Meet Your MACH Alliance Ambassador: Gireesh Sahukar, Senior Director of Digital at Dawn Foods
When a company has been evolving for over a century, digital is simply a part of that overall journey. “We’ve been around for a hundred years, so when we talk about transformation it’s in terms of what we need to do to ensure our business is around for the next hundred years.” explains Gireesh Sahukar, Senior Director of Digital at Dawn Foods, “What does our company and operating model need to look like to do that? How do we engage with our customers now and in the future? How are our customers engaging in their day to day lives and what do we need to do to meet them where they are?”
For Dawn Foods, the leading bakery ingredient manufacturer, supplier, and distributor, the choice to implement B2B eCommerce wasn’t because of a mandate to go digital but because, according to Gireesh, “In their personal lives, our customers are online, they are connected twenty-four seven and we need to be there with them on that journey to lead and be competitive in our industry.”
Gireesh is no stranger to the transformative power of eCommerce, having been in the space for the last fifteen years and with experience working on over fifty eCommerce implementations.
He joined Dawn Foods a little over a year as they were in the early stages of their eCommerce journey, and he recently sat down with the MACH Alliance to discuss that journey, his insights into the rapidly changing eCommerce landscape, and his recently announced role as a MACH Alliance Ambassador.
Monoliths are Going Extinct
Having implemented dozens of eCommerce projects, Gireesh is familiar with the big box platforms that had dominated the market in the past. In the last few years, even before joining Dawn Foods, he has taken more interest in the emerging players.
“I think some of the large platforms that have traditionally dominated the market have stagnated in their product offering. Their roadmap hasn’t changed much, they are focused more on internal reworking of their application architecture, and they haven’t been offering customers anything new with each of their releases.” Due to this legacy stagnation, when it came to selecting an approach for Dawn Foods, Gireesh was more interested in discovering what the more innovative platforms out there had to offer.
Looking at the landscape, it was clear to the team that innovation in the space was being driven by an overriding principle. “Before we even chose a platform we could see that all of the market was saying the same thing. Every platform wants to be fully API compliant.” explains Gireesh, “Even if they are monoliths, they think that their future platform needs to be completely available by APIs.”
That overall shift in the market led the team at Dawn Foods to an early decision on their approach, “We realized that if the industry is going towards APIs then we should really look at a platform, and a wider architecture, that is API-first and API-led.” says Gireesh. By making that decision early in the journey, the team was able to choose solution providers and partners that best fit the overall API-led architecture.
Owning the Experience
Before Gireesh joined the company, Dawn Foods was in the early stages of planning its eCommerce journey. When Gireesh joined it was clear that this would be a multi-year roadmap and needed to scale with the company’s ambitions. He saw that scaling up the company’s eCommerce services would require moving away from the blackbox technology thinking, to creating an architecture that allowed Dawn Foods to be more in control of their own solution roadmap.
Owning the architecture not only means that Dawn Foods can better adapt to the external needs of customers, but also to the internal needs of their own teams. “The employee experience is often completely overlooked.” says Gireesh, “Decision makers tend to focus on the customer, but the experience that we can deliver to the customer is dependent on the experience we can deliver to the employee.” In a recent roundtable on future-proofing the tech ecosystem, he emphasized that a key factor of success in any business transformation is building internal confidence in the new way of working.
For Dawn Foods, the internal needs present a unique challenge. Along with the external customer, the solution needed to meet the needs of sales reps, customer service reps and the technical service reps (aka, the bakery experts).
“We wanted a single interface that could work for all four of these user groups, which meant we needed to control that experience ourselves.” says Gireesh, explaining why the Dawn team decided to build their own custom front-end to work with their API-led stack. “We needed to be able to react to their needs and their evolving ways of working.”
“If I was in a different company building a solution for a different problem statement, my answer may have very well been using a front-end-as-a-service like Vue or Frontastic.” continued Gireesh, “For instance, if I was doing a B2C type of site one of those would likely be a better fit than custom development. It’s just that our needs at Dawn were slightly different than the direction they are heading in, so building the interface by ourselves made the most sense for us.”
Modern Speed with MACH tools
Dawn Foods’ choice to build their own front-end, and have it work seamlessly with the back-end tools in their stack is reflective of a growing number of companies who are leveraging API-led tools to build a composable architecture of best fit solutions.
“We built our solution to be modular.” says Gireesh, “We could replace underlying APIs without ever having to replatform. In the future we could replace our front-end without having a major rehaul of everything else, because the underlying API structures are all the same.”
