A Digital Intelligence Observatory for Michelin Group

7 November 2023 • industry of the future

For several years now, Michelin has encouraged its teams to adopt new digital tools. Yet this gradual transition – accelerated by the health crisis – raises many issues, due in particular to the diversity of the group’s professions. A CIFRE thesis has therefore been launched to address this issue, with the objective of implementing a digital intelligence observatory.

Not all organizations are equal when it comes to digital transformation. Some – especially those created during the 21st century – have navigated this change with ease, in certain cases even organizing their activities around new technologies. But what about older companies, like the Michelin group, established long before the advent of digital technology? For them, implementing this type of transition usually comes with new challenges linked to the different professions present in the organization.

Digital intelligence

The Michelin group therefore launched a program in September 2019 called “Collaborative Move”, aimed at promoting cross-disciplinary collaboration within its teams. Harry Ramadasse, who was working for the company’s human resources department at the time as part of a work-study program, remembers the project’s difficult beginnings: “The goal was to encourage dialogue between the various groups and help them embrace new collaborative tools. However, during the first months, we faced resistance to changes in the teams’ habits… Then Covid hit and everything changed.” Even employees who resisted new technology were then forced to use them.

Michelin’s Human Resources Department then wanted to take this approach a step further. The idea of a CIFRE thesis on the digital intelligence of employees originated arose from discussions with Aurélie Dudézert, a research professor at IMT-BS. “This term refers to the ability to embrace emerging technologies and integrate them into new work practices,” explains the director of the thesis conducted by Harry Ramadasse. “Our research was initially aimed at designing a support method for Michelin Group to facilitate the development of digital intelligence. We decided to pursue this idea over the course of our studies and exchanges with the company.” 

But what does this term “digital” intelligence refer to? According to Aurélie Dudézert, in this case it refers to “specific digital tools that are easy to handle, and could almost be operated with just one finger, which explains the use of this adjective. It applies to a subdivision of digital technology that is easy to use.” In the case of Michelin Group, these are the digital tools in question.  

White-collar and blue-collar workers take on digital technology

Harry Ramadasse’s thesis is based on action-research methodology, of which the first step is to establish a diagnosis. Using company databases, interviews and surveys conducted with group employees, the PhD student was first able to highlight the challenges associated with digital transformation at Michelin.

The company has a unique combination both white-collar employees working in offices and blue-collar employees working at industrial sites. Both groups have their own specific characteristics and relationships to digital tools, but both were included in the “Collaborative Move” program.

Yet the employees did not experience the health crisis and introduction of hybrid work and digital practices in the same way. Harry Ramadasse discovered this by studying over 200,000 responses from an annual employee survey. “After remote work was introduced, white-collar and blue-collar workers generally shared similar expectations. Yet the impact was not the same, since it was much easier for white-collar workers to work remotely, and thus enjoy a better work-life balance, as opposed to blue-collar workers.” This disparity resulted in blue-collar workers feeling sidelined, despite the fact that they form the majority of Michelin Group employees (60% of the workforce).

But the situation also caused frustration among some white-collar workers, who were under lockdown at home and envied the social interactions of blue-collar workers who were required to be physically present on site,” Aurélie Dudézert adds. “There may have been a form of jealousy on both sides in general, which was often linked to a lack of knowledge about the other’s situation.” To succeed in its digital transformation, the group must therefore take into account both overall trends and the specific expectations of certain groups, sites and professions.

In addition, companies like Michelin may also face organizational difficulties. “The group has structured a large number of work processes due to its industrial activities,” the thesis director explains. “And this strict formalization is sometimes necessary, for example to ensure safety on production lines. Yet a rigid structure may be more difficult to adapt to a digital culture, which is more relevant for service activities.” However, this is precisely the value proposition the company is seeking to develop, in addition to production, through advice on pneumatic equipment and promotion of the famous Michelin guide. The group’s digital transformation must therefore take into account this dichotomy between the process culture and the desire to diversify. But it is also important to consider the group’s size as a multinational with more than 100,000 employees worldwide and many different cultures.

Selecting indicators for the digital intelligence observatory

This diagnostic work has also helped provide a new direction for the research. “At the end of our discussions, we concluded that it was probably too early to design a method for developing digital intelligence at Michelin,” Harry Ramadasse says. “Instead, it seemed more relevant to develop a tool for measuring and monitoring digital intelligence within the group.” 

This tool has taken the form of an observatory. The aim is to identify significant indicators and monitor their development each year. But how will they choose the right indicators that will be both applicable to the entire Michelin group and relevant for managers in their daily activities? This is precisely one of the main components of Harry Ramadasse’s thesis.

The work has already begun with the identification of the first indicators to monitor. “For example, the use of collaborative work tools is an interesting piece of information to observe,” the PhD student says. “To do this, we can consult a Microsoft database, which shows the number of employees who have used the software provided for this purpose over a given period of time.” Unsurprisingly, this indicator grew considerably during the health crisis.

Promoting acceptance of the new tool

The observatory will gradually be enriched with new indicators over the course of the current co-design phase bringing together the researchers and Michelin teams. For example, the company would like to monitor the participation of its employees in meetings and assess their effectiveness. “At this stage, there is also a data challenge,” Aurélie Dudézert adds. “How can we obtain the data we need to track the indicators over time? Does Michelin Group already have enough sources of information, in particular from databases and annual surveys? Or should new collection mechanisms be introduced?” 

Behind these questions lies the key issue of acceptability. “Employees are already asked to respond to frequent surveys and may end up experiencing fatigue,” the researcher notes. “We must therefore be careful to protect employees, especially after a health crisis that affected so many people.” Overdoing employee surveys could introduce obstacles to change at a time when Michelin wants to facilitate digital transition among all teams.

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