I believe the most important step companies can take is to truly embrace digital disruption and invest in data capabilities. The consumer goods landscape is changing rapidly, a change which is driven by the amplified role data and technology now play in the consumer experience and in product development. The core business of consumer goods companies is being increasingly impacted by changing expectations of customer and customers, a more diverse competitive landscape and the evaporating distinction between online and offline. Data is becoming an essential factor of success and differentiation, and a prerequisite to digitize commerce, operations and the product value proposition. Companies that understand and embrace the importance of accessing and leveraging internal and external data will gain competitive advantage over the ones that resist.
The IT function has a unique role to play in this context, being the custodian of internal data and the technology advisor to the rest of the business. A robust data and system backbone and strong analytical platforms will become both a growth-enabler and source of competitive advantage. That requires the IT function to go beyond the traditional role of provider of services and solutions, to become a valuable business partner. Companies will need to factor business technology into their strategic plans to both foster innovation and sustain growth, and CIOs and their teams play a key role in navigating this new landscape.
"Data is becoming an essential factor of success and differentiation, and a prerequisite to digitize commerce, operations and the product value proposition"
At Mars, the global information systems function has significantly evolved in the past few years. We continue to provide efficient and reliable IT services, leveraging cloud computing to increase flexibility, speed and scale. But we are also developing new capabilities, investing in talent and partnerships to develop digital marketing and e-commerce technology, and to revamp our core system architecture. Finally and above all, we re-enforce the partnership and ways of working with the rest of the organization to become a true business partner for our colleagues.
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Don’t underestimate the cultural challenge of embracing digital change. This is even harder for a successful company with a proven business model, where value had been traditionally driven by physical assets, capital and talent. Now, these components must be coupled with data to support sustained innovation and growth. The thing is, it’s not always easy to translate how deeply and pervasively digitization will affect a business. The bigger the company, the harder it can be to create that disruptive conversation.
The CIO must invest time communicating the vision, finding as many opportunities as possible to make clear connections between the vision and mission of a company, and the role data and technology play to support its ambitions. In other words, to sell the story you have to believe it. I invest as much time engaging with key stakeholders, as I spend working with my team on strategic directions.
The CIO must also lead by being one step ahead in the game, even if that means taking some risks by investing in capabilities for the future. As we’ve learned at Mars, the payoff can be great. A few years ago, I knew we needed to make an investment in e-commerce technology to keep pace with the changes in our industry. We acquired new digital talent and defined new technology platforms like e-content. These are now widely adopted globally in true collaboration with the Marketing and Sales functions. We didn’t wait to be asked–we saw the need and went for it.
Finally, the CIO must have a clear talent agenda. Digitization forces us to rethink the type of talent we pursue. While technical capabilities and analytical skills may have been enough just a few years ago, now the ability to collaborate and effectively communicate have become prerequisites in our field. Business instinct, communication, collaboration and learning agility are the skills that I look for in the talent profile of the future.