This type of plug and play solution is enabled by the rise of MACH principles (Microservices, API-first, Cloud-native, Headless) in software design. Modern MACH tools are built to be modular and integrate from the ground up, bringing a high level of flexibility to the enterprise tech stack.
“The MACH architecture gives you that kind of maturity, which is a fairly steep curve, at a very fast pace.” explains Gireesh, “You don’t have to have the large team, or the large investment, to be able to build a mature, robust application architecture that would traditionally take years to achieve.”
For Gireesh and his team at Dawn Foods, a MACH architecture enabled them to go from a two person project team at the beginning of January 2020 to a fully launched eCommerce solution by July. Now with a team of eighteen, the speed they gained with a MACH architecture is allowing Dawn Foods to explore other value added services, such as digital marketing, much sooner than if they had gone with a legacy, monolithic eCommerce solution.
“We were building the office, the team, and platform as we went, and we were able to go from no code and no requirements to a fully launched functional eCommerce website in twenty-two weeks.” says Gireesh, who believes that if he were to start the project today that timeline would be even shorter. Not just because of lessons learned, but because of how rapidly enterprise software is advancing.
“Many tools that weren’t mature enough for us when we started this project have improved leaps and bounds in the last twelve months.” says Gireesh, “I would argue, because of how rapidly the software is maturing, that somebody launching a similar eCommerce solution would be able to do it twenty-five percent faster today than was possible a year ago.”
Customers buy more from us now
After a small pilot with 100 customers, it was clear that Dawn Foods’ B2B community was ready to adopt eCommerce. “We all know that customers ‘saying’ they want something and a customer ‘adopting something’ are two different things.” says Gireesh, “Our customers showed, by coming back to the site week after week, that they are very willing and eager to adopt the new way of connecting into their ordering process.”
In less than a year, Dawn Foods was able to go from a sales-rep-led ordering process to a self-service eCommerce that customers could access 24/7. Not only is it convenient for customers to have all their order history and invoice management in one central place, but they also now have an easier way to explore the more than 10,000 items that Dawn Foods offers.
“The benefits are more than just easy reordering, it’s the discovery aspect as well.” explains Gireesh, “I’ve talked to customers that have been with us for five, ten, twenty-five years who tell me that they have seen a product on our website they have been ordering from someone else simply because they didn’t know we carry it. It’s been great to hear feedback from long time customers who say they are now able to see that Dawn offers much more than they’ve been buying from us historically.”
“Because it’s our first year having the data, as well as the pandemic, it’s very hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison of just how much this solution has impacted our business” says Gireesh, “Anecdotally, what we definitely have seen is an increase in that kind of discovery that has led to incremental ordering and better conversations around our product offerings.”
Dawn Foods is a constant innovator
As mentioned previously, Dawn Foods doesn’t see digital as the end game but as part of a continuing process of adapting their business to meet customer needs and to continue to lead the industry. “Our company is known as an innovator in the bakery ingredients space, people recognize us for our cutting edge products. We have a track record of knowing where the industry needs to go and taking it there,” explains Gireesh. “Sometimes we have to drag it there, but eventually it comes along.”
Gireesh sees this digital advancement as a new opportunity for Dawn Foods to move the industry forward. “We’re already seen as an innovator, so this was just another way of us innovating in the space. We already had four touchpoints with our customers, and this just adds a fifth. That might not seem like a big deal, but when everyone else does three and you’re doing five that’s a huge differentiator.”
While the site is a key way that Dawn Foods is currently driving innovation, the business is continuously looking for ways to lead the market in all facets of business. Overall, says Gireesh, “The whole eCommerce site is just one part of a broader company-wide initiative to make transformative changes in how we operate as a business.”
MACH Alliance Ambassador
The MACH Alliance is very excited to have Gireesh as one of our first MACH Alliance Ambassadors. Our Ambassadors are a carefully selected group of business and technology experts with a wide range of experience across industries and backgrounds. Passionate about the benefits a modern architecture can bring to an enterprise, our Ambassadors have graciously committed their time to support the mission of the MACH Alliance by writing, speaking, and serving as subject matter experts to help empower companies to go MACH.
If you’re interested in learning more about the composable enterprise, and understanding if it’s right for your business, you’re invited to reach out to Gireesh or get in touch with us at email@example.com to be matched with the MACH Alliance Ambassador most relevant to you.