Beyond PostIt Notes and Scotch Tape - 3M transforms into a digital product company with AWS

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan December 15, 2021
3M is on a major digital transformation journey that began with working out what digital actually means to it.


It’s a very fuzzy word.

That word is digital. So says Shaun Braun, Senior Vice President of Digital Transformation at 3M, a firm best known inevitably for PostIt notes and Scotch Tape, but which in fact is a highly-diversified industrial companies in the world, selling more than 55,000 products across 26 business lines. It’s also a firm on a mission. As Braun explains it:

For over a century, 3M has been a pathfinder, creating breakthrough technologies in healthcare, safety, industrial consumer electronics and transportation. We're now excited to transform 3M from a company with household name material products to a company with iconic material and digital products.

He adds:

3M is much more than its 60,000 products 95,000 employees and 25,000 patents. It is built on one simple idea - take innovation from one business and apply it in new and innovative ways to create breakthroughs. We have been a pathfinder of innovation for over a century. Our purpose is to unlock the power of people, ideas and science to improve lives everywhere. Simply put, that's 3M. Today, you're never more than three metres away from a 3M innovation. And as we think about tomorrow, we are advancing our material science leadership in bold new ways with digital science.

That brings back the question of what does ‘digital’ actually mean. Braun argues:

3M needed to define digital…A lot of people use it in a very broad manner.

In 3M’s case, four specific outcome areas make up its digital definition, he says:

Digital customer, focusing on a seamless customer experience; digital products, delivering differentiated products and services across connected products and services globally; digital operations, optimizing planning, quality logistics; and finally, digital enterprise, generating corporate functional efficiency.

Cloud shift

The digital transformation of 3M began with a move to the cloud, says Braun:

We had to move away from our ageing data centers. But most importantly, we knew we needed a strong foundation to deliver on our digital transformation vision. For us, building this foundation required moving away from our past legacy environments. We transitioned over 2000 applications, 9000 virtual machines, a global SAP instance, 45 petabytes of data, all while closing a large data center and moving 61% of our tier one applications in one year. Simply put, that was a lot to do.

The organization needed to work with a cloud partner in all this, explains Braun, and selected AWS:

When you're on a journey like we are, it helps to have a guide with stamina, smarts and strength. Digital transformation requires all of those and the uniqueness of 3M's high speed manufacturing, globally connected supply chains, and enterprise  scale IT systems, molecular and physics based R&D, [having] a trusted advisor that's fluent in all of these areas and knows how to connect them is key. That's what AWS does for 3M.They are helping us become a digital company of the future.

Most important, for 3M, this unlocked the potential of data-driven insights. It collapsed the disparate data sources we had and applications into digital building blocks in a cloud environment. From this strong base platform, we took the next step in our journey with AWS, driving digital impact into our products and operations.

In practice 

Braun can cite a number of examples of how this works in practice, beginning with 3M Manufacturing:

With over 200 plants across 37 countries, we solve customer problems in every part of the world by leveraging over 51 technology platforms. With this complexity and our need for agility and scale, we migrated our key manufacturing sites to AWS over a year. From that, it enabled us to leverage AWS services to develop and deploy a system to track raw material flow, all the way to finished goods.

By leveraging Neptune graph database and API gateway backed by Lambda, 3M teams can now complete these searches, from raw material all the way down to plant name, in seconds instead of days. This obviously has been very valuable to better navigate the raw material shortages and the disruptions that we've all seen across our global supply chains. As a result, our manufacturing is smarter.

Next up is the crucial theme of clean air, which has never been more important according to Braun:

3M Filtrete is the most trusted brand of indoor air cleaning filters on the market. By leveraging AWS services, we combine material science with digital science. We deployed AWS Lambda for advanced features like Amazon WiFi Simple Set-up, smart reorder, smart home Alexa multi capability skills. We use AWS CloudWatch to conduct complex usage analysis and to detect and protect our services from issues and cyber-threats. As a result, our products are smarter.

Finally he points to 3M Healthcare which has seen “a dramatic shift” to data-driven care over the past year:

We leverage AWS to power many of our most critical platforms across our healthcare IT solutions portfolio, including our flagship product, 360 Encompass. EC2 compute, S3 store, CloudWatch, CloudTrail Monitoring give us flexibility, performance and scalability across our operations and secure security monitoring beyond our traditional data center deployments. But most importantly, for our customers, we have reduced our deployment time from weeks down to hours, enabling us to deploy multiple AWS regions across the globe. As a result, our healthcare systems are smarter.

Smart thinking

Being smarter is important to 3M, says Braun:

Becoming smarter means learning something new. At 3M that means transitioning from material science to digital science, where we become as well known for our digital products as we are for our physical products. That takes a different mindset and a collection of capabilities. To make the most of future trends that shape the world, we are building those capabilities now.

The next phase of transformation will involve 3M’s operations and product portfolio, he adds:

Together with AWS, we have built a digital marketplace that gives 3M  builders access to tools, code building blocks, and machine learning algorithms to cross share. This allows our teams to quickly develop digital products and solutions for our customers without having to reinvent the wheel. As an example, we're implementing foundational elements like a data-driven-everything strategy, which encompasses projects like our AI ML Workbench on SageMaker suite of services. This provides tool sets for data scientists, developers and analysts and our model hub application to support high performance job computing.

It’s all a work-in-progress with much more to come, but important lessons have been learned on the way to date, concludes Braun:

On our digital transformation journey, we have learned how important it is to build a strong foundation of accessible tech services, build a digital mindset across the organization and to celebrate digital successes. Each success builds on the one before it and the next thing you know, you have a digital transformation that will become real to all of the employees across the organization. For 3M, this means expanding our portfolio of digital products for customers all over the world and finding new ways to reach our vision of improving every life. AWS is enabling us to innovate at scale and at a different speed velocity.

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