Digital Transformation: The Road to Topcon 2.0

Is building an IT strategy enough to achieve organization-wide hypergrowth? Roland Appelhof, IT director within Topcon, believes there is much more to it than that! In this case, Roland shares what factors he believes deserve focus within a digital transformation. Are you curious how Roland made a digital transformation within the eye care business unit of Topcon? Then read on!

Topcon Corporation

Enriching human life through advanced technologies: that is Topcon’s motto. With the help of these advanced technologies, Topcon aims to overcome challenges in the fields of “healthcare”, “agriculture” and “infrastructure”. Roland Appelhof is IT-director of the eyecare business unit within Topcon. This sector develops hardware, software and services to recognize and analyze eye diseases at an early stage. ‘We are a manufacturer ourselves with R&D and production facility in Japan.’ 

Topcon eyecare is divided into 3 regions: Asia, Europe and the Americas. The country structure makes it difficult to keep track of what everyone is doing. To improve mutual cooperation and support organization-wide growth, Topcon is rolling out several digitization projects globally. 

Digital Transformation

As IT director, Roland’s primary task is to build an IT strategy that can achieve a new Topcon 2.0. However, Roland quickly recognized that this cannot be achieved with IT alone. Therefore, Roland is playing chess on several boards within Topcon’s digital transformation. For example, Topcon is in the process of consolidating and aligning all data from the different countries. This data is stored in a data warehouse to which all countries have digital access. On the basis of this data, there can be better cooperation, countries can learn from each other and Data Driven Decision Making becomes possible. 

Roland also sees customer service as an important point of attention within the digitization process. To provide customers with the right service from sales to maintenance, Salesforce was introduced in the past. Within this tool, Topcon builds functionality that can significantly simplify and speed up a customer’s purchasing process. Although simply implementing this tool is not enough according to Roland. ‘The challenge is to get an understanding of the organizational goals and vision, so you know how to use the tool to work towards this.’ 

Getting employees on board with digital change

In order to transform digitally as a company, it is necessary to implement certain new tools. According to Roland, it is essential to explain internally the reasons behind these implementations, otherwise resistance can arise. Different cultures prevail within the company and this requires different approaches. That’s why it’s important to communicate the goal properly’. When you repeat this regularly and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goal, Roland says you can grow as a company. 

The influence of COVID-19 on digitization plans

Roland was hired for this position in the middle of the corona period. Topcon has looked at COVID in the long term with little negative impact. In fact, according to Roland, COVID has actually provided the space to take more steps in the digitization process. ‘We could have gone into savings mode and into survival mode, but we actually pressed on to grow. In addition, Topcon was already working with Cloud systems and applications for COVID, so that went very smoothly in combination with working from home.’ 

Forecasting in the eyecare business

Roland finds forecasting for producing their products with delivering them to the customers still a challenging subject. After all, there is a lot of time and money involved in production and the market can be very ad hoc. So, it is critical that forecasting is done properly. Roland expects that with the advent of better data combined with machine learning this will be possible faster and better in a while, but with a warning.  

‘A forecast can come out of a system, but as a human, you have to keep checking whether this is realistic. It is also possible that the algorithm or the data are not correct, which will give you the wrong result’.  

In addition, according to Roland, it is important that, as a company, you don’t just routinely use the figures. 

You have to keep asking yourself whether the data created has added value. Some things you can already logically answer in advance. It is then a waste of time to unnecessarily waste time on this’. 

Future trends

Roland sees two more major trends emerging. Firstly, he thinks that security will become more and more important, so that the ever-increasing amounts of data are handled safely and properly. In addition, Roland thinks that in the future, a lot will happen with sensors.   

Currently, based on temperature, heart rate, heart rhythm and lung functionality, it is possible to predict whether someone has a certain disease or is showing symptoms. I can imagine that in a while we will also be able to measure and discover more quickly in eyes. The data that people are collecting now is giving them more and more insights.’ 

Advice for future CIOs/IT directors

The advice Roland would like to give a future CIO or IT director is to gain insight into business problems as quickly as possible. According to him, business plans are often about sales that need to go up and costs that need to go down, but what role IT can play in this and how often disappears into the background.  

‘If you don’t understand the front end, you don’t know where to focus on the back end. So think proactively and learn to use tools and systems in a targeted way, so that you can approach processes in a smarter way!’ 

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