From Tech Smart to Business Wise

From Tech Smart to Business Wise

How the CIO of Scotts turned his IT staff into business advisers

Just five years ago, the ability to nurture the information assets of the company we worked for was considered the main metric of success for CIOs. Today, we need to excel in business areas and functions such as supply chain management, customer relationship management and shared services. Understanding and deploying technology is table stakes.

How can CIOs deal with this radical change? How do technologists become business advisers? And even more important, how do we prepare the next generation of leaders?

At Scotts, the world's leading lawn and garden products company, I recently faced the challenge of retooling a large part of the IS staff. Given the fact that our business revolves around such large retailers as Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Lowe's, we decided to change our business strategy from being centred on our brands to being focused on our customers. In 2001, we launched a three-year project to redesign our supply chain processes and technologies to accommodate this new strategy. In so doing, we discovered we needed people who had two primary competencies: skills in planning, distribution and purchasing, and project management. And we wanted our project managers to be people who had delivered global systems such as ERP and Advanced Planning systems. We wanted about 50 percent of our workers dedicated to functional expertise in supply chain management, including customer service, and the other half managing the technology that would be needed to support the new business model.

Needed: Multiple Skills

We also found we needed people who excelled in financial controls, customer order management, business intelligence and new product development. Our preference was to hire people with skills in multiple areas and with prior experience in the consumer packaged goods environment. However, we were also willing to recruit a small percentage of extremely bright individuals who demonstrated the ability to learn and contribute rapidly in various functions.

To achieve the right mix of employees, we evaluated people in two main areas: business maturity and technical competency. The ones who scored high on business maturity and low on technical competency are better suited to be part of the business rather than IS. These associates often develop a good sense for the applications of technology to the business areas, but are not suited to a future in the information services group. We often suggest that these people rotate through various areas of the business, with rotations being anywhere between 12 to 24 months.

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