The Customer’s Central Role to the Innovation Process

GCP Applied Technologies’ Jyoti Seth explains how the consumer plays a critical part in the company’s product processes and development
Industry Matters Newsletter
Networking image
Image credit: iStock by Getty Images

Key Takeaways:

  1. Jyoti Seth shares how GCP integrates customer influences into company innovations
  2. Common reasons innovations fail to achieve commercial success
  3. How Jyoti Seth tackles international markets while still protecting GCP’s intellectual property

A big part of your job is to develop new products for the construction industry, specifically the following segments: Specialty Cement, Concrete R&D, as well as Building Materials R&D. How do you ensure the voice of the customer influences the design and development of your company’s innovations?

The voice of our customer plays a big part in our decision to develop a new product, as well as is a critical part during the development process as we validate key performance attributes. We create prototypes or customer trials at very early stages of development, drawing upon decades of experience in those segments mentioned; and, sometimes, we use marketing-technology specialists or consultants on a confidential basis to ensure what we are developing is in line with needs and expectations of customers.

Some recent examples are CONCERA® admixture for controlled flow concrete and PREPRUFE® 250 membrane for below grade waterproofing. 

What are some common reasons innovations fail to achieve commercial success?

There are many reasons an innovation may not achieve commercial success. In my experience, one of the most common ones is issues with understanding the true need and translating it into the product. Many times the need is addressed, but the solution is more complex. In a few cases, the innovation may be ahead of its time. 

In the construction industry, change or adoption of new technology is generally slow, especially if there is departure from existing building codes or the established construction practices. One needs to have patience and should not be discouraged by the slow pace of adoption.

Customers – and connecting their needs to products - is central to your success and that of your company. You don’t learn that in chemistry lab. Can you describe the path that led a Ph.D. chemist to effectively learn the business side of her job? 

Good question. The process of product development requires partnership between our marketing professionals and technology innovation teams working together. This gives our researchers a good understanding of the business rationale for a product under development. The product development process requires scientists to be involved in collecting data that reflects the voice of the customer, interacting with sales personnel, conducting field trials of the products, and evaluating the financial costs and financial returns of the products. All of these interactions enable scientists to learn the business and financial aspects of the product they are involved in.  

The construction industry generates a lot of waste. As a supplier to this industry, what is your company’s approach to making the industry more environmentally friendly?

Sustainability is a key focus at GCP, and it is rooted in our product development process. Reducing construction waste and producing environmentally friendly products are a big part of our thinking during new product development. We are proud that several of our products are inherently environmentally friendly and promote sustainability.

In fact, environmental impact is taken into account for any product development, and spans from reducing waste, avoiding hazardous chemicals, and eliminating VOCs for our products, to reducing greenhouse emissions in cement production.

Many of the products we have commercialized recently open paths to reduce or reuse waste. In the concrete space, we developed CLARENA® RC additive, which converts returned concrete into useful aggregates to be reused in concrete. In building products, we just commercialized PERM-A-BARRIER® VPS 30 Membrane, which is applied to the substrate without the need of additional primer. Thus, builders need to use only one product instead of two for completing the job and they can reduce inefficiencies and waste at the jobsite. 

How does your company develop international markets while simultaneously protecting GCP’s intellectual property? 

GCP is a global company participating in NA, EMEA and AP markets. We have regional business offices that understand the local needs. We either transfer the products from one region to another or develop the products locally as needed by the region. If we have to modify an existing product to meet the local need or to develop a new approach altogether, we like to use confidentiality agreements to protect patentability of our innovations.  We file for patents as needed to protect our various investments in research and development. Patenting our new technologies is core to our product development process, and we take defending our patents seriously. Most countries follow international patent laws and respect the patents.  

What technology trends are you following most closely with an eye toward how they may impact the work of your scientists?

Key trends we are seeing are sustainability; availability of skilled labor; multi-functional attributes; and availability of land, including use of brownfields, deeper/taller buildings; urbanization, sensors and data analytics. Staying ahead of these trends helps us to innovate the products that address these issues.

Among your scientists at GCP Applied Technologies, what non-technical skills do you most highly value?

Scientists’ creativity is very valuable to the company. Scientists need to combine that with business acumen; practicality; thinking through the commercial process, from bench scale to large scale; speed and collaboration. The open mindedness of the scientist is especially valuable so that they can use their available knowledge and resources to move the project forward. Thinking about the team over individual contributions is also highly valued.

How did your parents influence your leadership style?

My parents had a large influence on my way of thinking as well as my leadership skills. My parents instilled in me confidence and resilience. My leadership style provides a glimpse into my upbringing. The belief in self-reliance that my parents taught me is part of my leadership style. Seizing on opportunities and not being scared of failure are two traits I learned from my parents and pass forward to my team.

What unique challenges do women chemists encounter in the industry? What can women - and the companies that employ they - do to mitigate these challenges?

Women in general face unique the challenge of work/life balance, taking care of the family while advancing in their career. Many companies now provide resources for advancements with women groups, as well as flexible hours and family leave benefits to name a few. One of the most important things is to have a mentor or coach who can help guide them through ups and downs. Companies should not prejudge, but should offer opportunities to the right candidate, irrespective of gender.

We understand you like to cook. I have this image of chemists in the kitchen, rather than using teaspoons or tablespoons weighing ingredients by the gram. Is that you? How does your chemistry degree influence the way you operate in the kitchen?

Actually, I do not weigh my ingredients by grams, but I do use my conversion knowledge to get an idea of measurements. My love of cooking comes from my early days of doing lab work. I get my utmost pleasure when I take a recipe and recreate it by using the ingredients on hand. I learned patience and a drive for success in the chemistry lab, and use this as a guide in my kitchen.

Jyoti Seth, Vice President of Technology, GCP Applied Technologies
Jyoti Seth, Vice President of Technology, GCP Applied Technologies

Jyoti has over twenty years of experience in innovation and product development for the construction industry and continues to develop and commercialize customer-focused novel products and technologies in the Cement, Concrete and Building Materials sectors enabling easier application, superior performance, sustainability, multifunctional features, sensors, and data analytics.   

She works actively with professionals in the industry in understanding the current needs and translating into product attributes. She currently serves as the global head of Innovation for GCP Applied Technologies. At GCP Applied Technologies, and formerly at W.R. Grace she held various technical and leadership positions with increasing levels of responsibility. She has been involved in developing flagship products for the construction industry. She holds multiple patents in the field of Building Materials. Before joining the industry, Jyoti was involved in teaching undergraduate Chemistry in various colleges. Jyoti received her Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India and did her post-doctoral work at the University of California Riverside and Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh. Jyoti enjoys long walks, yoga and swimming. She loves cooking and relates it to doing chemistry in the kitchen.

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

Copyright 2019 American Chemical Society (All Rights Reserved)