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Maarten Stramrood, CDO at Brenntag Group and Managing Director of the DigiB innovation hub, discusses the ongoing digital transformation of the world’s largest chemical and ingredients distributor


wave of digital transformation is sweeping across the global business landscape, driven by the rapid technological advance-

ments of Industry 4.0 and the Information Age. 04

From cutting edge robotics to paperless invoicing, companies across every industry are racing to galvanise meaningful change that improves efficiency, increases transparency, and translates into greater value for employees, suppliers, partners, customers and shareholders. Digital transformation is no mean feat. It can be an exhaustive, top-down process that reshapes the internal workings, culture and even purpose of an organisation; it can be a revolution. More often, however, the process more closely resembles something different – something slower, and more considered: evolution. Embodying this process is German chemical and ingredients distributor Brenntag Group and its innovation hub, DigiB.


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“Create it, launch it, learn from it” 06 “When it comes to digitalisation, our approach is to create it, launch it,

— Maarten Stramrood, CDO, Brenntag Group, Managing Director, DigiB hub

and learn from it,” explains Maarten Stramrood, Chief Digital Officer at

over 580 locations across 76 countries,

Brenntag Group and Managing Director

Brenntag’s decision to establish the

of the DigiB hub in Amsterdam. “We’re

DigiB hub is a bold affirmation of the

not trying to wait until we have a perfect

need for even large-scale companies

situation; we would rather launch some-

dealing with physical products and

thing fast and do it 92% right instead

services to rapidly accelerate their

of delivering a platform or delivering

technological progress. “The business

a project which might be 100% right

we are in is very physical, but you can

but which gets endlessly delayed

enhance and improve the business in

to the point that, by the time it’s ‘ready’,

parts of the supply chain by using

it’s been out of date for two years.”

digital technology,” explains Stramrood.

For a distribution company with more

“I think this is the kind of definition that

than 16,600 employees operating in

we have for digital transformation.”

CLICK TO WATCH : ‘#ONEBRENNTAGMINUTE WITH MAARTEN STRAMROOD’ 07 Founded in 1874 as an egg wholesaler,

We sat down with Stramrood to find out

Brenntag expanded into chemical distri-

more about his role in the DigiB hub and

bution in 1912 and today leads the market

its ongoing endeavours to accelerate

on a global scale. “We serve around

the digital evolution of Brenntag.

195,000 different customers, from huge

“We started about two years ago.

accounts like Shell or BASF down to

I was – I don’t know – employee number

small customers who might only buy one

four. We were basically starting from

ingredient each year,” says Stramrood.

scratch,” recalls Stramrood. With an

“Our added value comes from the fact

extensive background in the telco indus-

that we have a dense global distribution

try, Stramrood reflects that he had spent

network that means we can deliver to

the past ten years focusing on digitalisa-

both large and small clients anywhere in

tion, building ecommerce channels and

the world.” The company has a presence

building teams. “Basically, I went through

in almost every manufacturing industry,

a few acquisitions and a couple of big

from food and life science to oil and gas.

mergers in the space of two years, and w w w.di g ib . com

KEY INSIGHTS FROM A CORPORATE STARTUP “DigiB is building the digital future of Brenntag. We opted for a launch-and-learn approach, so that we can easily make adjustments based on feedback and demonstrate the added value of digital applications more quickly.” Maarten Stramrood, Chief Digital Office Brenntag


ON A MISSION TO REINVENT B2B Digital transformation is a necessary step for many

er-facing platform providing consumers with the option

businesses but there is not just one way of accom-

to order products digitally with access to individual docu-

plishing this. At one end of the spectrum, companies

mentation, historic purchasing data and other self-service

are increasingly selling products online, while others

components. Since its launch six months ago, Brenntag

still operate in analogue. Digital agency Dept now

Connect is now live in Germany and North America with

successfully offers digital transformation as one

other countries to follow shortly.

of its services following the development of DigiB, the start-up offshoot of chemical distribution manufacturer, Brenntag.

MARKETING ACTIVITIES IN ACTION These digital marketing transformations have helped

Brenntag owns 500 warehouses worldwide which are

elevate Brenntag to the position of global market leader

used to store and distribute chemical products. Though

in chemical distribution – a sector that has remained largely

the company is forward-thinking and guarantees safe

untapped by the digital evolution. Dimi Albers, CEO at Dept,

and sustainable operations, it still largely operates

said: “The DigiB infrastructure is one of the most advanced

as a traditional B2B company – with many orders made

architectures we have. A lot of time was spent on continuous

via telephone and e-mail. DigiB launched in Amsterdam

integration, which makes it possible for Brenntag to onboard

in 2017 after an initial period testing concepts in Berlin.

new developers and roll out functions quickly to make

The corporate start-up was founded to stand apart from

the business more successful.”

its parent company and act as a platform for working on new digital innovations as well as allow Brenntag to


be more efficient and prioritise their customers’ experience.

