Digital tech was a 'shiny object' — now it enables IT value creation, Kimberly-Clark CIO says
At the center of digital transformation, or digitalization as some call it, lies new products, services, business models and breakthrough thinking, said Suja Chandrasekaran, CIO of Kimberly-Clark, speaking Tuesday at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando, Fla. But digital innovation does not stem from the business. A board is not going to ask IT stakeholders to work on APIs or blockchain. Instead, IT has to figure out what technology is appropriate for today that will solve the problems of tomorrow, Chandrasekaran said.
Chandrasekaran started with Kimberly-Clark in 2016 during a time when digital was seen as a "shiny object." IT at Kimberly-Clark, like in many other organizations, was "business led, IT enabled," serving as order-taker that would report back to the business, according to Chandrasekaran. But as digital technologies emerged and became pervasive, IT worked to become an equal partner in value creation for the business.
If IT wants to create value, however, it has to change how it purchases IT and move on from investing as it would have in 2005, according to Chandrasekaran. Every new tech investment should have digital capabilities infused.
Shifting mindsets around technology is as imperative to corporate evolution as the technology itself. CIOs are tasked with helping organizations realize what is possible, breaking down department silos and dated business processes along the way.
From Kleenex to Huggies to Cottonelle, Kimberly-Clark products play a role in the daily life of millions of consumers — the company reports its products are used by 25% of the world's population every single day.
Technology has caught up with the consumer packaged goods firm. Almost 150 years old, the company has iterated from paper pulp into a global consumer good firm. The next evolution for Kimberly-Clark is taking consumer goods digital.
"Tech has changed the game of humanity in so many different ways," Chandrasekaran said. Traditional brands have to respond to the tech wave, anticipating customer needs and evolving from selling products to delivering services.
When Chandrasekaran joined, IT's focus was on supply chain transformation. The following year saw a restructuring plan. And 2018 is all about growth strategies grounded in digital. Once realized, IT can morph from a business cost center into a bottom line contributor.
By partnering with the business, IT can play a role in changing the course of products. Sensors could tell a customer when a diaper needs changing. Illustrating the technological fit for consumers and employees enables the board to make decisions that transform the business.
IT's increased role speaks to a transition many organizations are realizing. About 33% of CIOs' digital efforts are scaled, up from 17% last year, according to Gartner's 2019 CIO Agenda survey of more than 3,000 CIO respondents.
The scale contributes to volume and agility of tech organizations, which can change how consumers interact with organizations, according to Gartner.
To help execute change and spark ideas, Chandrasekaran whiteboards with her presidents, involving them in creative processes rather than presenting ideas to them. This wraps in business stakeholders into the digital process, showing the possibility of technology outcomes, not just outputs.
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