The wall in Procter & Gamble's executive conference room, called the Business Sphere, is a 21st century monument--built to honor the gods of data. Two white concave screens, about 8 feet tall and 32 feet wide, face each other around an oval conference table, letting as many as 16 executives, led by CEO Bob McDonald, see at once the reality of how P&G is doing around the world.
But is the data as perfect as its gleaming altar suggests? Is it as real time and comprehensive as this global consumer goods giant would like? No, P&G CIO Filippo Passerini freely admits. But the fact that it's not pristine perfect reveals something about Passerini's leadership style.
"We intentionally put the cart before the horse, because it is a way to force change," he says. For years, companies have tried to gather all the right data, build the high-powered data marts to support it, and only then build decision-support tools to exploit the data. And that approach hasn't worked.
Instead, Passerini's team gives executives a clear view of what's possible, to "use it as a catalyst to drive the right data convergence," he explains. If a data point is getting discussed on these screens, but it's based on models or projections rather than hard data, the pressure grows to acquire that data. Within two years, Passerini wants P&G employees to have access to seven times the amount of real-time information they have access to today.
It's fashionable for CIOs to say they're focused on the needs of "the business," not on the technology. But truly doing that means stepping into the unknown, committing to goals where it's not certain what technology or data is needed to deliver. It means taking risks.
Passerini has taken these risks, repeatedly, as he has dramatically changed the role of information technology at P&G, the $79 billion-a-year maker of consumer megabrands from Tide to Pampers to Pringles.