Koen Van Loo, CIO of Renson Ventilation, explores how the company’s investment in IT enables efficiency and innovation… By Dale…

Koen Van Loo, CIO of Renson Ventilation, explores how the company’s investment in IT enables efficiency and innovation… By Dale Benton

By its own admission, Renson Ventilation is a rapidly growing competent company that is constantly one step ahead of the game. In order to remain one step ahead of the game in an industry space as technically driven and niche as that of ventilation, sun protection & ‘outdoor living’ products, investing in innovation is key. For Koen Van Loo, CIO of Renson Ventilation, he and his team take their responsibility to innovate very seriously. As Van Loo highlights, investing in innovation is within the very DNA of Renson. “At Renson we deliver high quality products to a number of markets,” he says. “So we operate in the upper end of the market, meaning our products are very well known for their exclusive quality.”

“We do that by continuously innovating and Renson invests heavily into innovation. Right now, more than 10% of the company is active in R&D. Once upon a time, innovation was achieved by upgrading existing hardware but now we look to create better and smarter products each and every time.” Traditionally, like many others, Renson was a hardware-focused company in which it hadn’t invested much into the IT organisation across the company. In recent years, to stay ahead of the game in a rapidly evolving market, Renson looked to invest in its IT/ infrastructure and realised that in order to be able to cater to the changing demands of the market it needed to upgrade the digital fundamentals of the company. This is where Van Loo came into the business in 2017. “The first thing we did was create a performing IT organisation. This saw Renson scale up its entire IT infrastructure. From here, we can now look at implementing IT projects that will continue to drive value for the business,” explains Van Loo. “The main program that we have been focused on has been the upgrade of our old in-house built ERP system. This has been in place for around 25 years and we are currently replacing that with SAP S4 Hana.”

Van Loo is keen to highlight that Renson’s digital investments are also in response to a market trend for mass personalisation. With products ranging from ventilation to sun protection and outdoor living, each being tailored to the specific needs and wishes of each client, Renson is no stranger to mass personalisation. With the implementation of a new ERP system, Renson will be better placed to implement a new e-commerce module that will allow the company to configure its products even better to changing client demands. Renson has always been a company driven by technology, but in recent years the company has embarked on a focused IT transformation that can be broken down into three programs. The first program, called Sunrise, is a complete overhaul of its ERP system. For this, Renson will define a five-year program that will see a new implementation to better serve all of its internal businesses. The second program is linked intrinsically with the Sunrise program.

Renson is opening a new plant, aiming to become the ultimate international reference for a comprehensive garden experience, showcasing all of Renson’s outdoor products together with outdoor solutions from its partners. This ties into a wider automation project for Renson. Van Loo elaborates: “We are living in fast evolving times, and more and more innovation is coming from connected devices. Nearly every new device we implement has IOT connectivity now. We are gathering a lot of data that is used to assist our customers and optimising their device usage. For instance, there will be a swimming pool and outdoor lighting products that work together. That data will inform the customer experience and in turn, create and enable healthy spaces for our end customers. In working together with our partners, that also ties into our third IT project around our stakeholder platform.”

This third IT program looks at the complete renewal of Renson’s online stakeholders platform. Renson’s existing infrastructure saw multiple stakeholders operating within separate platforms, meaning that they were not fully integrated and each platform suffering from limited capabilities. This new portal, described by Van Loo as a  ‘future proof’ portal, will allow for greater communication between all stakeholders. These will include online stakeholders, architects, installers, dealers, and multiple organisation types. “There you have, in a single platform, an ordering platform and a configurator to build your products exactly as you wish,” he says. “You’ll have digital twins of your products. So you can see if something in the product will work or not. You can customise and tailor the product and order replacement parts with ease. You can control your devices and receive feedback from them. It’s incredibly important for us in terms of introducing new products that are tailored to specific needs. The ordering platform is an example of a program that will augment operational efficiency for Renson, while the other programs focus on the customer and addingvalue and better experiences for them.”

Stakeholder engagement is a cornerstone of Renson’s enablement of innovation. In bringing together and driving seamless communication within the stakeholder ecosystem, the company can better realise efficiencies and value both to itself as a business but also to the end customers. These end customers are very much a part of this ecosystem and remaining close to its customer base drives Renson, through its IT investments. Each and everything that the company does is designed with the customer in mind. “Some people call it customer intimacy, but the fact of the matter is – we want to deliver,” says Van Loo. “We want to be able to deliver made to measure solutions. This is evident in just how customised our products are, no product is the same as any other product that we’ve ever made. Even if our configurators aren’t able to configure following the wishes you have, we have a separate engineering department that can build these products by working closely with the customer. It’s very important to us.”

Renson is very much a business-to-business organisation, or in Van Loo’s own words a “business to business to business” organisation. A dichotomy like this often means that the companies will rarely engage directly with the end customers. With Renson, the digitalisation programs rip up this traditional perspective and bring the company closer to those end customers. “Once upon a time we’d simply have a photo of a person’s house that we use as a means of understanding what product they want and how it would fit,” he says. “Our transformation means that we are delivering not only products but services too, meaning the contact with the (end) customer becomes more intense.”

Renson has been operating since 1909, establishing itself as a true market leader thanks to its drive to be one step ahead and to deliver unrivalled products tailored to end customer needs, but in order to have successfully achieved this level of success it has had to embrace innovation from an IT perspective but also from an internal capability perspective. With the implementation of new IT infrastructure, the required skill sets have changed and while Van Loo is keen to stress that Renson already has a truly skilled workforce, Renson does look to educate and train its staff through the help of partners. “It is possible for us to find the people that we need with the right skills, but sometimes when it comes to specific skill requirements we use partners for that and we try to educate and train our own people with the knowledge that those partners have, thanks to their global experience,” he says. “As an example, we aim to have complete autonomy over our SAP integration in the near future and to get there we are benefiting from competence centres and we also have agreements with Delaware in which our people can ‘look over the shoulder’ of their staff and learn how to use their software as they go through the implementation of SAP.”

With a number of IT implementation programs in place to lay down an infrastructure that will enable innovation and a clear investment strategy for building the capabilities of it’s workforce, Renson is firmly positioned to build on its market leading position and embrace the future with certainty that it can continue to operate for the next 100 years and beyond. Van Loo is all too aware of the challenge, and opportunity, that the future has in store for Renson and he feels that in order to truly build on a century of success, the company must continue to embrace digital innovation. “As I look to the future of Renson, I want the company to look to further augment the digitalisation and the performance of its operations,” he says. “If there is a digital need within the company, then we in IT have to be a trusted experience centre. That means we should be able to inspire and help the business find the right digital solutions.” “As we look to implementing more digital programs, we have to really perform and form an idealisation to realise that in the most efficient way. We should be a very agile business, because the market is very agile and opportunities can change in the blink of an eye. We as an IT team that’s performing need to be able to follow that market agility seamlessly.”

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