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Levi Strauss And Social Media: A Perfect Fit

Clothing maker, the No. 2 company in our 2011 InformationWeek 500 ranking, is leveraging Facebook and other media to build its brand and reach more customers.
Where IT Fits

The growing importance of online social interaction reflects the broader consumerization of IT, a trend that's only accelerating. In our May InformationWeek OS Wars Survey of 441 business technology professionals, 52% of respondents said their IT organizations support BlackBerrys, half support Apple devices, and about one in three supports Linux or Android. This is a brave new world, and for Peck, it's a shift that goes beyond redefining how Levi Strauss relates to its customers.

"All of our employees are also consumers, and they're seeing the power of social and the power of mobile in their consumer experience," he says. "Our employees are bringing ideas and expectations to the corporation now."

Employees and customers are sophisticated users of technology, Peck says, and if you create too many barriers, people will find ways around them. In fact, he prefers the word "partner" to describe the role of IT.

At the same time, though, the consumerization of IT presents a challenge because consumer technology tends not to be designed for scalable deployment, management, or control. Again, Peck says it's important to balance the tension between the consumerization of IT and enterprise requirements.

"You can't say yes to everything," he says. "And you can't say no to everything." His advice: Don't skew too far to the no side, or you will become obsolete and irrelevant. And in addition to yes and no, don't forget "maybe later."

Levi Strauss CIO Tom Peck
CIO Peck: "It's not about chasing the latest and greatest"

Peck emphasizes the importance of building relationships with suppliers and other third parties, especially as a way to communicate that you're serious about IT. Good people will want to work with good people, he says, and that notion extends to IT hiring. "We try to look for that person who has the technology breadth but also has the business acumen and the leadership to want to deploy the technologies," he says. "We're not always looking for the best engineer. We want those too, of course, but we want the person who gets excited about wanting to deploy the technology, and to see the end result in the marketplace."

To keep these great people, Peck fosters an atmosphere that encourages growth. As an example, the company runs monthly innovation reviews in which the focus is divided between what Levi Strauss has in its product pipeline, what direct peers and competitors are doing, and what the broader industry is up to. Participants in those reviews consider whether Levi Strauss can make use of technology deployed elsewhere, with a constant eye toward improving the consumer experience.

What he's not doing is just chasing the latest and greatest. Says Peck: "We always want to stay focused, again, back on the consumer and that end product that we're selling." With such clear focus, he may see a lot more people wearing Levi's.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing