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A clear image of Essilor’s global digital transformation

Essilor, the worlds leading manufacturer and distributor of ophthalmic lenses, has a history stretching back some 170 years. The group was born in 1972 ...

Donovan Herbster
|Apr 9|magazine23 min read

Essilor, the world’s leading manufacturer and distributor of ophthalmic lenses, has a history stretching back some 170 years. The group was born in 1972 from a merger of two illustrious and inventive French companies – Essel and Silor, both of which were operating independently for many decades. Since the merger, Essilor has grown steadily through innovations and partnerships. It has developed many innovative ideas and is recognised for progressive lenses, photochromic lenses, antireflective coatings, and many other categories in the industry. Today, more than one billion people wear Essilor lenses globally.  

One of the fastest growing regions for Essilor is AMERA (Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Russia and Africa) where the population is very large and economies growing fast. In this region there are many unmet visual needs for the consumers, and Essilor is uniquely positioned to offer products and services to meet those needs. To deliver these products and services faster and in a cost effective way to the vast population of this region, Essilor is undergoing a digital transformation of its business processes under the guidance of its AMERA Chief Information Officer, Sekhar Ray, and supported by all the business and functional teams. 

IT challenges

The scope of the venture is vast, and as such, naturally challenging, with a mixture of developed and emerging markets. The challenge is in ensuring that the solutions have the right balance for scalability and cost. “One solution doesn’t fit for all, but if every entity has a different solution, then cost could be very high” Ray states. “In some countries, orders are hand-delivered by someone on a moped bringing it to one of the labs, while in Japan we get very high percentage of our orders electronically. Essilor is deploying solutions that are fit for a small entity in Africa, but can also be scaled up for a large entity in Australia. The company is focused on reusability.”

Ray previously led a similar initiative as the CIO of Essilor America. During his five years there, Essilor underwent a transformation program to simplify and modernise its analytics, manufacturing, back-office, and customer ordering systems. He is in the third year of a multi-year road map, and plans to apply some of the same synergies to his new territories, bringing them up-to-date and strengthening the company’s position as the global leader.  

With digitalisation, Essilor sees a lot of opportunities to streamline up and down the value chain.
One example is faster time to market of its products. By removing manual and duplicate processes, and using digital prototyping and 3D simulation, the company is bringing down the time frame significantly. This gives additional time to realise revenue rather than waiting for products to launch, and from the customer’s perspective, they get access to new products sooner. 

Digitalisation also allows Essilor to differentiate greatly from competitors by offering lenses that are personalised according to the customer’s own eyes and face. The company’s production machines now calculate the optimised design for each consumer, before the lens is digitally surfaced with point-by-point technology. This also allows late differentiation. Another example is that rather than using a static rule to decide delivery time, it can be predicted and tracked individually for each order using big data analytics based on machine data.

Digitalising has started to break down silos and made Essilor more aware of the value of information. One of the challenges was to develop an information strategy that balances the needs for enterprise-level harmonisation, while retaining necessary flexibility to offer local differentiation. The company is providing a private cloud with a shared business application platform for hundreds of business entities, which are today running local systems, often with different definitions of data.

The platform

To build such a platform, Ray’s IT management team has carefully architected and selected fit-for-purpose technologies and IT partners which can support such a transformative journey. One example was finding a network provider which could cover a vast geography and also be competitive. “IT today is less about holding on to your infrastructure and more about leveraging the digital revolution strategically,” says Ray. “Tata Communications’ state-of-the-art network, cloud enablement, managed hosting, and mobility solutions accelerate digital transformation for Essilor, empowering us to meet new market challenges.”

Kathy Park, General Manager for Essilor’s Asean Business Unit, comments further on the company’s CRM: “This platform gives us an opportunity to manage customer relationships with data and create more value. Today, sales force analytics remains a big untapped opportunity within Essilor, and we can utilize a lot more data analytics as we develop a standardised platform that can be a lot more responsive to the changing needs of the customer in real-time.”

“Our business model and partnerships are unique compared to other organisations,” adds Narasimhan Narayanan, CFO for AMERA Region. “We maintain flexibility in the front end while driving standardisation and simplification in the back end to ensure consistency and effectiveness. The flows we have across multiple manufacturing sites and labs are very complex, but we control this through our IT roadmap.”

Research and development

Essilor spends up to 200 M€ annually on R&D, which is the biggest budget by far in its industry. There are five R&D centres around the world, including three for Innovation and Technologies (CI&T) located in Paris, Dallas, and Singapore. The latter enables R&D to stay connected with the three main regional market needs and innovate accordingly.  

For example, in Singapore, as in many Asian countries, the growth of myopia – especially in children – is a big concern. Essilor has partnerships with local universities to study the phenomenon, with trial groups in which we perform consumer experiments, as well as consumer research which is conducted by R&D and marketing teams. Product ideas come out of these processes, based on the real needs of people in the field.

From an IT perspective, the company has to make sure that its researchers, its marketers, and other employees can collaborate freely. Someone having an innovative idea in one market should be able to communicate and collaborate with their counterparts anywhere in the world. Digitalisation is important there too.

Future growth

Essilor has grown enormously over the past decades, but there is still a great deal of room to grow. The ophthalmic lens business is fuelled by current unmet vision needs: 2.5 billion people don’t get the vision correction they need due to lack of awareness and lack of access to professionals, as well as major demographic trends. Among these trends are an aging population needing correction from presbyopia and other age-related sight issues; growth of myopia among the younger population; growing middle class in emerging market having more and more access to vision correction products; and an ever-increasing need by everyone to be protected from the sun’s harmful UV light or a digital screen’s blue light. Fortunately for Ray and his company, people will always need better vision to improve their daily lives. 

“Everybody in their lifetime will become a customer of Essilor, because everybody needs glasses at some point. The customer base is huge, and a lot of people will need multiple products. They will need prescription glasses, sunglasses, reading glass and now glasses for using a computer, smartphone, or any other digital device. 

“The demand will continue to grow, and IT’s job is to stay ahead of the curve and provide the business the necessary information strategy, and the systems to cope with the growth. The company is moving from having a traditional distribution supply chain to becoming more about digital ways of supplying products and services to its customers.”

Changes are picking up pace: sites after sites are getting connected to the business application platform. As a site connects it gets the benefit of a common product master enabling sourcing of the product from anywhere in the entire Essilor network; an integrated ordering with manufacturing and back-office processes; customer touch points for online ordering and sharing real-time order status information  though mobile application; and transparent and drill-down analytics about business performance. 

Ray concludes: “This is really the first step. But it allows us to build on it to better understand and connect with our customers and partners and create more values.”