MRC Global Senior Vice President-Business Development Robert Stein and Vice President and Chief Information Officer Lisa McClain are pipe, valves and fittings industry veterans with more than 65 years of experience between them. The two sat down with Supply House Times to talk about the latest industry buzzword — digitalization — and how MRC Global is embracing the digital transformation challenge.
We are constantly hearing that energy end users need to be more digitalized. What does it mean for a nearly 100 year-old PVF distributor such as MRC Global to embrace the digital challenge?
LM: When I think about it, I think about the opportunity to use technology and digital tools to improve business outcomes, such as increasing revenue, profitability and productivity.
RS: The digital transformation wave is changing the way our customers do business. Part of our success is continuing to modify and change as the world around us changes, as our products change and as the demands of our customers change. This is just a continuation of our 100 years of success by understanding not only where our customers are today, but where we think they are going to be in the future.
So, you are saying that your customers demand it of you?
RS: Yes. Digital transformation initiatives are not easy, so you have to stay ahead of the curve. I think within our industry, we have always been early adopters when it comes to technology that can help our customers. Lisa, what do you think?
LM: When it comes to EDI, absolutely. We have been doing electronic exchange of purchase orders, invoices and other business transactions since the 1990s; so, I certainly think in that particular space, we have been out in front of our peers.
RS: I don’t think we can thrive as an industry without a digital transformation. This isn’t a single project, although MRCGO (the company’s new digital PVF supply chain solution) is a big step in that direction. We will continue to go down this digital-first path because we are committed to exceeding our customers’ needs in all the areas we serve.
What makes you so adamant about this initiative?
RS: There are three things going on that make it so evident. First, the look and expectations of the customers that we deal with are changing dramatically. That is happening with the generational change of the guard. How our customers do their work is different now. It’s a primary driver because our customers are preparing for that wave of expectations from their own workforce.
Second, the demand on our company as a public company to embrace and to leverage technology so we can perform faster, more efficiently and more accurately is what we will be compared to in the future.
And third, let’s be honest, part of what we are talking about in terms of the expectations being set before us has to do with what people, in general, have become accustomed to when they shop online as an individual consumer. Those services are setting the expectation for functionality that hasn’t fully infiltrated into our industry yet, but it is happening. Maybe not on the same type of products or in the same environment, but that will be the future, which is what we set out to do with MRCGO.
LM: It’s that experience we were talking about earlier, right?
RS: That’s right.
LM: Its about giving the customer the experience they want and expect, which often creates value for both sides.
What do you think will be the most impactful part of this digital movement at MRC Global, specifically?
RS: I was reading an article that said the primary thing people need and want now is time. If we can get time back because of technology, that is valuable. For example, if you don’t have to actually go to the store and go shopping, you can do it in 20 minutes online and have someone deliver it to you. Well, you just earned back an hour and 10 minutes to spend with your family. And that concept is bleeding over into our industry.
LM: Exactly. It’s about using technology and digital tools to free up people to work on more value-adding activities. The way we do our jobs will change, certainly. Change is inevitable and constant.
RS: When I first came into the business, we kept track of inventory on a cardex. When someone pulled something from the warehouse, we would subtract it from a card, and when somebody wanted to sell something they’d holler across the room and say, “How many 90s do we have?”
Those jobs have changed. That function is completely handled by our systems and processes today. Our work lives are better because of it, but inventory management remains one of MRC Global’s core competencies, but we let the technology tools do some of the heavy lifting.
A digital transformation within our industry will always challenge culture, individuals, resources, management — everything. All of us as individuals have figured out how to embrace change. At MRC Global, our answer was to be proactive and adapt. Nearly every department in our company worked together to develop MRC Global Online, or MRCGO. This single, digital platform uses single sign-on technology to allow our customers to search, shop, track their order history, expedite an order and get live support all in one place.
LM: But the digital transformation, and MRC Global’s commitment to it, is more than a project. It’s an ongoing journey, one that is centered on improving our customer’s overall experience with MRC Global using digital tools.