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Leveraging the Right Resources for Alignment

By Jerome Oberlton

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IT’s alignment with the business is critical to the success of an organization. My experience as CIO of Mannatech, Inc., working with business executives to achieve results for our supply chain management project, confirmed this to me.

Such alignment often entails the willingness of key leaders to collaborate and focus on the execution and delivery of key programs. In many cases, successful collaboration means leaders need to have extensive conversations concerning what’s vital to the business. Ideally, executives should give up personal agendas, work across departments and enable IT to provide the resources that are necessary to make those programs a success.

In addition to these factors, CIOs must also hire the IT professionals most likely to create an atmosphere of alignment between technology and business.

Hiring the Right IT Professional to Bridge the Business

As I continued to use alignment as a means of driving the success of all business programs, including supply chain management, I recognized the importance of hiring a seasoned supply chain management professional who could work side by side with the business to develop an overall strategy for supply chain optimization.

To meet this requirement, I selected an individual from the talent pool of consultants who had previously worked on supply chain efforts at Mannatech. I was looking for an individual who was well-versed in the supply chain discipline and could help guide the business along the appropriate path. In that same professional, I also sought someone who understood the specific supply chain modules of Mannatech’s resident Enterprise Resource Planning System so he or she could align the fundamental needs of the business with the technology.

This combination of talents, in turn, enabled the creation of a sound strategy that IT, in connection with the business, could use to introduce a program that would deliver huge value to the organization.

With this professional in place, Mannatech hired a supply chain management executive who had a very solid background in sourcing, contract management, demand planning and forecasting, warehouse management and logistics management. This individual was a well-respected leader who already understood the cultural dynamics of the business.

Achieving Strategic Value Her focus on supply chain optimization, coupled with her desire to utilize technology to drive improvements and overall productivity for the business, was an ideal match for the company. She not only set her sights on collaborating with IT but also understood the need for cross-functional business alignment as a means to achieve strategic value for the business.

Our new VP of supply chain management began work immediately after accepting her new role to ensure that both a disciplined and structured approach for execution was in place. During this process, we developed a cohesive strategy and execution plan for the supply chain optimization project. Both the plan and strategy were shared with key business executives and then subsequently shared with the CFO.

Her relationship with the CFO was an important one because we wanted him to understand the impact and importance of the supply chain optimization initiative. The VP of supply chain management carefully nurtured that relationship and was key in advising the CFO of specific efficiency and cost savings opportunities that were available as a result of this project. She outlined the business case associated with the need for supply chain optimization and helped ensure the program had the appropriate level of visibility at the senior executive level. The vice president of supply chain management met with the CFO to discuss the pros and cons of the effort. Not only was she able to elevate the importance of the program with the CFO, but she also specifically worked with IT to champion the success of the program.Partnering with an individual who is well-respected among senior leadership and is committed to a strategy of collaboration can be very valuable to an organization. When hiring a new team member, look for these traits to help ensure a successful team:

· Business-savvy and technical-savvy: If a candidate demonstrates strength in both areas, the business will readily accept this person as a member of the team, and credibility will be more easily achieved. · Relationship-oriented: Ideally, a candidate will understand the importance of building a relationship with the business as well as forming internal alliances. One must make a methodical, planned effort to build lasting relationships. · Cultural awareness: Knowing the nature of the business and demonstrating an ability to adapt to the cultural dynamics of an organization are extremely important.

Using Alignment to Transform Web Resources

Just as with the supply chain optimization effort, I researched other programs that would contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the Mannatech organization. After a number of conversations with key members of the leadership team and much deliberation, we agreed that the corporate Web site had become obsolete and was in need of a redesign.

The old Web site was dated and used mostly to process orders and handle the registration of new independent sales Associates. The site desperately needed an upgrade, as it was difficult to navigate and had little consumer appeal. An upgraded site, if appropriately designed, could better position the Mannatech image and brand. Additionally, it could be used to up-sell and cross-sell products while also reducing the amount of time needed to order products and register new independent sales Associates.

Yet, taking on this effort was no small feat. As CIO, I realized the need to collaborate with other key executives as a means to help propel the effort forward. Keeping this need in mind, I reached out to the head of marketing to discuss the challenges with the existing Web site. The chief marketing officer (CMO) agreed with the need to upgrade the site, and we collectively began working on a strategy and plan to present to the CEO and, subsequently, the board of directors.

In preparation for our presentation, the CMO and I spent a great deal of time learning the challenges and frustrations that Associates were experiencing on the Web site. We knew if the Associates’ ability to do business was hampered, it would ultimately affect Mannatech’s top and bottom lines.

So we extensively researched the impact on productivity and customer experiences; we conducted surveys and analyzed various Web tools in order to generate a viable solution. This collaboration gave us true insight into what was working and what needed to be improved so that by the time we met with the board, we were well-prepared.

During the presentation, the CMO laid out the impact that executing this program would have on the broader market and detailed how this program would help our company reposition itself. At the conclusion of the presentations, both the CEO and the board elected to have the CMO and I spearhead this program for the business.

At present, Phase I of the Web site redesign program has been developed. It is currently undergoing extensive testing by a subset of Mannatech Associates. Based on several feedback sessions, the field organization is pleased with this new Web site redesign effort. As this initiative progresses, we are looking forward to launching a new Web site that will better support Mannatech’s global network of more than 530,000 independent sales Associates.

Alignment and collaboration are important for any organization but can be especially valuable in bridging the gap between the business and IT. Organizational goals and initiatives can be successfully achieved by partnering with individuals who are well-respected and who have a proven track record. Such a partnership will help IT better understand how to connect any issues with viable solutions and ultimately achieve 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.