By setting up DigiB as an innovation hub outside of the parent


processes inherent to an international B2B player and remain

Dept came on board to facilitate Brenntag with the design and development of new platforms, Brenntag Source and Brenntag Connect, as well as digitise and centralise its analogue processes with its team. Albers: “Our team possesses a range of skillsets to provide us with the flexibility to keep up. We know that we can

company, Brenntag is able to optimise the complex digital competitive. Dept helped the company transition from a traditional company to a digitally-minded one seamlessly. Stramrood said: “DigiB is building the digital future of Brenntag. We opted for a launch-and-learn approach, so that we can easily make adjustments based on feedback and demonstrate the added value of digital applications more quickly.”

provide teams with bolstered creativity, technology and data, which is why it was a no-brainer to help DigiB across all three of these axes. From brand development to digital products and digital marketing, there was no aspect of this process that we weren’t comfortable getting involved with.” Brenntag Source is an innovative tool that helps to boost the company’s internal efficiency by ensuring that data can be easily shared across the company’s subsidiaries.Brenntag Source allows them to retain a local presence within each market and enables Brenntag to use its purchasing power more effectively to optimize spend. “The fact that we can enjoy savings with a relatively simple innovation illustrates the incred-

Maarten Stramrood, Chief Digital Office Brenntag

Dimi Albers, CEO Dept

ible potential digital transformation offers us,” said Maarten Stramrood, Chief Digital Officer at Brenntag. Brenntag Connect, on the other hand, is a custom-




thought it might be time to look for some-

distribution firms on the planet with

thing more stable. Whenever there’s a

sweeping digital change. One of the

merger, you lose all the best people in

things that makes the DigiB hub special

your team, who go on to get their own

is its autonomy from Brenntag’s wider

teams. Then you have to build a brand

operation. The hub is set up as an inde-

new team. After a few mergers, I thought

pendent entity, giving Stramrood the

it looked like I was pretty good at building

power to expand his team, oversee HR

new teams,” he laughs. “Then, Brenntag

and develop new policies and processes

came calling.”

in the name of finding ways to accelerate

For the past two years, Stramrood

the digital evolution of the wider organi-

has built an 80-person team across

sation. “Not a lot of companies have a

Europe, the US and Asia Pacific focused

setup like ours,” he says. “A lot of them

on starting and accelerating digital

have a little innovation hub tucked away

initiatives, and infusing one of the largest

inside the larger organisation. DigiB

feels like a little startup. Of course, we’re

Amazon in their personal lives, and

funded by Brenntag, but the impact we

they’re starting to expect the same

make and the way we approach things

kind of convenience when doing busi-

is very entrepreneurial.”

ness with a company like Brenntag.

As a strategist with extensive B2C experience, Stramrood acknowledges that a lot of the drive towards digi-

The big challenge for a company like ours is to deliver on that expectation.” This expectation of a digitally

talisation is coming from that sector.

empowered experience is one of

“What we hear when we talk to our

the primary drivers behind the three

customers and suppliers, is that more

pillars around which DigiB’s efforts

and more people are expecting the

are centred. “We’re really focused

way that they do things in their per-

on experiences, on the customer and

sonal lives to be the way they do things

employee side of things, in order

in their professional lives as well,” he

to build smoother relationships,”

explains. “People use companies like

explains Stramrood.


Maarten Stramrood Stramrood is a seasoned digital entrepreneur, mobile veteran, manager and strategist with a very broad background. He is an expert in go—to—market strategies, digital marketing and sales, conversion, data science, digital care, digital driven marketing, data driven operations, operational management, product management, business development, digital disruption and product and process design. He has worn many hats throughout his career— entrepreneur: entrepreneur, CCO, manager, product manager, marketeer and strategist.

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Year founded

$15bn+ Revenue in US dollars (2018)

16,600 Number of employees

tests across multiple dimensions of their portfolios. “A project manager in Poland can benchmark their procurement data against Brenntag’s US figures or against a competitor, or they can compare two different suppliers. This gives us new insights to strengthen our global position in negotiations,” says Stramrood. The goal of Brenntag Source is also, Stramrood explains, to improve collaboration across the many regional branches of Brenntag. “We’re trying to enhance the inter-company trading, between our subsidiaries, for example


the BeNeLux and German organisa-

The first pillar corresponds to DigiB’s

tions, because this will optimise our

goal of improving the abilities and

global stock position.”

experience of Brenntag’s employees. Brenntag Source is a portfolio of


internal applications that harness the

The most impactful of the pillars,

company’s data and deliver insights

Brenntag Connect, is the company’s

back to its employees. “We have a lot

ecommerce portal, designed and

of pricing trends and other data points

supported by DigiB. Stramrood

from all across the globe which can be

characterises the portal as an ecom-

very useful to any Brenntag employee,”

merce knowledge and self-service

Stramrood explains. One of the applica-

portal. Due to the highly regulated

tions, Brenntag Explore, gives company

nature of some of the chemicals and

project managers the ability to perform

ingredients Brenntag deals in, only

highly customisable benchmarking

existing Brenntag customers have w w w.di g ib . com



access to the portal, and “becoming a Brenntag customer means going through an intensive onboarding process.” For those that have already been cleared, Brenntag Connect is a powerful tool that can access the company’s product portfolio, place orders, automate repeat business, access track and trace functionality and an array of other contextual information. The service is currently live in the US, Germany, Benelux and Scandinavia. “We have a substantial number of cus14

tomers already on the platform and it’s growing rapidly,” enthuses Stramrood.

