Customer Use Case
ASK Chemicals, one of the world's largest providers of foundry and industrial resins and coatings alongside tailored technical services, sought a partner whose technology could help broaden their service-reach and enable new service models.
In partnering with Librestream and white labeling Librestream’s Onsight software as ASK Now, ASK Chemicals was able to offer their customers a solution that fit their specific needs, including real-time communication and documentation capabilities, overcoming language barriers, and seamless integration into their operations.
Significant reductions in customer scheduling times for technical service support. In some cases, what might have taken weeks (due to on-site service scheduling) took just 15-minutes in ASKNow virtual field service support. ASK Chemicals, and its customers, have saved over $30,000 USD annually in just the US alone. ASKNow has been deployed in 2022 in over 10 countries spanning three regions (North America, South America, and Europe). ASK Chemicals now plans to further integrate ASKNow into customer locations with on-site installations and licensing for enhanced technical service benefits.
ASK Chemicals on Digital Transformation: Think of the Customer First
By Charles Hoertz, Head of Global Digitalization, ASK Chemicals
Next to ESG, digital transformation continues to be a leading value driver within businesses today. It doesn’t matter anymore which industry you’re in. The digital wave has reached traditional manufacturers with democratized technologies once suited for mega-organizations and boutique technology start-ups. This is no surprise, however, if one is aware of our computational progress in history, as suggested by Moore’s Law. In other words, digitalization is no mere buzzword, and all industries should seek to exploit its benefits.
Nevertheless, the problem is where to start your digital transformation. Jumping to technology first can be a death sentence for organizations seeking to transform their workforce with digitalization. Yet often this is the case and it’s unavoidable. The global pandemic, for instance, forced ASK Chemicals to think creatively about solving problems digitally. However, events like this – that magnify problems and objectives – are outliers. More systematic approaches are advisable, like considering your organization’s mindset, people, processes, and then finally technology. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to have found the right partner for the right problem – but it all began by thinking of the customer first, not by thinking of technology first.
What does the customer need?
That’s the question we started with at ASK Chemicals when we launched “ASKNow,” our virtual field services solution.
Our customers, in this specific case, were foundries – large, complex facilities that cast metal. At ASK Chemicals we go beyond our high-quality innovative product portfolio and offer unmatched value-added services for foundry process optimization. Our expert Technical Service Representatives specifically perform foundry audits, known as Process Improvement Plans (PIP). It is a lot like an inspection you might get when you buy a home so you can see what kind of shape the property is in and what needs to be fixed and at what cost.
As with a home inspection, our service for foundries culminates with a report.
Although we offer many other services, that detailed report is in many ways the crux of our value proposition. In fact, it is often the reason why our customers choose ASK Chemicals over our competition, many of whom may be cheaper but less thorough and comprehensive. Ultimately, foundries are complex, which means our customers’ needs are complex. They count on us at ASK Chemicals to conduct an exhaustive audit of their facilities and deliver an accurate report they can use to improve their processes and overall operations.
Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 lockdown of 2020, our customers’ on-site needs became almost impossible to address. Foundries were closing their doors to outside visitors. Almost overnight, our value proposition vanished.
In these trying circumstances, it’s not unusual to think that a new piece of technology can be implemented quickly and thrust into the role of the digital savior. Yet, to say a promising technology–a HoloLens, for example–can itself satisfy the complex needs of the customer is not only short sighted, but it can also derail an otherwise well-intentioned digitalization strategy.
That said, the pandemic thrust us into a technology-first situation that meant we needed to identify our customer’s need statements and fast!
Let’s examine those needs for a foundry.
Foundries have workforce demographics like what we see in other traditional industries across the world from an experience standpoint. More seasoned and knowledgeable workers have left the industry due to retirement and other factors. What remains is an emerging workforce whose collective level of education and/or expertise is comparatively lower than those of their predecessors. Therefore, foundries often rely on supplier expertise as a supplement to offset their perpetual need to optimize their operations and train their workers.
With this said, we sought to arrive at a minimum viable solution. Tools like FaceTime and Microsoft Teams were piloted but with minimal success. Ultimately, most foundries are in rural areas with poor connectivity that rendered these tools useless. Furthermore, the customer’s need for documentation could not be effectively managed with either solution. What we needed was a solution that could not only allow for real-time video communication, but also could document the exchange from start to finish, in low-bandwidth settings.
Interestingly, during this early phase of the project we discovered a latent need – a need we never anticipated based on our customer interviews – to overcome inherent language barriers. Foundries all over the world have needed technical services and previously these could not all be managed. Yet, there are no borders with digital solutions. Therefore, given the advancements in natural language processing (NLP) we sought to incorporate this need into our end-solution.
We needed each of these capabilities plus the ability for the chosen solution to integrate into our operational backbone, which, given the size and scope of ASK Chemicals, is intricate. In the end, the choice was clear…Librestream. Librestream was able to nail all of our requirements, which is why we chose them to be the back-end provider of our virtual field services platform.
Librestream’s solutions thrive in low-bandwidth environments. They also offer NLP, which allows for real-time translation when two parties are communicating in different languages. Librestream’s solutions also allow for that all-important cloud-based documentation of a process so they can be audited by the customer anytime.
Beyond meeting our need statements and fitting nicely within our operational backbone, Librestream also offered “white labeling,” a personally important feature. White labeling meant we could brand and distribute our solution as our own. Empowered by Librestream and their vast technical resources our ASKNow branded application is constantly updated with the latest features and improvements from Librestream. Having our own branded system meant a lot to ASK Chemicals. We pride ourselves on having the best technical services and constantly investing in its strength. With ASKNow, we have taken a giant leap into our digital journey and feel empowered alongside Librestream – our digital partner.
About the author:
Charles Hoertz is the Head of Global Digitalization for ASK Chemicals. He oversees all global, regional, and local projects related to digitalization–the use of new digital technologies and digitized data to impact how work gets done, transform how customers and companies engage and interact, and create new (digital) revenue streams.
About ASK Chemicals:
Headquartered in Hilden near Düsseldorf, Germany) ASK Chemicals Group is a global supplier of high-performance industrial resins and materials. The company’s products are mainly used in foundries and in the production of abrasives, refractories, impregnation, coatings, insulation, and composite materials.
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