by Samira Sarraf

CIO50 2019: #17 Damian Madden, The Woolmark Company

Nov 14, 2019
Technology Industry

Damian Madden
Credit: Damian Madden

With more than five billion certified products, The Woolmark Company has been working withAustralia’s 60,000 wool growers to research, develop and certify Australian wool.

But how to be digital without being digital is the question Damian Madden, The Woolmark Company general manager for digital, asks himself to ensure he keeps the business ahead of the curve in the digital space.

“Or rather, how does one access all of the benefits of the digital world without having to disconnect from the real world to access them?” Madden asks.

Madden’s team has continued to build upon the work initiated two years ago, driving digital innovation to help increase wool’s demand while ensuring internal systems are correctly positioned to support the forward move.

He says that most of the innovation coming out of the digital side of the business is driven by challengesposed by the next generation of consumers. This generation, according to Madden, want more tangible experiences and this has challenged his team to innovate and drive changes across different areas of the business.

“Unless we can craft a solution to this problem, we risk being left behind when the next generation becomes the current generation.”

So far, Woolmark has established a “global voice strategy” that focuses on teaching people about wool care in four languages: English, Korean, Japanese and Italian. This initiative is accessed more than 15,000 times per month with no promotion.

It also has embedded chip technology that connects to the consumer’s smartphone, teaching them through AR about the manufacturing innovations contained within the item and providing information about the origin of the product and specific care instructions.

Woolmark has launched the online wool selling system WoolQ. It digitised processes that have long been paper-based and now offers farmers the chance to save thousands of dollars on their current selling costs. This boosted Woolmark’s profile, resulting in staff members invited to speak about its innovations at conferences around the world as well as collecting some awards along the way.

Lastly, it restructured its global digital network and infrastructure, saving more than $500,000 per year in operating costs and reduced development time by 25 per cent.

The next evolution

Woolmark’s digital team is currently studying how augmented reality can be used, specifically with garment tags. This includes things like determining how a tag can act as a point-of-sale device for retailers, allowing them to do stock-take, sell or security easily.

“How do tags interact with smart mirrors to display information about fabric or design? How can it interact with change rooms (e.g. walk in to try on a ski-jacket and the temperature drops)?” explains Madden.

But there could be a lot more to it – it could allow consumers to know more about the origin of the product and meet the farmer or designer. It could also go into ways of providing detailed care instructions or connect up to a smart washing machine (to further reduce excess pollutants through incorrect washing).

“Then, when the garment reaches end of life, how can this tag help to ensure it is recycled or if on-sold that the new owner can also access this information and the original brand can connect with them and engage?

“This allows us to offer full transparency throughout a garment’s life, while offering multiple opportunities to connect and educate.”

Madden uses simple methods to get new technologies known across the business including newsletters and town hall meetings, but it doesn’t stop there.

“We also utilise good old fashion curiosity by leaving things around the office for people to discover and explore.

“For example, when we were rolling out a screen that interacts with the garments you wear, we simply left the screen out in full view in our reception area for people to approach on their own and ‘discover’ it. They would then go and tell others about what they had seen.

“It acts as a good test case for us in how intuitive the tech is to use,” he says.

After more than four years driving innovation for Woolmark, Madden says one key lesson is that leadership is about presence.

“If you want to foster a collaborative and innovative culture, you have to be present in that culture, to walk down these new pathways with your team – sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, but always together,” Madden explains.

“If you are always present then this invites others, especially at the leadership level, to also become present. It creates a space where people feel empowered to share their issues and open up about problems, which can then be solved collectively, further adding to the overall culture of the company.”