Barbara Carlini on Communication
When Barbara Carlini arrived at Diageo North America as CIO 2001, her marching orders were to simplify and cut costs. Today, she is marshalling business technology to drive the companyâ€™s growth.Â A critical part of her effort, she said in an interview, has been promoting better communication.
The road to business-technology alignment at Diageo North America, the worldâ€™s leading premium beverages company, was built on communication, lots of it.
â€œCommunications is huge,â€ CIO Barbara Carlini says. First, it is regular, straightforward discussions with her fellow CXOs on business technology priorities. Next it isc ommunication from the executive suite to employees on the companyâ€™s strategies. Then it is communication between her technology troops and their business colleagues. â€œWe do an enormous amount of education and communications training,â€ Carlini says. â€œFor example, how do you speak to a business associate?â€
And how do you bring an understanding of the business to technical folks? In that regard, she asked her people to create skits as an attention-focusing exercise. One that was captured on video and drew the attention of the CIO executive board, a working group of senior executive technology professionals, was titled, â€œBusiness Eye for an IS Guy.â€ It featured a fictional character named Arnold, a nerd techie transformed into a business savvy person. This was backed up by frequent programs explaining product life cycles, branding strategies, and other business functions to her staff.
Carlini institutionalized the lines of communication in several new organizational structures. Each business technology project now has a steering committee that takes a monthly look at interdependencies, obstacles, architecture, and checkpoints. â€œThese steering committees are just another way we get aligned,â€ Carlini says. â€œFor example, the National Accounts Reporting Program has a steering committee with senior business folks on it. Scope changes and budget changes have to be approved by the steering committee. Itâ€™s definitely run by business folks, not just IT.â€
An IS leadership team also meets monthly to review all projects, and a project management office, which Carlini created, coordinates activities. Each of these groups ensures that projects are designed to advance one of the five â€œpillarsâ€ of the companyâ€™s strategy.
A Lot of Teeth
She also established an executive-level steering committee. Its members include Carlini, the CFO, the CMO, the head of nationalÂ accounts, and the head of supply. â€œSo it has a lot of teeth,â€ Carlini says. â€œThis group decides on all projects. I donâ€™t like to call them IS projects, but right now it only reviews projects that have IS components. A business case is put together, and as everyone knows, if an IS person comes in to present, they might as well give up, because we will not accept the project proposal. The business owner from the functional area is required to own the business case and present it to the committee. Not the IS person.â€
In her first critical act of communication, Carlini made it clear when she took the job in 2001 that business executives would make business technology decisions. â€œThere really wasnâ€™t a lot of strong alignment with the business,â€ she says. â€œWe had about 128 projects,and it was very hard to prioritize. I brought my business colleagues in at one point and they said, Oh, Barb, just go prioritize them yourself. And I said, thatâ€™s fine. Iâ€™ll deliver technical upgrades, and thatâ€™s all Iâ€™ll work on. And they said, Ok, we get your point.â€
She was able to push through this major procedural change because she first built good relationships with fellow executives. â€œI think thatâ€™s absolutely key. If you donâ€™t have the respect of your colleagues, youâ€™re not going to be able to get this through.
â€œOnce we put the steering group together, the CEO sent out a memo saying this is the group that will make decisions on any project with IS component. Everyone knows you canâ€™t get a project approved without going there.â€
At Diageo, business and technology have moved from alignment toward synchronizationâ€”the condition in which the IT function doesnâ€™t just follow but takes the lead at times. Because she had experience in it, the company asked Carlini to drive the development of a sales strategy. She sits on the global sales leadership team.
â€œWe started with, what is your vision, and what areas do you want to improve?â€ she says. â€œI said, we have to start with your strategy. The system piece is easy. We need to understand where you want to be from a capability standpoint in each region. Once we break that down, I want metrics for each one of these capabilities. Based on those metrics weâ€™ll figure out what the systems are. But are you ready for it? We could put a system in, but if you think a system is going to solve your process, forget it. Iâ€™d rather see your process get put in place first and understand what you want to do and what tools you want to give your sales folks before we go down the systems road.â€
Carlini has never seen the amount of change Diageo has been through, with acquisitions and reorganization, and with new IT structures and processes to match. â€œIf you donâ€™t have these things in place, I donâ€™t know how you run an organization this size,â€ she says.
â€œI can go in and say, by the way, guys, you just asked for 90 projects. I canâ€™t do all this. Now they understand thatâ€™s crazy, and they ask, why are we doing this? We can sit down together and prioritize the projects.â€
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