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11/26/2003
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Business Technology: Branding Moves To The IT Department

Coke and Pepsi. Lands' End and Eddie Bauer. SkinCeuticals and the Body Shop.

You don't have to be an avid viewer of Queer Eye For The Straight Guy to know that brands rule. But maybe it's time to take the branding concept to another level. You know business technology is delivering the innovation that gives your company a competitive advantage, but what role does business technology play in your branding strategy? And how can you build a bold brand for your department within your company?

These questions came up recently in a discussion with Ed Kamins, the CIO of electronics-component and computer-systems distributor Avnet. "IT innovation and excellence can be one of the things the Avnet brand stands for, because of what we do," he says. When you're in the services business, as Avnet is, your edge is in the value you add to the products you distribute. That value-add--that intellectual property--is information and what you can do with it using IT. For Avnet, it means being able to, as Kamins puts it, reach "into the hearts of customers' business," helping them process orders, submit returns, or do many other things more easily than before.

The business-technology function indeed can be directly involved in a company's branding effort, from inventory fulfillment to E-commerce. At Reebok, IT is crucial to maintaining the footwear and apparel manufacturer's brand. The company's retailers were using digital cameras to create and use images of Reebok's products on their Web sites, but most of the images weren't brand-compliant with Reebok's standards.

A digital-asset-management initiative launched by Reebok CIO Peter Burrows, based on Interwoven's MediaBin software, is now taking care of that. It provides a central repository for digital assets and handles all of Reebok's image types, provides a way to share approved images with channel partners, and cuts down on costly product reshoots, too.

Impressive stuff. Yet, as Kamins admits, the business-technology function remains an unsung hero in many companies. He's out to change that at Avnet. For one thing, he's got a marketing person working with him to raise the profile of the department inside and outside the company and has already put in place some internal promotions, such as creating posters to recognize individual business-technology employees.

He's got bigger ideas, too, including working on a project to turn IT operations at headquarters into a showcase for the distributor's suppliers, which include companies such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM. A slew of customers visit Avnet each year, and Kamins' vision is to create an operation that's a showpiece of how well the department runs and that mirrors, in looks, "the quality we provide to the company." Or, to put it modestly, he wants "a control room that you could launch a moon shot from." (Kamins has some other initiatives under way that you can read about in next week's issue, where we'll be profiling a handful of CIOs who are turning their business-technology organizations into 21st-century leaders).

Possibly there's never been a better time for any technology department to build up the IT brand. New policies that will shape the future of business and government initiatives--whether it's Wal-Mart demanding radio-frequency ID compliance from suppliers or the federal government's efforts to improve homeland security through database integration--are handing you an opportunity. What are you waiting for?

Jennifer Zaino,
Executive Editor
jzaino@cmp.com

Bob Evans returns next week.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit the Talk Shop.

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