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6/15/2009
04:58 PM
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: Six Lessons CIOs Must Learn From Coke's Dazzling Innovation

CIOs from all industries need to sit down with their C-level peers and imagine fresh new approaches and processes that give customers more choices while driving more actionable, customer-based knowledge back to headquarters.

6. Coca-Cola said Freestyle was in development for four years. Granted, Coca-Cola is a very big company, but still, four years is a long time, and it shows the innovation horizon that companies have to be willing to recognize these days. If you review your project list, do you have some gems in there that could turn into Freestyle-type breakthroughs for your company and your customers? Or is your to-do list a collection of mostly tactical, iterative steps that will sustain the status quo but do little to let your engage more intimately and in higher-value ways with customers?

LESSON 6: The CIO-as-caretaker has a pretty grim future, and if you're not an intimate player in your company's ongoing, long-term explorations for breakthrough products and ideas and processes, then you'd better eagerly and aggressively make it your business to become such a player. (See steps 1 through 5 above.) While no one's going to accept straight IT projects that last four years, it's almost impossible to imagine a significant R&D effort in any industry that's not keenly dependent on IT capabilities and expertise -- so, are you on the inside in those projects, or do you let yourself be positioned as a mostly tactical back-bencher who will align after the fact and support when asked?

As you mull over those questions, consider these points about the Freestyle project from Hayes Weier's story:

  • It lets Coke test more new products more quickly and for a lower cost; can your company do that?
  • It dispenses flavorings from printer-like cartridges instead of 5-gallon bags of syrup; how can your company rethink its core ingredients?
  • It sends consumption data each night to the master data warehouse; does your team deliver daily updates?
  • It give middlemen restaurants consumption data to let them order just in time; do you do that?
  • It receives instructions for new drink combos almost instantly via wireless; how's your speed?
  • It lets restaurants order via an online portal instead of phone or fax; are you there yet?
  • It lets Coca-Cola evaluate whether a new combo has achieved critical mass to shift over to bottled distribution; do you have that new-product acceleration capability?

The Coca-Cola team calls Freestyle its "first software-driven dispenser." Hayes Weier calls it "Coke's front-line robotic army for business intelligence." I call it a dazzling breakthrough in product co-creation. The important thing is, what will you call your first meeting with your peers to discuss pursuing similar breakthroughs at your company?

GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

For more Global CIO perspectives, check out Global CIO,
or write to Bob at bevans@techweb.com.

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