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Expectations of the IT Organization in an SAP Driven Business

By Gerrit Schutte, SVP&CIO, ConAgra Foods

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Gerrit Schutte, SVP&CIO, ConAgra Foods

Ok, so you are the CIO of a large company that has just implemented SAP.Congratulations and celebrations are in order, but be aware that what will now be expected of you and your IT organization is about to change. If you are to succeed in your new role and maximize the value of the technology investment your company has made, you may well need to re-shape the skills, focus and mindsets of the IT professionals.

"Re-engagement with SAP, after a stint on third party support,also merits consideration"

So what big changes occurred when SAP was implemented? Let’s continue with fundamentals and answer that question with, how everybody needs to think and operate everything on an “end to end” vs. “siloed” basis.

At ConAgra Foods, the mission of the IT Organization is to support or enable rewiring, transformation and continuous improvement of Enterprise Business Processes through use of highly effective and cost efficient information technology solutions.

For any CIO and his/her organization to drive maximum value from SAP investments it is critical to keep all of the following in mind:

• SAP is really a simplicity play driven by standards and best practices, meant to enable integrated business processes and break down barriers to operational inefficiencies.
• SAP is about Business not IT success.
• Maximizing the value of SAP requires unprecedented amounts of partnership, discipline and sustained focus across business functions, IT and suppliers.
• IT needs to employ a different blend of people, process and technology  to successfully play in its new role,driving “end to end” thinking.

For purposes of this article, I’d like to reflect a spotlight upon what implementing SAP at ConAgra Foodshas done to change the way we manage IT people.

To begin with, everyone in ConAgra Foods’ IT organization is heavily aware that as business transformation occurs, “everything in some way becomes even more connected to everything else” and introduction of change to the technical eco-system can have significant benefits and/or consequences.

As shown in the above graphic, connectivity (often real-time) among business processes is enabled within

ConAgra Foods’ IT eco-system.This makes it absolutely imperative that all IT designers, maintainers, builders and leaders involved with SAP evolve their skill set to become proficient across both technology and business. Hence, while the degree of concentration may vary across infrastructure, applications or business analysts, all ConAgra Foods IT professionals must expand their range of expertise across a broader spectrum.

To accomplish this goal, at ConAgra Foods, the career of an IT Professional has been architected along lines of developing competencies across four focus arenas, namely:

• Business Process: As stated above and illustrated by the associated graphic, the basic business functionsof buy, make, sell, deliver and back office, interact between and among themselves. They often take on a global dimension and connect both inside and outside of ConAgra Foods.

• Application Services: Key to past and future successes of technology enabled business transformation at ConAgra Foods is the IT ecosystem and the foundation upon which IT solutions are designed, built, implemented, integrated and maintained. ConAgra Foods IT Professionals perform as members of an elite SAP Advanced Certified Center of Expertise (CCOE), and integrate capabilities across a variety of best in class applications providers including Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and others. As IT Professionals progress in their careers, is honed through their analytical / technical design skills. A broad understanding of applications architecture along with  deep expertise across a variety of application systems within the ConAgra Foods IT eco-system is gained.

• Infrastructure Services: At ConAgra Foods, data center, private/public cloud technologies and a wide variety of supporting technical infrastructure capabilities enables the Enterprise to operate securely; recover in the event of disaster; introduce change to the environment in a controlled manner; and focus upon servicing, managing and measuring IT deliverables through the lens of business processes. By developing an understanding of the capabilities (and limits) of technical infrastructure and methods to best collaborate design efforts, IT Professionals help unlock the potential of Information Technology solutions, to positively impact business and effectively manage/solve systems problems when they occur.

• IT Process: In an era of continuous demands for added services, IT has been able to steadily evolve base technology and deliver core business improvements while actually reducing costs. Through standardized operating processes, highly agile project and program level management practices, intense focus upon controlled use of manpower, time and dollars combined with precise testing requirements to ensure quality.

Success has become a predictable expectation and anticipated outcome. All ConAgra Foods IT Professionals develop extensive expertise in the use of IT processes and quality assurance at virtually every career level.

While an SAP eco-system created a need for our IT Professionals at the individual contributor levels to widen their horizons, IT leaders were also witnesses to significant changes within their roles. IT Leaders had to evolve their focus well beyond technology to become highly engaged with other business leaders and in some cases external customers/suppliers in determining / driving / optimizing IT strategies that help enable successful business transformation and contribute to corporate growth. They now need to operate boundlessly to drive “end to end” and “design thinking” across the Enterprise.

IT Leaders work closely to build strong partnerships with business executives to define SLA’s, establish aggressive organizational goals that are in line with the company’s overall strategies. And, as always, they continue to ensure contemporary mechanisms are in place to measure results that satisfy (or exceed) customer expectations.

Today, our IT development and professional training programs go a bit outside of traditional curricula to include building “muscles” in areas such as organizational change management, business analytics, financial  Management, team building and communications via story telling.

In conclusion, it is critical for CIO’s to understand that when an SAP driven eco-system is put in place for an Enterprise, the role of the IT organization needs to rapidly evolve beyond solely that of a technology provider to that of a viable business partner. To be successful in this role, IT needs to invest in building/ continuously enhancing a broad set of both business process and technical skills that can drive optimized value from the power of SAP and the environment in which it sits.