The Role of IT as a Strategic Business Partner

Mike Knezevich, Director-IT, Ingredion Incorporated
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Mike Knezevich, Director-IT, Ingredion Incorporated

Role of an IT Leader Today

The role of the IT leader has changed dramatically over the years, and it continues to evolve. Our role is no longer just about maintaining systems, or what used to be viewed as keeping the lights on. Today, in most companies, IT is an essential partner in executing a company’s strategic plan. At Ingredion, we are transforming the business, and the IT function plays an important role. We bring innovation to business processes, change paradigms with disruptive technologies and drive digital transformations to support Ingredion’s transformation and growth.

I define the IT leader’s role in three broad categories.

• Developing and communicating an IT strategy that supports the business strategy.

At Ingredion, a business focus area is improving the customer experience. In this case, the IT strategy not only supports this initiative, but we strive to push the envelope and innovate in areas that may be less obvious. In other words, add value by steering the business into new ways of thinking and collaborating. Anticipate long-term outcomes and find solutions to potential   problems.

  ​I see opportunities with digital applications in supply-chain systems and processes 

• Develop Metrics

Typically we measure IT cost as a percent of revenue, which is straightforward. However, it’s important to consider other metrics beyond cost, and this may require a less traditional approach. For example, a new innovative mobile technology might enhance employee collaboration.  Capturing this might require collaboration with the HR department on the employee survey.  Regardless of what is measured, be it cost or innovation related, the metrics must be defined in business terms so everyone can recognize when progress is made and see how IT adds value. Hand in hand with metrics comes focus and a continuous improvement mentality, as change must be embraced to remain competitive.

• Prioritize IT initiatives

Initiatives should balance the foundational aspects of IT with innovation to drive business value. At Ingredion, data center consolidations and IT service delivery excellence are the two foundational elements of our IT operating excellence.

The initiatives that will drive innovation must support key business strategies. One of Ingredion’s goals is to evolve our portfolio of ingredients from basic sweeteners and starches to higher-value specialty ingredients that have more functionality, and help customers keep up with consumer trends, like clean labels, health and wellness and non-GMO. IT is focusing on an enterprise digital strategy and advanced analytics to support this goal.  

Finally, it’s important to constantly assess IT priorities and refresh as necessary to align with the business strategy.  

Making Business Counterparts Think Differently About the Importance of IT

IT needs to be a trusted advisor and partner to the business, and to accomplish this you need the appropriate IT structure and capabilities.  

The IT function needs to be highly skilled and able to interact with the business at a strategic level.  

At Ingredion, IT just completed a major transformation to our service and delivery model. We are working with major technology vendors that manage the day-to-day operations while the internal team is refocused on the business. As a result, the relationships between business and IT are evolving to a new and more collaborative level.

Essential IT capabilities include: business process acumen, analytics, merger and acquisition systems integration expertise, digital, innovation, IT operational excellence, and world-class security and compliance. Without a strong foundational knowledge of the business processes and the ability to translate to technology solutions, it’s an uphill battle to get business leaders to think differently about IT.  

Technologies That Are Mind Gripping

While it may not be particularly trendy, analytics continues to be top of mind for us given Ingredion’s focus on transformation. Getting more from our data and reporting is a constant theme of discussions.

Our focus is evolving. We are becoming more global and driving towards a more integrated and efficient set of processes to discover new analytic opportunities and test, scale, and sustain them in a broader information-management strategy. Of course this does not happen overnight. Commitment to analytics and viewing data as a highly valuable asset, coupled with a data governance structure, are essential building blocks on the analytics journey.

Thoughts on Future Technology Innovation

Regardless of industry, artificial intelligence will change business paradigms in the future. I think most people are excited about AI as an enabler. AI is more controversial than other things that have evolved in the world of IT – which is probably why it’s an interesting topic. We will continue to see more and more practical applications of AI to business problems, which for us could include everything from food formulation to back office automation.  

Taking Food and Beverages Industry a Step Ahead

I see opportunities with digital applications in supply-chain systems and processes. As you look to overcome challenges, especially the need to drive better customer experience and lower costs, it’s all about having real-time information. Our customers want less inventory on hand, so the ability of suppliers, like Ingredion, to provide analytics becomes a necessary component of doing business. And, if done right, can be a competitive advantage. We also see an opportunity to optimize our supply chain network with technology. Being able to execute scenarios and evaluate alternate sourcing options will allow us to not only to optimize internally but also to enhance our customer experience.   

The Transforming IT Operating Model

Recently we’ve embarked on a significant IT transformation. Driven by Ingredion's growth, we have implemented a global services model designed to improve the user experience, agility, innovation and operational excellence. Our operating model supports growth and business operational excellence, while refocusing IT to higher-value-add initiatives. We feel our transformation will accelerate innovation as we enhance our capabilities. We expect the new IT model to yield dividends in the form of business value.  

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