clients that have purchased products via the new shopping platform receive their products within two hours upon purchase.

Strong IT Systems provide the foundations, making it possible to fully leverage the vast amounts of data. "We recently launched our Global IT hub in India and are well prepared to support our teams’ digital transition,” says Jochen Werling, Group CIO. "These tools were clearly becoming more important before the crisis," adds Jochen. “And now that’s only set to accelerate.”

Optimizing transportation needs

Initiatives that reach farther than just pandemics and also combat climate change are, for instance, Statistical Demand Forecasting (SDF) tools as they aid the logistics teams to better understand where demand shifts occur and how to best optimize transportation needs.

Across several markets, SDF has shown to reduce unnecessary intra-plant shipments of cement and clinker to achieve savings. The enhanced forecast accuracy allows the regions to reduce any stock-out situation coming from a wrong forecast - which has only become more useful with the pandemic-related market disruptions.

Reaching deep into the production process

While digital was reaching into the production process before, it’s now picking up speed. Holcim’s Performance and Collaboration Tool (PACT), for example, helps managers run an entire cement plant from home. This data-centric command platform grew from running in ten of the company’s cement plants last year to one-hundred today.

“The demand for PACT has picked-up a lot and we see strong pull from the countries”, adds Frank Ernst, Digital Lead Manufacturing.

PACT is in high demand as colleagues across the world see its many benefits. It helps anticipate disruptions and thus keeps plant workers safe while ensuring smooth deliveries to customers. It is also home for applications such as CemQ, which uses machine learning to optimize cement quality and to reduce CO2 emissions based on real-time predictions to do better for our people and the planet.

Who would ever want to go back?

Even as Maryland and thousands of colleagues in other countries continue to adjust to the new normal, work continues -- and sometimes for the better.

As Matt Sherwood, Senior Superintendent of Clark Construction and one of Holcim’s key customers in Maryland, says: "The new normal in the concrete world is using technology to continue operations. Going paperless seems to be the more logical way. Who would ever want to go back?"