Feb 14, 2023
Clotilde is an engineer and data scientist. Originally from Beaupreau on the west coast of France, her Mechanical Engineering studies brought her to UPenn and Georgia Tech. Her 20-year-long multi-faceted career started as an aviation engineer at Agusta Aerospace Corporation and evolved to building large-scale experiences at Accenture in the Boston area before moving to the Netherlands, where she worked as Project Manager and Data and AI Lead for Phillips, pioneering the data and analytics competence in the Male Grooming department.
Clotilde joined Loft in 2021 to lead the strategic direction of the company, helping clients with their innovation strategies at the intersection of technology, data science, and business. We spoke with her right after the New Year at her home/remote office in Holly Springs, North Carolina.
Gregor Mittersinker: You have worn many hats throughout your career: Mechanical Engineer, Data Analyst, Project Manager, Strategy Leader. What is the most important part of building a successful ecosystem?
Clotilde Grimault: The most important aspect is collaboration. Organizations need to have all the important parties in the (virtual) room in order to align on strategic priorities, so that they can design the best possible solution. In an ecosystem, everything is linked around an experience, and the consumer does not care which department is responsible for what–they want a well-crafted, smooth experience. At Philips, we used to meet every quarter for a two-day integration event where every discipline would share their progress, and we would define the trajectory for the upcoming quarter together. These events were key to ensure that all the disciplines were progressing in a cohesive direction.
Gregor Mittersinker: You have worked at the intersection of technology, design and business for the past 20 years. We know that technical disciplines (e.g. software, hardware, services) tend to live in silos in large organizations, what is important to connect these silos?
Clotilde Grimault: There are two fundamental elements unifying all the players in an ecosystem: strong consumer insights and a shared vision. In the early stages of the project, the technical and business leaders need to rally around the consumer needs and define a strategic vision. Once there is alignment around these fundamentals, everybody can regroup within their discipline and make it happen!
Gregor Mittersinker: How have your multidisciplinary positions helped you lead that conversation with our clients? What do you see as the most important thing that companies have to embrace to enable their organization to build a successful ecosystem?
Clotilde Grimault: Most companies either start from the hardware side or the service side, and then they build a team for the other expertise. It is easy to underestimate the complexity of the other side of an ecosystem, and there can be quite a culture shock during the early stages of a transformation. That's where Loft can help: we have participated in the development of several connected ecosystems over the years, and we can complement the skillset of our clients on an ecosystem journey.
There are two fundamental elements unifying all the players in an ecosystem: strong consumer insights and a shared vision. In the early stages of the project, the technical and business leaders need to rally around the consumer needs and define a strategic vision.
Gregor Mittersinker: I agree, these blindspots lead to underestimating the complexity of hardware, or missing crucial steps in building a software platform. Corporations might skip steps that are really important when it comes to analytics or testing as they are rolling out a connected ecosystem.
Clotilde Grimault: One of the early challenges in an ecosystem journey is building the right team: how do you best recruit talent in a discipline that is new to the company? You need a trusted advisor with experience in ecosystem design to highlight the process and the steps to take, so that you can build the right team.
Gregor Mittersinker: I'm always surprised how very seasoned organizations are struggling with various aspects of digital ecosystem design.
Clotilde Grimault: Exactly. There are so many angles to a digital ecosystem: Service Design, Agile software development, AI and algorithms, data analytics and infrastructure, privacy, security, content strategy, release management to name a few. Owning an ecosystem is a journey: after you launch it, you need to maintain and improve it continuously, and it has a very different life cycle compared to a physical product.
Gregor Mittersinker: Disruptive changes in the market are always tied to systemic approaches. We have a long history of examples. Ford didn't invent the assembly line, they didn't invent the replaceable parts, but they combined them into a real disruptive force with the Ford Model T. Amazon did not set out to build the most comprehensive, broadly adopted cloud platform, but once they built the tech they understood how valuable this could be for a broader market. Where do you think companies that are building digital ecosystems can focus? What, in your mind, is the best approach? How is it possible to jumpstart disruption?
Clotilde Grimault: I don't think there's a silver bullet to be successful with ecosystems, but the companies that we consider successful are the ones who have very strong strategic leadership and stay the course to make it happen. Disruption takes time, so you need to be able to play the long game and weather the challenges along the way. I really believed in the importance of a well-communicated vision, so that the entire organization can focus and make it happen.
Gregor Mittersinker: Yeah, you're right. Strategic leadership needs to put blinders on and say: what is our core vision? What can really disrupt the current market state? At Philips, you helped build a pretty impressive ecosystem based on a hardware product, augmented by an iOS and Android app.
Clotilde Grimault: What I deeply respect about Philips as an organization, is that they put innovation at the heart of the strategy. The tagline: “Innovation & You” puts innovation and the consumer at the very heart of the business strategy. It is a wonderful place for innovators, because there is this appetite for technology as an enabler, within the mission to help society as a whole. It was a great place to work during the Digital Transformation from physical products to connected ecosystems in the early 2010s, because we were establishing the foundations of connected experiences for consumers and businesses at the same time.
Within a couple of years we realized that managing an ecosystem is like owning a house: it's never complete and you need to maintain it to keep it nice and fresh. Data, in particular, is a very long game: you need to understand the goals of your business for collecting data, define a data strategy justifying the effort, build a data pipeline to collect data, produce insights informing your business decisions, and continue to improve to include new technologies like AI to deliver new value. That was my biggest learning at Philips: everybody wants data, but it takes significant dedication to build the infrastructure to create trustworthy data that you can use for decision making. I worked hard making sure that my insights were as self-service as possible, so that anybody who had basic questions could answer them by themselves.
Gregor Mittersinker: How did you ultimately succeed in building the connected shaver app at Phillips?
Clotilde Grimault: Lots of consumer research and data insights, both in terms of product and marketing messaging. Like with any product development, V1 is never perfect, but within a few iterations you start to identify a meaningful value proposition and keep iterating along the business vision. You can also keep up with new technologies: in order to preview a facial style on a selfie, we started with a still picture in 2014, and a few years later, in the GroomTribe app, we were able to apply a facial style on a real-time video stream, which is very cool. I totally wish I could sport a Zappa mustache!
Feb 14, 2023