I had a great conversation with Jonathan Landon last week. Jonathan is Director of IT Strategy, Technology and Architecture at Kimberly-Clark, and his insights on innovation are especially valuable.
From Jonathan’s perspective, scale plays an important role in determining the eventual success or failure of an innovation. An innovative solution that costs $4 million and delivers great value at the corporate level might not deliver value at the local or regional level, where a $40,000 investment might be more appropriate.
“Certain business processes are very dissimilar around the world,” says Jonathan. “You cannot assume, for example, that a customer-facing process that works well in North America will work as effectively in an emerging market. That kind of assumption might result in a costly mistake.
“Instead of reaching reflexively for the global solution, think first of whether it will fit across the many parts of your enterprise. In some cases, you’re just going to have to accept a two-tier solution,” says Jonathan. “You’re going to have a tier that is appropriate for your large business units and another tier that is appropriate for your smaller business units. The key idea here is to start small and scale it up, rather than starting big and then trying to make it smaller.”
Jonathan and his team at Kimberly-Clark have developed a process they call “Business Capability Road Mapping” to predict the technology needs of the company’s many business units all over the world as they continue growing into new or expanding markets. They use the insights gained from the road mapping process to help their vendors focus on developing products and services that will support the company’s strategic vision as a global organization.
Getting the vendors on board early helps avoid last-minute scrambles that can result in unwieldy or over-complex solutions. “Our perspective is that if it’s not easy to use, then it probably won’t generate the value required by the business case,” says Jonathan. “Even if it has all the features and functionality, it has to be easy to use. Usability trumps functionality.”
This is a refreshing departure from the conventional wisdom of the past two decades, in which user needs were not generally given priority and CIOs assumed that enterprise-wide IT systems were inherently more effective than regional or country-wide systems. While those assumptions might have proven correct in Europe and North America, they are being challenged in new markets emerging in the “BRIC” nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China.
For Jonathan, the role of IT in driving business value brings new excitement to the profession. “I’ve been here at Kimberly-Clark for 31 years. When I come to work these days, I feel like a kid,” says Jonathan. “Almost everything I’ve been working for all these years has come to fruition. Today, IT innovation is central to business success in the marketplace. It’s an absolutely wonderful time to be an IT leader.”
You can read more about Jonathan and other visionary CIOs and IT Leaders on my blog The Transformational CIO and in my latest book, On Top of the Cloud: How CIOs Leverage New Technologies to Drive Change and Build Value Across the Enterprise (Wiley, 2012).