The Grill: Joseph Spagnoletti

The Grill: Joseph Spagnoletti

Campbell Soup senior vice president and CIO Joseph Spagnoletti is all business. He talks about business objectives and transformation, and he looks at technology as a way to achieve those goals. It's an outlook that helped earn him the Fox IT Leader Award from Temple University's Fox School of Business and Management earlier this year.

Joseph Spagnoletti

Family: Married for 23 years, with a 19-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter.

What are your interests outside of work? Extreme sports -- snowboarding, surfing and mountain-biking.

What person do you most admire? My dad. He was a teacher, he raised six kids, and every one of us is successful. There are many pearls of wisdom he shared. One I remember is: "Don't ever tell anyone how good you are. If you're that good, they'll tell you -- and then don't believe them."

What futuristic technology do you hope becomes a reality? It would be so great if the technology in cars could prevent accidents and stabilize traffic patterns.

Spagnoletti, who has been with Campbell's IT operation since 1997 and has been CIO since 2008, says business transformation is happening rapidly and it's pushing IT to change quickly, too. Here he shares some of his other ideas about technology and its role in today's business world.

When you speak publicly about IT, you say very little about technology. If you had to give a short description of the CIO's job today, what would you say? In our company, there are just a few major premises. One is we have to help the company grow. Second, we have to help the company operate as efficiently as possible. We need to be a critical partner in the contemporizing of our culture. We truly believe in technology as an enabler. We're not kidding ourselves that technology is the end-all, be-all. It's helping the company, and you can do that by having insight into how work is done and shaping how it can be done better technically.

What, then, are your biggest responsibilities as CIO? I think first and foremost are the people -- helping develop the best possible capabilities and insights through people and with people. I spend more than 50% of my time working with people, clarifying objectives, mentoring and coaching and making sure we have the right people. And then it's about leading from out front, understanding our business and looking for ways where our competencies and technology can help the company grow. I spend very little of my time with gadgetry and focusing on the bits and bytes.

What are the biggest challenges you face? It's a balance of doing the right thing and doing it at the right speed and constantly being connected to the agenda of the company and shaping the work that we need to do, hopefully exceeding expectations for what people want and when they want it, but also to help realistically set expectations.

We have technology from the farmer to the shelf -- and all the administrative functions, too. So everybody's narrow view is the most important, and some days you could spend your day debating whether you need a portal for communication or optical technology on a harvester and what's going to drive more value to the company. People's expectations are rising, resources are limited and balancing that is an every-moment thing.

How do you do that? I wouldn't say there's a formula, but there are some principles. You focus on the enabling strategies at a company level, and those are clear, so they're the primary driver. Second, you look at value. And there's economic, non-economic and strategic values, and again you're making trade-offs between them. So when you're trying to decide, you ask how it fits with our enabling strategies and, second, how [it creates value] economically and foundationally. And then you look at the short- and long-term implications of that.

How do you ensure that IT is ready to deliver what's needed when the pace of business transformation is so fast? It's alignment, in the way we structure IT, in the business engagement teams that we have. They're smaller, but they're more senior. They live with their business partners, and they do strategic planning together. What if your investment adviser was with you in the house all day, hearing your conversations, and then showed up at the end of every month and said "here's what you should be thinking about"? That's how we do it. We're migrating into this very integrated alignment role with the purpose of shaping IT demand by being in the moment all the time. We've formally organized ourselves to do that. It's not minute to minute, but it is frequently -- and with a certain level of depth we've never had before. We just fully restructured the global IT team into this model at the end of June.

What technologies will be the most important for giving companies a competitive advantage in the next few years? Mobility/cloud. I put them together because it's an application that can be anywhere, and the person can be anywhere. And then there's big data, which is analytics. So much of the transaction side of the house, it's in that continuous optimization mode, and there's not tremendous innovation. The big shifts are mobility and having the ability to be out in front of the consumers with information, and analytics will drive that piece of it. It's about shoppers' behaviors and patterns, local demographics and data. And on the consumer side, how do you bring your brand to the world, and how do you represent your company in mobile and social media?

One of your recent tweets was philosophical: "If work-life balance is a state of mind, then work-life integration begins with the person, not the technology." I guess I'm seen as the person [at Campbell] who can balance and keep it all together. Most [people] are struggling with how to make it all work. We all think technology will help with work-life balance, but technology only makes it harder if you don't start by thinking about what's important to you.

Interview by Computerworld contributing writer Mary K. Pratt

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