AkzoNobel and Enterprise Services Partnership Reaches Seven Year Pinnacle

AkzoNobel and HPE's partnership
Year seven is traditionally regarded as a crisis year for marriage partners. But for Enterprise Services (merging with CSC in April to form a pure-play global IT services company DXC Technology) and AkzoNobel, leading global paints and performance coating manufacturer, the seventh year of their IT outsourcing partnership represents a pinnacle. It is marked by a pioneering global rollout of Windows 10, plus, the partnership has just been rated ‘excellent’ in a ‘Voice of the Client’ survey.

The strength of the partnership is evident on a daily basis, with ES delivering the multi-lingual Global Service Desk as well as the pioneering rollout of a Windows 10-based workplace to AkzoNobel’s global workforce. But the partnership is no lucky strike or a product of natural chemistry: it has entailed much hard work behind the scenes, involving behavioural KPIs and a ‘can do’ attitude.

The net promoter score awarded to the HPE-AkzoNobel partnership is 60, which exceeds the industry benchmark for excellent by 10 clear points. Temkin Research also ranked HPE Outsourcing top of all vendors when it comes to customer satisfaction in its 2016 survey of 62 technology vendors. It is this pedigree and context of valuing high-performing partnership that forms the backdrop of the successful rollout of Windows 10 to 7,000 AkzoNobel employees (15 per cent of the workforce) to date.

Described as the ‘last great migration’, a Windows 10 upgrade in an enterprise environment entails far more complexity than a domestic installation and represents new territory for corporate IT teams and end users. Nonetheless, Eric Janssen, Chief Technologist, Enterprise Services, reports that the project so far has been a relatively smooth journey

“After carefully designing, implementing and piloting the solution, the rollout has been very successful”, says Janssen. Paul Mirams, Senior Enterprise Architect for AkzoNobel explains that from the paint manufacturer’s point of view, the cooperation has resulted in “a seamless migration and happy users, and the new experience [delivered on W10 devices] is more responsive to work with”.

Success in meeting ambitious business objectives comes from rigorous planning plus a clarity and commitment to tangible KPIs and agreements related to service delivery and performance. A magic ingredient to success in the AkzoNobel partnership, however, stems from non-tangible areas of people working together in an optimal fashion, as Hans Klopper, global account executive, HPE, explains.

Like any business partnership, ES and AkzoNobel have endured their fair share of ups and downs in negotiating the merits of daily digital transformation in a dynamic global economy. The difference is in their joint approach to resolving complex problems and conflict, and embracing opportunity, says Klopper. ”Both parties are committed to, and measured by, agreed codes of behaviour, and share mutual business objectives and aspirations”. This helps sustain their high-functioning partnership.

It wasn’t always like this, explains Klopper, and he recalls the turning point, three years ago when he joined the account and the partnership turned its back on negativity: “I wanted to leave behind conversations when the contract is on the table, blaming people instead of finding solutions, and being reactive. Instead, we focussed on teaming with AkzoNobel IM to improve the IT services for the AkzoNobel end-users and resolving challenges with a ‘can do’ attitude”.

The results have been well worth the emotional sweat as demonstrated by the successful rollout of Windows 10.  “We are very proud of our NPS score”, says Klopper. The project has also provided a fruitful learning opportunity about W10 implementations for enterprises with two key takeaways: the power of pilot communities in generating enthusiastic adoption of technology; and the need to cultivate an iterative approach to upgrades and innovation, among both IT teams and business customers.

AkzoNobel’s sales community was selected as the pioneer group for W10. It was a good choice, confirms Janssen. “They were enthusiastic pioneers and excellent advocates, especially because the hybrid devices they used. These devices leveraged the ‘touch’ capabilities of Windows 10 in tablet mode when visiting customers and allowed the sales persons to use the same device as a ‘normal’ laptop when in their (home) office”.

Employees saw the sales team walking around with the new devices, being enthusiastic, and it created high demand. Such was the demand, in fact, that it had to be managed from financial perspective, as the hybrid devices are more expensive. “A takeaway is that an upgrade is primarily about the user experience and what it means for them.  You can then involve the pioneers in selling it to the rest of the organization”.

The other key lesson was cultural: enterprise adoption of W10 needs to be accompanied by preparing business customers – end users – for incremental and continuous change. W10 is one of the building blocks that helps increase collaboration in the company, explains Janssen. “It needs multiple building blocks, including O365, Skype for Business and others that are evolving all the time. It’s a cultural shift for IT and users in general, as many of these are upgraded on a self-service and frequent basis”.

In the past, client-device operating systems were stable for a couple of years before needing an upgrade that usually required a hardware refresh. Those days are over and the migration to as-a-service based W10 doesn’t call for a large scale hardware update. Instead, with each upgrade of W10, users obtain new features. A gradual, continuous approach to innovation of the whole Windows 10 platform and related ecosystem has replaced a big bang, large scale migration.

“We (the IT team) need to adjust our services, and customers need to be ready for a continuously changing environment”, says Janssen. “For example, some back-end solutions such as SCCM required upgrading to support W10 properly at the start of the project. And moving forward, upgrades of these technologies will be more ‘tightly coupled’ than previously.”

Accompanying this shift, communications have become more important. “The solution has to be as intuitive as possible as users do their own migration, not the IT department”, and Enterprise Services is working with AkzoNobel on getting the user-friendliness right. “Self-service allows for lower transformation costs, as the majority of users upgrade themselves. Then the flip side is that the solution needs to be fault-tolerant, intuitive, documented and verified”, adds Janssen.

The partnership was tested on a further level as AkzoNobel was HPE’s first customer to adopt Windows 10.  As Janssen puts it, “the maturity of W10 and the surrounding ecosystem was not advanced when we started out,” and there was a lack of any tested implementation method. Instead, the partners had to find their way to an approach that could accommodate higher levels of uncertainty as technical and rollout challenges were encountered and solved together. Some new Windows 10 features such as Cortana and the (business) store were disabled initially and will be revisited at a later stage.

“Before rolling out to end users, we had to make sure we had a solid solution with a robust testing cycle, internally within HPE, then with pilot users”, says Janssen. “In a structured way, we collected feedback from pilot users. Feedback was compiled and condensed into a list of issues that was managed and addressed appropriately by iterating with pilot users before being rolled out to large users groups. Users were happy, because before they were presented with W10, we’d ironed out issues”.

The W10 rollout project presented another opportunity for the customer to clean up its technology estate, this time its applications catalogue. In previous times, application compatibility generally presented a huge migration challenge; it was not significant in this project, but the process of testing apps to validate support for W10 was also a chance to review the application catalogue, adds Janssen.  “Once we’d gone through the process, we could retire unused apps”.

The migration is not over yet, but it is off to a flying start, with Windows 10 acquiring a reputation for improving employee experience and collaboration across the business. The strong cooperation with Microsoft throughout the project was another success factor. Being an early enterprise adopter of Windows 10 was a risk that AkzoNobel was able to take because of the maturity of its partnership with the ES team. Alongside increased productivity and innovation, the advantages of early adoption include avoiding the time squeeze that comes when vendors withdraw support from older products.

AkzoNobel’s implementation of W10 marks it as a pioneer in the manufacturing sector with its recognition of the importance of digitally enabled employees in the modern workplace. Successful early adoption also prepares the way culturally for a buy-in of other relevant collaboration building blocks. And the learning experience has strengthened an already mature partnership between ES and AkzoNobel for future ventures.