When Nicholas Colisto joined Avery Dennison
“When my business partners would say we want to become a digital business, what they were saying is that we want to optimize our existing business to gain efficiencies, and also transform the company by creating new net revenue streams,” says Colisto.
In response, Colisto established Avery Dennison’s Digital Innovation Center of Excellence, or DICE. “DICE is delivering digital learning programs and applications, including through supplier partnerships, and helping us innovate like a startup and scale like an enterprise.”
How DICE rolls
Within DICE, three programs help accelerate innovation: the first involves education to build digital fluency. The second is a lab that provides methodology and resources to develop proofs of concept with digital experience leaders for four digital domains: employee experience, customer experience, factory experience, and product experience. The third is an outreach program that connects internal and external experts, customers, suppliers, and universities to explore and solve business problems together.
The pandemic, of course, required adaptations, but Avery Dennison did it in a way that enabled the innovations to continue. Newly remote workers still generated good ideas, but not the amount Avery Dennison wanted. So Colisto’s department created a five-step process of gathering, recording, evaluating, prioritizing, and actioning new ideas remotely. They held virtual digital ideation sessions focused on three challenges identified by leaders of business units and other functions. At the end of two weeks, they had more than 400 viable ideas, says Colisto. They liked the results so much they’re keeping the exercise post-pandemic. “It just took off in ways we didn’t expect,” he says.
DICE leaders are discriminative when selecting projects to take to the proof of concept (POC) stage, says Colisto, and the POCs are run on a strict time frame. First, they do a quick test of the hypothesis that takes a week maximum, followed by a POC that takes no more than a month. “A mistake we made, in the beginning, was allowing some of these proofs of concept to go on for months,” says Colisto.
But the ultimate test is in the scaling. Scaling successful proofs of concept into live business solutions is the real challenge, says Colisto. He says the barriers to scaling innovative ideas are vision and strategy, and both are equally important. It’s imperative to define digital goals first, so funding and support are already in place before you start experimenting. “Without business unit or corporate function engagement and support, the experiments are rudderless.”
DICE also holds digital ambition workshops where leaders identify long-term strategic goals for digital innovation that align with the business unit’s or corporate function’s strategic plan. “It’s an opportunity to be provocative and think beyond our traditional products and services, and define what it takes to be a digital business,” Colisto says. “It’s imagining a future where digital products and services are part of the fabric of our company.”
Culture Change: The Unsung Hero of Digital Transformation
Colisto believes in democratizing digital innovation and that each business unit should have software development and product management capabilities to build digital products and services for customers. IT’s role is to provide the broader technological expertise the company can leverage to create and support its commercial solutions. The one exception, says Colisto, is information security ─ IT is entirely responsible for security, and the business units prefer it that way, he says.
To that end, Colisto’s IT department is now building iCore, Avery Dennison’s own IoT architecture that the business units can use to develop their applications independently.
Empowering business leaders to accelerate their digital business ambition starts with culture change. “I think leaders have an opportunity to make their organizations more agile, more innovative, and more open to taking risks,” says Colisto. “And they can do that by helping to change the workplace culture.”
Avery Dennison is doing that with another four-step process they call LEAD ─ Learning about new technologies and practices, Engaging employees and customers to identify problems to be solved and creative ideas, Advocating for cultural transition, and Delivering solutions that achieve desired business outcomes. “We think that by applying these four steps, companies can ignite creativity, agility, and learning to innovate at the speed and scale of these uncertain and changing markets,” says Colisto.
And, as he points out, LEAD reversed is DEAL. “Companies can either lead with digital innovation and disrupt the market, or they can deal with being disrupted,” he says.
Speed and Success
Avery Dennison’s approach to digital optimization and transformation has already produced several successful initiatives. For example, travel restrictions during the pandemic created challenges with providing technical assistance to shop floor workers. The DICE team quickly did a proof of concept with one factory to test out wearable computing and augmented reality so that workers could see instructions, take and upload images to the company’s ERP system, and get help from remote experts. That technology is now at the start of scaling across the company.
One of the success stories originating from Avery Dennison’s experiments, says Colisto, is atma.io, the company’s connected product cloud platform. It gives unique digital IDs to physical objects for end-to-end tracking from the source to the customer and even beyond to take part in the circular economy. atma.io is developed and managed by the business unit and supported by IT services, including information security.
Then, Freshmarx, the company’s intelligent food industry solution, is a platform that embodies Avery Dennison’s commitment to digital transformation and culture change. It’s a complete farm-to-fork inventory track and trace platform to improve food safety, meet sustainability goals, and increase labor efficiency. “I think the future is organizations having several digital product development and management teams sprinkled across the company supported by a set of shared services from IT such as infrastructure, cloud orchestration, information security, and technology sourcing,” says Colisto.