CIO Panel Talks Evolution of IT, Future of Work, and Paving the Way for New Skillsets

by Brianna Shipley, Senior Editor, SAPinsider

As companies adapt to working remotely and navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak, an interesting point has come to light: Shifting your technology strategy isn’t hard; it’s change management, people, and company culture that present the real puzzle. Three CIOs from very different industries — aerospace, specialty chemical manufacturing, and wine making — came together during this morning’s SAPinsider Virtual Conference Experience keynote session, “CIO Leadership in the Post-COVID World: Forging Ahead with Innovation, Efficiency, and Strategic Insight,” to discuss this theme against a backdrop of the SAP S/4HANA journey, and shared insights about what they are doing to move forward.

Maryfran Johnson of Maryfran Johnson Media moderated the panel, which consisted of Michael Mullis from Ingevity, Matt Reynolds from Marvin Engineering Co., Inc. and The Marvin Group, and Sanjay Shringarpure from E&J Gallo Winery.

The CIO panel shared details about where their organizations are in the SAP S/4HANA journey, lessons they’ve learned along the way, and big-picture insights about the effects of COVID-19, one being the notable evolution of IT’s role from one of technical support to having an impact on business processes and the future of work.

“Just a couple weeks ago, the CEO and the CFO asked me and the IT organization to help with HR and help define how we train our managers and employees to work from home from a systematic perspective,” said Shringarpure. He views this as a sign that Gallo recognizes that the IT team adds value not just from an IT perspective, but also from a people and process perspective.

Reynolds has also noticed a shift happening at The Marvin Group in the types of conversations that he and his team are involved in, saying that they have moved from blocking and tackling conversations to discussions around what kind of technology his team can bring in to help meet business objectives. “They see us as business leaders,” he said.

Businesses are also seeing an evolution in how they’re leveraging their ERPs systems, direct-to-consumer platforms, and collaboration technologies as a result of impacts to supply chains and logistics.

At Ingevity, while the technology side of the business didn’t see much of an impact from COVID-19 in terms of remote work, according to Mullis, the supply chain and logistics side felt the ripple effects, such as when container ships got stuck in China when boarder restrictions were put in place.

For E&J Gallo Winery, it was a “tale of two cities” type of experience, said Shringarpure. The winery experienced a 30%-50% increase in their grocery portfolio sales, but their on-premise sales (restaurants and bars) took an astronomical hit, dropping by almost 80%. “From a volume perspective, we’re going to do really well, but from a margin perspective, that’s yet to be seen,” he said.

Despite the obvious challenges of having to pivot different areas of a business during a pandemic, all while implementing new technology, each CIO was able to report success with their SAP S/4HANA journey. For Ingevity, a huge win came as a result of working with a system integrator that was able to provide them with a working system on day one, allowing the company to focus on building its internal team and approach the implementation as a business transformation, not just another technology transformation initiative, said Mullis.

Reynolds said that The Marvin Group is hungry for business intelligence (BI). “We have several years of transaction data in the system and we want to make some intelligence out of that information. We’ve taken a crawl, walk, run approach to the implementation as we move forward with SAP BW/4HANA, and everyone in the organization is really excited about the possibilities that the implementation will reveal.”

With new technology often requiring new skillsets, the conversation turned toward the hiring process, and how working remotely has impacted recruiting practices.

Shringarpure said that for years, Gallo Winery hired lateral talent for whatever the need was at the moment, and they paid premium dollar for that talent. To create a more robust pipeline, he developed an internship program that works with three to five junior-level interns for about 10 weeks. During that time, the interns are assigned real-time projects happening within the company, whether it is an SAP implementation or a website development project. This creates a huge skillset pool and valuable interaction inside of universities, and it exposes the interns to how people work in a real-life, high-pressured situation. Then, once hired,  Gallo invests in them for the next three to five years, which has led to a core team of SAP experts on staff, said Shringarpure.

Reynolds said there are two unique skillsets he seeks when hiring for his team at The Marvin Group that are essential for any IT role: integrity and project management (PM) discipline. “One of our core values as a company is integrity. If you’re going to work for IT, you have to have high integrity because we have the keys to the kingdom.” PM discipline is also extremely important, he said, and a lack thereof really hurts IT projects. “What I’ve found is that, unfortunately, a lot of IT project managers don’t understand the PM discipline at the level they need to. We need to elevate the awareness and importance of the PM aspect of IT. Your projects will not be successful without it. They need to understand the rhythms and strategies of PM.”

Mullis pointed out that in times of remote interviews and onboarding, it is important to ask the right questions when determining whether a candidate will be a good fit for your company. Because nonverbal cues are not as easily detectable in a Zoom meeting, for example, asking the right questions can help tease out whether someone has the right skills to fill the role you need. When it comes to filling skillsets within their SAP S/4HANA program specifically, Ingevity has been able to rely on internal people, because business knowledge is of extreme importance. “That created a trickle-down effect so we could backfill some roles.”

To close, Johnson asked the panelists what they wished they knew at the beginning of the journey. Perhaps you will find these helpful as you begin your own implementation project:

  • Reynolds: “Focus on change management and training.”
  • Shringarpure: “Get an executive sponsor as high up in the company as you can. Don’t be afraid — pull the band aide off as quickly as possible and prepare the executive board for the lumps.”
  • Mullis: “There are insurance policies out there to help you. We now have access to SAP developers, and we know that’s going to be helpful when we hit hurdles, and we’ve also tied in internal and external audit support.”

For more insight, check out some of the other sessions at the virtual event, and be sure to tune into today’s 3pm session “Executive View: Inside GEA Group’s Transformation Strategy using SAP S/4HANA and the Cloud,” which will be an interactive discussion with Christian Niederhagemann, CIO of GEA Group, and Thomas Saueressig, Member of the Executive Board of SAP SE, about how the food giant worked with SAP to move from a very heterogeneous landscape to a cloud-first strategy.