“What can be digitized is being digitized,” said Lars Vogel, head of TSystems Multimedia Solutions in Munich. There are already numerous “chief digital officers”, working groups or think tanks are being formed, and companies with the necessary cash are founding hip branches in Berlin, yerba mate iced tea and chillout lounges included. That is all well and good, but here and there it is sometimes hardly more than cosmetic. A bit of digital polish, in a manner of speaking, that only covers the surface. This is where the global player from Franconia, steeped in tradition, takes another path. Here, at one of the world’s largest producers of eyeliner, lip liner, and kohl pencils, digitization seeps deep into the pores, comes alive, and is the company’s bread and butter. However, the secret recipe for this is actually no secret at all: Here, digital transformation begins with the people and not with the machinery.
Everyone is familiar with the products of this industrial holding company, which was founded back in the 19th century, and has likely held at least one of them in their hands before or even uses them daily – which is, of course, always much better for customer loyalty. They are the highlighters with the characteristic shape and equally un forgettable name of “Boss”, the distinctly orangecolored fineliners with the white stripes for calligraphers, the eyeliners and lip liners from wellknown cosmetic brands. All highly haptic products that have since also developed a strong connection to the new digital world. “When a known influencer with more than 100 million followers posts a video on YouTube on Tuesday giving makeup tips with our new kohl pencil, that same day, the wires start buzzing with new orders and production has to put the pedal to the metal,” reported Preuschoff. Incited by social media, the demand for one or two dedicated products can scale up exponentially. Both in national markets and worldwide.
“Digitalization starts with people – not at the level of machines.“
To this end, Preuschoff and his teammates toured the facility, spoke with the works council, visited both the day and night shifts, and let them simply touch, put on, and try out the glasses. In doing so, they made the technology literally tangible. At this time, Schwan Cosmetics' production machines were primarily incidental. The team focused solely on finding internal “influencers”, so to speak, who have fun with new technology and get excited about it, then help colleagues understand it. “For our maintenance with HoloLens, it is crucial for people to talk to each other and work together efficiently to localize faults. We’ve managed to do that by getting them first to talk about the new tool and then to try it out for themselves,” elaborated Preuschoff.
This resulted in that deepdown digitization along with its greatest benefit: The initially desired savings effect – an amount in the upper five figures for travel alone – happened almost in passing. Sometimes, it is a machine failure, other times, it is operating instructions that give an employee the opportunity to put on mixed reality glasses and compare notes with colleagues around the world. But it is the indirect effects of HoloLens that are much more important: Above all, Schwan Cosmetics has achieved an immense transfer of knowledge within the company. “Everyone who works in an office knows this: Windows crashes, you call IT support, you get help. But you don’t come out of it any wiser. Now, however, employees in, say U.S. only get help from colleagues here in solving their problem by themselves. They only get a guide and make the repairs with their own hands. The next time, they probably won’t need the help,” Alexander Sarkissian, Digital Initiative Manager at Schwan Cosmetics, expressed with confidence.
Digitization at the employee level is now fully established. Whether it be problems in pencil assembly that suddenly result in too much scrap or the starting up of the largest system ever built for the cosmetics company and installed in Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic: The HoloLens has become an everyday work tool. It is now even used to run through complicated operations before actually executing them on the machines. And even the operators are becoming more confident with the technology. They appear more relaxed in handling new, complex machines, since they know there is always someone who can virtually assist them in the moment if needed.
With this strategy, Schwan Cosmetics has been able to break down reticence and make room for new ideas, such as digital color management, which is also being developed with T-Systems. The company’s beauty products come in 350 different textures and 12,000 different colors. This level of variety is based on the different market needs around the world – “different countries, different colors.”
Digitization can help give transparency to the entire color portfolio, giving users various options for choosing their desired color to then determine which of the 12,000 colors works best. “Aside from speeding up the process and saving on actual sample pencils, customers will be directly involved in the color selection process,” said Sarkissian, who is leading the project. But no matter what the employees at Schwan Cosmetics come up with: “Our approach is always to connect people to work together and make something happen,” said Preuschoff of the company’s very special and successful digitization strategy – digitization always at the employee level first.