Ocean Spray's CIO not bogged by tradition, moves IT out of the 'back office'
If a CIO can run with an experiment and afterward present real feedback and impact, it could change the conversation.
Ocean Spray's farmer-owners each have a pair of waders, a bog full of ripe cranberries and a CIO willing to ask for forgiveness, not for permission.
With just a single type of berry, the co-op has made itself a household name for nearly 90 years. It is a digital incumbent among modern digital giants.
To remain digitally disruptive and aptly tart, Ocean Spray onboarded Jamie Head as CIO this year to make IT "the headlight of our business," he said in an interview with CIO Dive.
In an ideal organizational model, Head wants IT to be "an additional innovation arm" of Ocean Spray with experimental liberties. By exploring speedier prototyping, getting products to market quicker, testing and learning campaigns, and cohesively working with leadership, Head can cultivate a more transparent way of innovation.
CIOs want to help businesses become "more digitally savvy and raise their IQ of how to think differently about business" and make technology an effective change agent. Right now, IT in many organizations remains "more of a back office-type function," according to Head.
Times are changing
Over the last year, Ocean Spray has undergone leadership changes. In February, Ocean Spray announced Bobby Chacko as president and chief operating officer. In July, alongside Head's arrival was Joseph Vanderstelt as chief financial officer and Brian Schiegg as chief commercial officer.
Ocean Spray's change in leadership is indicative of a broader journey and mission — connecting consumers to a healthier lifestyle — and to do this, "we're looking at everything," according to Head. There are demographics, like younger consumers, that the co-op needs to attract, but "it requires a change of dialogue."
It also requires a fresh look into new channels. E-commerce was not a major channel the cranberry co-op focused on. While building this capability across its portfolio Ocean Spray is focusing on its digital content and "getting closer to consumers with personalization," said Head.
"Because we live and breathe our brands, the speed of which content needs to be delivered seamlessly across multiple channels and platforms is probably a unique challenge" for businesses in food and beverage, said Head. It's a delicate dance between scaling in a global setting without overburdening consumers.
But Head has experience here. Prior to joining Ocean Spray, he worked in various IT roles at Mars Inc. for about 16 years, including CIO of Mars Drinks. He was head of IT for Americas Consumer Healthcare at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and both companies, though different in nature, prepared him for Ocean Spray.
Head's experience was in consumer targeted roles, but the main difference between his role at Mars and Ocean Spray is the extent of his reach in IT. As opposed to a shared services model at a multinational enterprise like Mars, Head "own[s] everything from end-to-end," he said.
When responsibilities are divided, CIOs don't necessarily do infrastructure strategy and road maps. At Ocean Spray, Head is deep into functional areas and has his hands in everything.
But before he can dive into the co-op's technical infrastructure, he has to understand the business, beginning with a unique part of Ocean Spray's heritage: The shareholders are also its farmers.
This plays into how Head considers transformation. For Ocean Spray, Head is looking how the co-op can get closer to its growers, consumers and looking at what "digital touch points" will get it there. In part, he wants to re-engineer platforms and help people to be more agile and nimble.
In the past, when he dealt with leadership less open to technology, Head worked under the "ask for forgiveness, not for permission" protocol. That can sometimes be best, said Head. If a CIO can run with an experiment and afterward present real feedback and impact, it could change the conversation.
"The more people you bring to the table waving the flag, I think then, it helps open up the [C-suite's] eyes," said Head.
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