DIGITAL MARKETING For those who aren’t already onboarded as Brenntag customers — a process that the DigiB hub is focused on automating and streamlining as much as is responsible — the third pillar that Stramrood and his team are working on is the publicly accessible face of Brenntag Connect, which is tied into a digital marketing campaign. The past two years, like any bold endeavour, haven’t been without setbacks and challenges. “The ride has definitely been bumpy at times, from

“We have a substantial number of customers already on the Brenntag Connect platform and it’s growing rapidly” — Maarten Stramrood, CDO, Brenntag Group, Managing Director, DigiB hub

technology to cultural transformation,” says Stramrood. The digital acceleration that DigiB is working to cultivate has also presented its obstacles. “With the launch of new digital offerings, we’re not waiting until we’ve got a perfect situation; we’re just trying to get customers on the platform and see if things work,” he explains. “It’s a challenge in itself, because of course you don’t want to disappoint your customers. On the other hand, we’ve found that if you’re open with them, they’re often very accepting, and some are even keen to help you improve the platform. In a traditional organisation like Brenntag, this is a big thing.” No transformation happens in a vacuum. From recruitment to design to the launch and optimisation of new products and processes, Brenntag and DigiB have embraced the expertise and assistance of experienced, industryleading partners. When DigiB first got started, Stramrood found himself in need of a large, experienced team to start working on the hub’s vision. “We wanted to make a big impact and not have to start by recruiting one developer at a time,” he explains. “This is why we did a pitch w w w.di g ib . com


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for a software development agency and ended up choosing Dept. it offers a great combination of developers and creatives, which is what we desperately needed.” Brenntag has grown rapidly, organically and through acquisitions during the past few years. “Against the background of the numerous acquisitions and Brenntag’s existing business landscape,

“We’re really focused on experiences, on the customer, supplier and employee side of things” — Maarten Stramrood, CDO, Brenntag Group, Managing Director, DigiB hub

especially in EMEA, the company now is putting energy into a single back-end

we discovered our new CMS was going

platform,” Stramrood explains. “Now,

to be a major thing, that’s when we

we’re trying to standardise this process,

decided to go with BloomReach.”

which is why Brenntag decided to bring

The challenges of overcoming inter-

Deloitte on board. They’re advising us

market regulation, and varied standards

on how to adopt this more standardised

across dozens of countries, also

approach, because if we want to accel-

prompted Stramrood to bring Vasco

erate the digitalisation of the entirety

Consulting on board. “One big thing

of Brenntag, we need to find ways to

is the issue of complexity, because

speed up the process.”

we work across multiple countries in

DigiB is working with trusted partners

parallel, so the programme manage-

to better build out its core offerings.

ment itself is very complicated. This

“When we start building something, like

is the reason that we started work-

Brenntag Connect for example, we try

ing with Vasco Consulting, because

to make it as open source as possible.

they have done similar types of

However, if the demands placed upon

programmes before: multi-country,

it become more serious, we always look

multi-backend integration projects.”

to embrace more mature, professional offerings,” explains Stramrood. “When

Stramrood is excited to see the work done by DigiB gaining traction in the w w w.di g ib . com


A customer journey should be as simple as crossing a bridge. There is always a solution, no matter how complicated the challenge! Please follow us on Linkedin for interesting blogs and surveys. Follow us

+31(0)851307990 vasco-consult.com

19 wider business, but acknowledges

digitising and optimising the internal

that there is still a long way to go.

processes of Brenntag itself.”

“It’s quite thrilling, this evolution and

Step by step, driven by the mani-

digital enhancement of Brenntag.”

festo of “create it, launch it, learn

Looking to the future, the three pil-

from it,” DigiB is using its unique

lars of Connect, Source and the

identity, capabilities and trusted

Digital Marketing will remain at the

network of partners to continue

centre of everything that DigiB does

accelerating digital evolution of the

to realise this evolution. “It’s going to

world’s number one chemical and

be our main focus for the next year,

ingredients distributor.

as we go into 2020,” he explains. “In the future, we’re looking into things like speeding up our onboarding process and exploring ways to use IoT to simplify aspects of the business. The long-term goal is to move into w w w.di g ib . com


Profile for Business Chief Europe

DigiB December 2019  

DigiB December 2019