PIM, Digital Transformation • 14 min read

Ron Kessels on products for a better quality of life

Joeri Moors | 26-11-2019

Digitalisation has shown its unprecedented drive, since it has influenced traditional industries and reorganised their processes. Ron Kessels, e-business director of Saint-Gobain Distribution Benelux, explains why his company and its customers benefit from digitalisation and how overhauled processes are sensibly renewed.

Mr Kessels, your products essentially contribute to the wellbeing of individuals. Please give us a short summary of where your solutions can be found in everyday life. 

R. K.: Saint-Gobain is a large group with 180,000 employees, and it is divided into three sectors. Two sectors focus on producing products that contribute to the wellbeing of individuals and improving daily life. We spend almost 90 percent of our time inside buildings.The materials a building is made of has a great influence on the wellbeing of people. These two sectors try to produce products that have an impact on people's comfort. For example, we produce plasterboard or walls that are noise-reducing, which creates better workplaces for employees.

I work for the third division, which is Distribution. We are a wholesaler and mainly sell building materials to professional customers. We sell the products that the other two sectors of Saint-Gobain produce, but we also sell products from other manufacturers, even competitors of Saint-Gobain. So as a Distribution company we sell all these products to our professional customers, and we try to inform our customers about the differences between all the products available. We help them choose the right product for the right project.

How do your materials and solutions meet the challenges of sustainable construction?

R. K.: A big part of overall energy consumption comes from buildings, so there is a lot to win there. We have developed a label called GreenWorks. With this label, we inform customers about how sustainable a product is. We give an objective score for the sustainability based on three phases. First: how sustainable is the production of the product, for example how much energy is used to produce the product and how is the production process. Second: how sustainable is the product during its life time, how energy consuming or polluting is the product. And third: can the product be recycled (cradle-to-cradle). We give an objective score of these products and customers can decide which product they want to use based on that.

How have the needs and requirements of your customers in the building materials trade changed over the past years regarding sustainability, efficiency and climate change?

R. K.: The construction market is growing again after the crisis of 2009. Since then there hasn’t been much investment from the government, and a lot of jobs have disappeared and will not come back because students didn’t choose to become builders. So the main issue today is that there are not enough craftsmen to do the job, so the market is limited to the capacity of people who can do the job. So as a distributor, we try to help our customer to become as productive as possible. We offer them logistical solutions to help them spend no time on carrying products from the truck into the building, but instead we place the right products in the right building/room at the right time. We call this Lean- Works. Another example is that most craft professionals spend a lot of time on making calculations, quotations, work preparation, ordering and planning. Time they cannot spend on actually doing the job.

What impact has digitalisation had on the customer’s needs and demands?

R. K.: Our customers are B2B customers, but in private life they are also a consumer. And as a consumer, they have perfect experiences with new players such as As a private customer, they are used to ordering online and to getting it delivered the next day. These companies set the standard, and our customer expects the same service level from us.

How does Saint-Gobain make sure that it can meet these increasing demands?

R. K.: First of all, we look at the customer journey of our customer. Based on that we ask ourselves: how can we help our customer in their customer journey? And then the customer journey is not only the purchase journey; we see the customer journey as the whole journey of our customer who needs to build a house for a customer.

How would you describe a successful digital customer journey at Saint-Gobain?

R. K.: The journey starts with the end consumer who is looking for a crafts professional. As most of the end consumers start their search for a pro online, it is important for our customers to have a professional online presence. Most of our customers didn’t have a professional website, so we help them by offering them a website; and we maintain that website - we ensure the content stays up-to-date.

Then, when the end consumer has found our customer, they ask them for advice, they have to discuss which options they have for building the house. Here we offer configuration tools or our GreenWorks label to help our customer to sell products that better fit the needs of the end consumer.

When the customer knows what the end consumer wants they need to provide a quote. We then offer the customer a calculation and quotation tool that they can use to quickly give a quote for the project. This quotation tool is five times faster than when the customer has to make the quote in a traditional way, because we have already predefined most of the work and already gave an indication of how much ‘work’ it is. This helps our customer provide a quote faster and be sure they do not forget anything.

When the customer gets the order from the end consumer they can then automatically transfer the project into a LEAN planning tool that we co-developed with a partner. In this planning tool the customer can manage their project together with all subcontractors. The delivery of building materials is automatically scheduled based on the planning.

What are your requirements for systems and solutions to manage the vast number of articles, services and data?

R. K.: Before we could develop all these nice tools for customers we had to create the foundation. And the foundation for all the tools is product data. And not just product data, but rich product data. As a distributor, we buy products from over 1,000 different manufacturers, we sell over 200,000 different products. And for our customer it is important to make all these products comparable in the same way. So we needed a system that was able to handle a lot of products, make it easy to enrich product data and have exible import and export functionalities.

Who was the partner with whom you cooperated in this context?

R. K.: We opted for the PIM system of Informatica, which was implemented by Osudio.

What were the requirements for the common project? Which challenges did you have to face?

R. K.: Saint-Gobain Distribution Benelux consisted of seven different business units / brands. Before the PIM implementation, each business unit was managing product data by itself. Each business unit also had its own ERP system. In 2011, we decided to implement one ERP for all business units, which made it mandatory that we should also have one source for product data. So we centralised the product data management department, and we changed the process of creation of items. They are now created in the PIM before being transferred from the PIM to the ERP. So PIM is leading. The main challenges were in defining one data model that could be used by all business units and aligning business processes amongst them.

Which further steps are you planning regarding digitalisation?

R. K.: Today we see that end consumers are not very well informed about the choices they have when they do a building project. This is because most consumers only do this once in a lifetime, so there is no experience and they don’t know what to expect. We would like to create a platform where we can help consumers with advice so that they make the right choices regarding their building projects. This can be regarding products but also alternative applications or sustainability. We want to help them in their project and make it fun instead of frustrating, as it can be today.


As E-Business director, Ron Kessels is responsible for the Digital Excellence Centre of Saint-Gobain Distribution Benelux. Saint-Gobain Distribution Benelux is part of the French Multinational Saint-Gobain. With a total of approximately 1,250 employees spread across 7 business units and 53 branches, they are one of the leading suppliers of building materials to the professional construction industry in the Benelux.

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Joeri Moors

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