Why Digi-Key Bets Big on Innovation and Automation
Smartsheet has become the foundational platform for how Digi-Key manages vendors, programs, and projects, giving them the option to share real-time information and improve visibility all the way up to the executive level.
"Once you’re up and running on Control Center, you know that everyone is singing from the same sheet of music."
Senior Manager of Operational Excellence, Digi-Key
Innovation sometimes happens in the places you least expect. Thief River Falls, a smaller town tucked up in northwestern Minnesota, is home to Digi-Key Electronics, one of the largest distributors of electronic components in the world. With approximately 4,200 employees, $3.2 billion in annual sales, and 880 different suppliers that provide six million parts, the company serves hundreds of thousands of customers every year.
At Digi-Key, Andrew Bourne, senior manager of operational excellence, and Pete Danos, senior innovation program leader, are responsible for unlocking the potential of innovative technologies while enhancing organizational efficiency. Their team is responsible for bringing in new technologies to keep Digi-Key competitive and reimagine how they work, from procuring an automated packaging machine to building better processes through workflow automation.
“The type of innovation that excites us most are disruptions that occur in areas where you least expect it,” Bourne says. “Things that you never would have thought could change, and against all odds, change happened and subsequently made people’s lives better.”
Room for Process Improvement
“When I started this department, it was just me,” Bourne says. “I had five to six projects in flight that were in some of the most taxing stages. I bounced between market research, statements of work, pricing, and site visits. I needed a more organized way to work.”
To keep track of projects, Bourne used Microsoft Excel, a notebook, and his memory. “It was adding enough unnecessary time to projects that were intended on delivering serious value to the organization.”
With the old method, Bourne often was waiting around on vendors and internal stakeholders, and the information wasn’t available on the spot. As projects progressed and excitement grew, co-workers would stop Bourne in the hallway, but he wasn’t able to give them answers off the top of his head, considering his heavy workload.
Bourne brought in Danos to help lead the innovation department, and his first task was to pick the right work execution platform to build the foundation for managing vendors, programs, and projects, taking careful consideration to ensure that the solution allowed them to share real-time information and improve visibility all the way up to the executive level. Danos researched Smartsheet and thought it was a perfect fit for their use cases.
"A One-Stop Shop to Manage the Whole Program"
“This is a newer department, so we want to make sure the foundation is built right,” Danos says. Bourne and Danos worked with Smartsheet Solution Services to build a custom solution that lets them create the right blueprints for their workflows using Smartsheet Control Center.
“As far our innovation is concerned, Smartsheet is the place where all of our projects live,” Danos says. “We use it to handle day-to-day task management, scheduling, updating, and tying all projects to our departmental dashboard, which elevates our department throughout the enterprise.”
“From a functionality perspective, I’m using Smartsheet as a one-stop shop to manage the whole program,” Danos continues. “It’s super important that the platform integrates with Microsoft Outlook. I can save specific documentation, emails, images, and communications right to the product line. It’s nice to be able to go to one place and know it’s all there.”
“From a planning standpoint, we’re able to spin up projects with a couple of clicks, using Control Center", Bourne adds. “Just the ease of an intake form, then choosing the project path, and getting started within a few minutes is truly powerful.”
The team also shared the benefits of Control Center with Digi-Key’s IT department. “If you go back seven months, they were struggling with multiple project managers who were doing great work,” Danos says. “Each person was project managing a little different than the next, and it was a challenge to tie all of that information together.”
“We showed them that if you do a little pre-work and determine the templates and how you want people to manage projects, you can all sing from the same sheet of music. Every time we put something into our hopper, then launch projects from Control Center, within five minutes we know all of the artifacts we need to spin up.”
As they showcased newly discovered Smartsheet capabilities to stakeholders, “teams started to use it and now additional programs are adopting the platform as the foundational tool for success in their departments,” Bourne adds. In fact, project management for their 2.2 million square foot facility, currently under construction, is being managed through Smartsheet.
"Smartsheet Acts as My Safety Net"
Using Smartsheet, the team has boosted task, project, and program accountability through increased transparency into program status through dashboards, the mobile app, and app integrations. “Within ours and echoed throughout other departments, Smartsheet is keeping us honest,” Bourne says.
"Working on several large-scale projects, with an eye on holistic strategic vision can provide a fertile breeding ground for smaller tasks to fall through the cracks. Smartsheet acts as my safety net. There is never a chance for risks to sit unattended, or tasks to go without notice as our dashboards bring them to the forefront on a daily basis. This is a level of comfort and confidence that was once not provided at all times to our internal customers.”
In addition, the team frequently uses the Smartsheet mobile app to work, whenever they need to. “The mobile experience was a big differentiator for me,” Danos says. “The ease of use, from a mobile perspective, whether it’s on my phone or my iPad, is really key. When you’re balancing between seven projects, you need to be able to pull up the platform, work quickly wherever you are, and respond on the fly.”
“I walk into executive offices on a weekly basis, and I’ve got my iPad with me at all times,” Bourne adds. “I pull up our program dashboard to show them where their projects are, and the information that’s most important to them. I know the data on the dashboard is live, up-to-date, and intuitive.”
So, now when stakeholders stop Bourne and Danos in the hallway asking about overall program health, “I not only can pull up the answer, but I have the confidence that the information is accurate,” Bourne says. “This is because Smartsheet has some great consultants on staff, and its developers clearly have done a stellar job creating this solution.”
Danos agrees: “Smartsheet is a company that listens to users, and actually cares about what customers need versus making age-old assumptions of what they think you need.”