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Microsoft in Business Blogs

Focus on: Engage customers, Transform products

Fluid (adj.): Subject to change or movement.

There may not be a more accurate description of the current enterprise landscape across nearly all industries. With how quickly trends change, technologies advance, and customer expectations evolve, flexibility and agility are essential for any organization to remain competitive and growth-driven. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that Colfax, a world-class manufacturing enterprise whose origin focused on fluid handling solutions and industrial pumps, has a firm grasp of what it takes to succeed in the midst of constant change.

Since its founding in 1995, Colfax has grown steadily through a flurry of acquisitions—starting in the late 1990s and continuing through the 2000s. When Colfax acquired Charter International, a large British engineering business, in 2012, it brought two premier industrial franchises under one umbrella and marked a new manifestation of the company.

When a company grows and diversifies as quickly as Colfax, it can be challenging to maintain a clear mission, vision, and culture. To cope, the company developed the Colfax Business System (CBS) to serve as the cornerstone of all business practices. Its principles include:

  • “customers talk, we listen”
  • the best team wins
  • continuous improvement is Colfax’s way of life
  • customer-centric innovation defines the future
  • delivering performance goals for shareholders

To this day, Colfax applies these principles to every improvement opportunity pursued, acquisition undertaken, and product developed.

illustration of a graph with an increasing curve

Colfax’s commitment to continuous improvement

In the tradition of continuous evolution and improvement, various digital initiatives sprang up across Colfax to improve customer service and provide new value. However, like many companies finding their way through a digital transformation, these were often disconnected and inefficient efforts, hampered by legacy processes and systems. Additionally, the wide variety of applications, constant influx of new businesses and asset acquisitions, and range of industries-served made Colfax’ situation particularly challenging.

Ryan Cahalane, Vice President of Digital Growth at Colfax, explains, “Excellence in the way we do things and focus on the customer are deeply ingrained. In our digital efforts, integrating new technology and establishing a scalable foundation was getting in the way of creating enhanced application value for our customers with our digital offerings. Like many, we were stuck in a state of constant piloting.”

Colfax and its ESAB and Howden businesses embarked on the Data Driven Advantage (DDA) initiative to refocus on their core application value and evolve using digital technologies, versus attempting to disrupt too quickly. According to Cahalane, “Too often, hearing IOT hype, companies focus on new products or transformative business models. While possible, these often require significant changes to internal systems, retraining teams, new compensation models, etc., and that’s all assuming customers can even buy.” Cahalane continues, “With capital-centric investment models and processes oriented to existing goods and services, customers wanting new offerings may need to wait an entire budget cycle for operating budget expansion, if even feasible.” Setting expectations, executive education and buy-in, keeping focus, and even looking at IOT for internal operations are key.

The DDA teams also took a hard look at the myriad technology approaches being pursued across businesses and decided to lean things out. Historically, business units were independently selecting technologies, including Amazon Web Services, to achieve their objectives. Unfortunately, after several years of investment, the value delivered remained limited, so the company did what it always does: remained fluid and adapted its approach.

illustration of man holding laptop in front of a whiteboard

Accelerating with Azure

Colfax decided to standardize on a common reference architecture to serve a wide range of businesses applications. After reviewing multiple vendors, they selected Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure coupled with PTC’s ThingWorx platform for application acceleration and legacy connectivity. Both had extensive experience serving the industrial market, and offered solutions that could be delivered as on-premise, hybrid cloud, or fully cloud enabled to meet customer requirements. The Colfax teams also leaned on Microsoft, PTC, and a few trusted integrators to aid with new technology, refocusing internal resources on the application value and deep domain expertise they were best at. After pursuing a migration to Azure and rapidly innovating with ThingWorx, they went live with their first connected products in under six months and have rapidly expanded since then.

Cahalane attributes transition success to close collaboration between teams, and the extensive experience of its new partners: “Microsoft and PTC both have history with legacy assets, on-premises requirements, and hybrid deployment patterns.” The Azure transition united teams, and ThingWorx helped accelerate innovation.

illustration of customer process

Exploring the impact of digital transformation

Already, Colfax and its customers are reaping rewards from a unified approach:

  • refocus resources on customer value
  • differentiate as an equipment and domain expert
  • reduce product time to market
  • reduce product development costs
  • empower teams and promote alignment

“Enforcing rigid standards is hard,” Cahalane explains. “But the reference architecture we’ve established is making the difference between pilot purgatory and digital scale.”

With benefits already resulting and more acquisitions on the horizon, Colfax laid the foundation for more future successes. For other companies considering digital transformation, Colfax’s story serves as a prime example of the value of partnerships, keeping fluid, and remaining customer-focused.