IoT as an Enabler to Operations and Commercial Strategies

Matt Meier, VP and CIO, Whirpool Corporation

The Ball’s in Our Court!

Remember the days when the primary role of the CIO was as caretaker of the I.T. applications and infrastructure for the global enterprise? If email was up, transactional platforms and networks were humming along, and the CEO's blackberry was working, you were exceeding expectations, right? But life is not lived in the rear-view mirror, and never has that been more apparent to me than right now. The dawn of Cloud Computing, Big Data, Machine Learning, Mobile, IoT and myriad other over-used buzzwords have forever changed the opportunity, and, frankly, the expectations on our role in the enterprise.

For many traditional CIOs, this might be a frightful proposition. However, this technology evolution kicks open the door for a new breed of CIO - as a business leader, not simply a technology enabler. A strong appreciation for competitive strategy, finance, lean manufacturing, supply chain, marketing, and the art/science of organizational leadership are the new table stakes. The CIO that can couple those business skills with the effective brokering of modern technology wins the day.

Information systems management training and experience remain a core foundation. I.T. service management principles still apply, regardless of whether the service is enabled on-premise or in the cloud; ERP, CRM, and PLM still support the transactional core of the modern manufacturing enterprise; and I.T. security and data privacy concerns require more attention than ever. It is exactly the combination of these traditional core I.T. principles, the understanding of “art of the possible” with emerging technology, and strong business acumen that arm the CIO with the credentials to lead in the modern manufacturing enterprise.

In the consumer appliances industry, we are seeking to re-invent the definition of product. Durable goods providers like us differentiate by developing, marketing and selling consumer “experiences”, not just physical products. The industry is brand new to me. However, this new reality and the digital skill set required to enable it, places the CIO in the middle of product and go-to-market strategy like never before. My new mission is to provide complementary digital experiences that improve consumer engagement with our products, enable aftermarket services, and inform our internal functions on how products are performing in the field. Seat at the table? Add that to the legacy thinking that has held I.T. back. We are now expected to lead the definition of new consumer experiences and the technology to realize them.

To get it done, technology partnerships and acquisitions are becoming the new norm for manufacturers seeking to extend and expand their products and services. Most durable goods manufacturers have yet to develop core competency in merger and acquisition (M&A) due diligence of technology companies. The marriage between large multi-national enterprises and technology start-up’s can lead to a clash of cultures that erode business value, so we absolutely need to get in the mix!

The CIO brings a unique and valuable perspective to this type of M&A activity, and has an opportunity, and an obligation, to move to the front seat in helping to identify acquisition targets and in leading due diligence. We are uniquely equipped to assess core capability, competitive positioning, integration opportunities, talent retention strategies, and security and data privacy concerns associated with technology M&A, and have the opportunity to play a lead role in defining value creation opportunities based on the new partnership.

Further, the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) as an enabler to operations and commercial strategies opens enormous opportunity for the CIO in today’s manufacturing environment. Effective implementation of IoT requires the combination of sensor technology, robust data collection, networking, and thought leadership in the development of compelling business scenarios. I.T. organizations are increasingly thrown into a leadership position, as none of these IoT opportunities can be unlocked without the smart application of technology.

In our business, we leverage IoT to gather data during the manufacturing process to ensure consistent quality; better understand the usage of our products in the field to inform product development; enable proactive customer service; and in developing new and differentiated digital experiences for our customers. CIOs, as never before, need to lead not only the plumbing to enable this new frontier, but we need to position ourselves to drive the product and go-to-market vision for IoT in the enterprise. Put simply - help leverage technology to sell more and better stuff!

Of course, no article would be complete without the mention of “Big Data”. IoT exponentially increases the data and analytics opportunities for manufacturers, in addition to the plethora of data available from traditional transactional systems. Most manufacturing enterprises are hardly scratching the surface on their potential for harnessing data, and applying data science and analytics to move the enterprise from reactive/descriptive reporting to predictive/prescriptive capability that informs operational and commercial strategy. We have a profound opportunity to be the lynch pin in evolving the global manufacturing enterprise on this Big Data journey, and have the obligation to move quickly to help our companies stay ahead of the competition.

For those CIOs up to the challenge, there has never been a more exciting time to lead a technology organization in global manufacturing. It’s a new frontier, and for those who have the courage and capability to operate outside of their traditional boundaries, the opportunities are endless. Let’s not wait to get in the game…the ball’s already in our court!