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CIO interview - Park Industries’ David Lloyd carves out re-platforming of business foundations

Mark Chillingworth Profile picture for user Mark Chillingworth June 13, 2024
Summary:
US CNC stone machine leaders Park Industries rebuild internal tech strategy ahead of digital services for customers

An image of David Lloyd CIO Park Industries
(Image sourced via Park Industries)

Agricultural machine and vehicle maker John Deere has become associated with how heavy industry can adopt software to create new business lines and, therefore, revenue opportunities. The machines made by Park Industries may not be as imposing as the giant green and yellow tractors of John Deere, but the digital ambitions and opportunities of the company are no less impressive. David Lloyd, Director of Information Technology at the Dayton, Minnesota-headquartered business, has been leading the digital transformation since mid-2018 and describes the cut of their strategy. 

Park Industries makes CNC (computer numerical control) machinery for stone fabrication suppliers. Founded in 1953, the company remains family-owned, with the third generation of the Schlough family leading the firm alongside CEO Joan Schatz. Since the 50s, Park Industries has sold over 18,000 specialist stone working machines and is now North America’s largest maker of countertop equipment. Technology leader Lloyd says: 

“If you are going to replace your kitchen countertops with granite ones, our equipment cuts the stone by being programmed with the entire design. The machine then does all the cutting, routing and polishing to produce a finished product that can be installed in a home.

Park Industries knows its customer base well, and this has driven its adoption of technology, both within the business and the products. Lloyd explains that a global skills shortage is driving Park Industries customers to seek out automation opportunities: 

We have customers who are family-owned, and they are very hands-on, and they don’t know how much money they make until the end of the year, but on the other hand they need to be investing in their business as the US housing market is doing well. So there is a lot of opportunity for technology in their industry.

IT couldn’t cut it

When Lloyd arrived at Park Industries in June 2018, the business was struggling to get the full value from its technology. There was a lack of IT standards, and the technologists were spending too much time maintaining legacy software, leading to a growing project backlog that was frustrating business lines. As a result, Lloyd has ensured that throughout the digital transformation of the business there was good visibility of the value that IT brings to Park Industries. This was important not just for IT but also for the business, he says: 

Without technology, how can we grow our business, our market share and retain the customers that we have other than just having the best equipment in the industry?

Lloyd set about delivering software at a faster pace and to eliminate custom software that required high levels of maintenance or was outdated. This led him to a re-platforming strategy that would not only modernize the technology but also the business processes of Park Industries. With a new platform, Lloyd aimed to improve the business and end the cycle of throwing people at the problems. This would also give the business greater flexibility, he says: 

When we had successful years, that can expose some of the weaknesses in the business, such as being unable to scale.

That flexibility had to extract greater value from Oracle JD Edwards enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that is at the heart of Park Industries, as well as the Oracle customer relationship management (CRM) and UKG human resource platforms. Lloyd says: 

So we went through a process of analyzing different applications and processes and Low Code came through for doing things faster without sacrificing quality.

This was Lloyd’s first experience with Low Code, but witnessing a demonstration at a local CIO meetup, not by the vendor he partnered with, impressed the technology leader. That demonstration involved someone from a business line, not IT, developing an application in front of attending CIOs with relative ease. Following due diligence and the full involvement of his technologists, Park Industries partnered with OutSystems. 

Using Low Code, Park Industries has consolidated its application stack other than the CRM, ERP and HR core. At the same time, it created an integrated workflow across the business. 

The replatforming was essential as the systems were outdated and we couldn’t keep up with the maintenance, let alone the new things that the business needed in order to scale and make people more efficient.

Cut straight through

The re-platforming has led to Park Industries adopting straight-through processing, which Lloyd says has improved business productivity: 

We used to have separate applications for creating a quote, and another for creating a contract as a signable PDF document. Now we have built a workflow that creates a quote and is integrated with the ERP, so that as soon as the quote is approved it becomes a contract and once that is signed and a deposit is received the manufacturing workflow is created.

One system provides both Park Industries and the customer with a single view of the process from quote to installation. 

We also have a field service application that works on an iPad, captures pictures, and then automatically creates an invoice.

We are definitely close to just in time manufacturing, but we are also a cyclical business and it has made our processes much more efficient.

Even visiting the factory and complying with the necessary health and safety procedures is undertaken by an application Lloyd’s team has developed.

None of this would have been possible without both the re-platforming and the change in mindset towards technology. Lloyd introduced Agile development methods, something he had done in his previous role with financial services firm Wells Fargo. He says business analysts, developers and members of the business line can create a fully functional solution within a day for feedback, whereas in the past, this took weeks and months. 

Now we have the challenge of keeping the business moving at the pace that IT is moving at. The ability to ramp up has really shifted the mindset. The business used to try and avoid IT because they were too slow.

Custom made 

In selecting Low Code, Lloyd and Park Industries were also choosing a technology that would not only modernize their internal IT operations but give them the tools to develop applications they offer to their customers. These applications improve the productivity of the Park Industries tools and provide the customer with data-led insights. It is a strategy that has benefited agriculture machines firm John Deere who sell farmers a tractor, but also a data and applications subscription. The tractor collects the data as it ploughs for example, whilst the application tells the farmer about soil compaction levels. 

Park Industries is Lloyd’s first role in manufacturing, his consulting role with Wells Fargo followed almost three years as VP of Software Development at applications firm GeoComm, who he joined from scientific and financial services data and publishing giant Wolters Kluwer, where he was CTO for the last two years of an 11 year career. 

My take 

The customers of Park Industries, like those of John Deere, are more likely to engage with technology from the machine makers they know and trust, so Lloyd and Park Industries have set themselves on the right course. Becoming a trusted digital provider, especially when you are a trusted machine maker, requires the core business to be well-polished. 

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