Technology Transforming Manufacturing
By Matt Meier, VP and CIO – North America, Whirlpool Corporation
The evolving landscape of information technology is changing the business of appliance manufacturing. Industry has begun to shift its focus - we are no longer simply making and selling durable goods, but enabling digital consumer experiences. With this comes an increased demand on IT groups, making them an integral part of modern manufacturing. Whirlpool Corporation is on the forefront of this trend - as part of the “Internet of Things” - because our connected technology and digital experiences are now part of the customer experience. As an IT leader, my job is to create the right conditions for the team to help lead and enable this strategy.
The Right Approach for Technological Partnership
Whirlpool Corporation is fortunate to collaborate with a rich band of solution-oriented partners equipped with digital capabilities. As one of the company’s CIOs, I keep in regular contact with our existing traditional partners, and try to keep pulse on new, emerging players in the sector. Smaller, new software providers, although sometimes short on the required scale, have proven time and again that they can come up with creative solutions to the hurdles we face. As the enterprise moves further into the digital arena, the need for different perspectives, agility, minimalism, experimentation, and more rapid implementation have become increasingly important. We have relationships with a diverse mix of providers - each serving a set purpose. The bigger software and service providers typically carry out larger technology projects, and the smaller groups aid in the process of experimentation and laying out the strategies for the future.
Whirlpool’s upcoming projects in the face of changing technology
As CIO, you always need to look after the foundational systems that run the day-to-day business, and we have exciting work underway on the IT backbone for our operations. One of our most recent projects was taking our enterprise resource planning (ERP) to the cloud - and with our ERP environment largely handled by SAP, we now run SAP on HANA worldwide.
It’s important to know your customers and the context of your businesses. Only then can you make informed recommendations and help lead a business in the right direction
Additionally, we are driving major transformations with our plants and warehouses, including new systems for Manufacturing Execution, warehouse management, supply chain planning, and logistics.
We are rethinking how technology enables the digital consumer journey - how we present our brands on web and mobile platforms, and enable differentiated shopping, buying, and aftermarket service experiences. And, we continue to make investments in our IoT platform and the application experiences enabled by IoT. For instance, Whirlpool Corporation’s recent acquisition of Yummly, a personalized recipe platform, has been a catalyst for innovations that will change how our customers interact with our product, and transform the fundamental cooking experience.
One thing most of these ventures have in common is the reliance on ‘big data’. I am privileged to champion a global big data and analytics initiative to further build our capabilities in this area. A cross functional team is currently working to develop data services, analytical tools, and the operating model and organizational structure necessary to implement and scale this capability globally.
Personality traits contributing to leadership
The role of CIO at Whirlpool Corporation is full of challenges and excitement. I think most people will tell you that I bring a consistent level of optimism to the equation, which helps me and the team get through the tough days, and plays a huge role in allowing me to focus on the work at hand, envisaging the direction of the business and identifying the right technological solutions. Another personal quality that I think helps in this position is humility. As someone who is relatively new to the company, and the industry, I still have much to learn about our markets, products, and operations. And, with the technology landscape evolving so quickly, you need to continue to focus on what you don’t know, in order to move the company forward.
Future of the changing technological landscape
One of the most revolutionary disruptions that we witness today is the “democratization of IT.” As we move into the cloud we are witnessing the commoditization and immediate accessibility of IT services. It would not be wrong to speculate that fast advances in technology are requiring everyone in the business to become more tech savvy. One could argue this might result in the decreased relevance of IT organizations in the long run, but, although a disruptive trend, I find it emboldening - forcing us to be more effective in our leadership and facilitation of technology enablement across our operations.
The Changing Role of CIO
The role of CIO is more important than ever before. It has become incumbent on CIOs to develop business acumen and become students of their respective business - and in many cases IT is becoming the business.
As a CIO at Whirlpool Corporation, my advice to my peers is to learn your core business - not just the technological aspect. Know your customers and how they use, interact, and shop for the products you make. Only then are you able to make informed recommendations and lead the business in the right direction.