IT in Practice: Building a Foundation of Collaboration
This alignment requires a concentrated focus on the part of the CIO. It is imperative for CIOs to work with key members of the executive team and members of the board of directors to understand the inherent challenges that face the business. Understanding these challenges and collaborating with thought leaders and highly respected executives will help CIOs deliver solutions that circumvent resistance while addressing and enabling the core strategy and needs of the business.
Collaboration, in a very real form, is when individuals join efforts to work together to achieve a common purpose. In the case of business executives, it can be a vehicle used to help drive key initiatives throughout the organization. This is especially the case when standing alone will draw fire from those opposed to these key initiatives and programs.
Those who stand together are stronger and more influential than those who stand alone. This is why collaboration is integral to the survival of a CIO in an organization. Similarly, alignment between key executives around strategic elements of the business is essential for the long-term viability of an organization. Collectively, collaboration and alignment have the ability to pave the road for successful execution and the delivery of value for the business.
Poor Step Child
However, collaboration is often neglected by members of the IT community throughout the business sector. This is more often the case when the business and IT speak a different language and embrace different priorities. At times, IT speaks a language that is foreign to the business and consequently creates indifference by the business to technology-based initiatives. The IT departments focus on operational-based programs frequently appears disconnected from the overall business strategy.
This is a theme I have noticed over the course of my career in CIO roles at a major public school district, as well as a global technology, media and financial services company. To remedy this, it is important that CIOs remain connected to the business strategy and champion only those programs that specifically deliver value for the business.
In June 2008, I became the new CIO of Mannatech, a global provider of proprietary dietary supplements, weight management products and skin care solutions. After joining Mannatech, I discovered the company had purchased an enterprise system that could address existing supply chain gaps. Unfortunately, the business did not fully install or configure all modules of the enterprise system.
There were modules such as distribution resource planning (DRP) that had the capability to address deficiencies in our demand planning and forecasting cycles. Yet, this module was never implemented, even as our business continued to face difficulty with appropriately forecasting product demand. Additionally, there were other modules and configurations such as item master and inventory movement which had the capability to help the business better manage its inventory flow and product stocking levels. But because this module was never installed, much of the work of moving inventory from one plant to the next had to be done manually.
Lastly, there were bill of materials (BOM) tools that could contribute to a much more efficient kitting process for the business. However, this module was never implemented either because the business was hesitant about spending additional funds.
Due to challenges with the initial deployment of the supply chain management system prior to my arrival, I found it difficult to get the organization to support additional investments in the full implementation and optimization of its supply chain. This lack of investment in a system that was designed to optimize and build solid controls into the organization enabled process gaps to remain in our supply chain. This allowed for the sub-optimization and inefficiency of the supply chain cycle.
The previously negative experiences the business encountered during the initial deployment of the system made it difficult for me, in the position of CIO, to rally the organization around the need to make additional investments despite the benefits I laid out.
After meeting with members of the board of directors to discuss the shortcomings of the supply chain process, I realized that I would not make any progress without enlisting the support of other key executives. While I may have been able to speak to the issues and gaps facing the supply chain, a supply chain leader was much better positioned to address issues of accountability and responsibility.This individual could provide specific examples of failure points or weaknesses in the supply chain process and talk about the benefit and value of owning and personally addressing these gaps. As CIO, I realized my job was to provide a solution to enable the optimization of the supply chain processnot to assume ownership for this process.
From prior experiences, I was keenly aware that ultimate accountability for addressing these types of process-oriented gaps must rest with the business. The CIO is much better positioned to who works with the business to design and develop business solutions. Consequently, I spent a huge amount of time working with Mannatechs COO to analyze the problems and potential benefits of an automated supply chain system to the organization. Our CFO helped us strategize the progression of our project with an ROI model that justified costs. These partnerships helped me to build a solid business case to validate the supply chain program.
Following weeks of work, we collectively developed a solution to present to the board. Our collaboration and alignment strategy proved to be a recipe for success as our request for funding was approved and delivery of the program components is currently underway. We are looking forward to improved productivity and efficiency as a result of our newly automated supply chain process.
After my initial failure to secure funds from the board of directors, I realized that joining forces with other well-respected and influential business leaders was the key to success. This strategy of collaboration and alignment has truly paved the way for future programs in the future is helping to position Mannatech for long-term success.
Jerome Oberlton is CIO and VP of Technology for Mannatech, Inc., a global provider of proprietary dietary supplements, weight management products and skin care solutions. Oberlton, who recently completed a series of executive leadership classes at Harvard University's JFK School of Government, is the former CIO of the Atlanta Public Schools and CIO for the Spare Parts business of GE Energy Services.