Diageo CIO Focuses On People

Carlini plays to her staff's strengths to make sure the premium-drinks company reaps the benefits of its companywide SAP implementation

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

November 24, 2004

4 Min Read

Carlini has been working at building up business expertise across Diageo's North American IS organization since she arrived in early 2001 from Nabisco, now a division of Kraft Foods North America Inc., where she most recently had served as senior director of U.S. sales and marketing systems in the IT organization. When it comes down to it, everyone in the business-technology group, regardless of what their responsibilities are or will be, has to be a brand ambassador, Carlini says.

That's why she runs "Business Eye for the IT Guy" seminars, where businesspeople come in and present information about the brands, finance, and other topics. At the end of these sessions, there's often a tasting of a particular Diageo brand--a perk with business value. "You want your people to understand your brand, to know the difference between the single-malt scotches," she says.

Carlini also recently began the Diageo MBA for IS Professionals program, which helps staff address gaps in their understanding of the business. For instance, an IT staffer who services the marketing group may do a great job in most respects, but may need to sharpen his or her understanding of how brand plans are conducted. That person can take part in a program that lets them spend more time with the brands staff, perhaps even work with them on developing a brand plan.

"Her No. 1 priority is people," Lopatynsky says of Carlini. "At most of our staff meetings, we spend a few hours around the people agenda." Carlini has created a culture in which it's important for staff to know what their strengths are, how they can leverage them, and how they can become even more valuable to the organization, he says.

It's a far cry from the days when Carlini first joined. On the people side, there was no due diligence around training and performance reviews, she says, and the IT organization lacked credibility with the business. Like many IT groups, it had a history of saying yes to everything, so that projects mushroomed throughout the year and inevitably many would fail to be delivered on time and on budget. "There were 128 projects on the list when I started," says Carlini, one of them being the huge SAP project and another being a big project to integrate Seagram's properties, which had just been acquired, into the business.

Today, a project-management steering committee that consists of the North American CFO, the heads of marketing, supply, and national accounts, as well as Carlini, make sure that the IS group takes on only the projects that match the business strategy. The number of projects is down to 30 to 35, which includes a project to help shorten the product-development life cycle in Diageo's supply plants to ensure a faster time to market.

"There's lots of rigor and partnership with the business now, which was something we didn't have when I first started," Carlini says. Equally important, ownership--and accountability--for the SAP system from both the technology and the business side falls to Carlini.

"Barbara's one of the first CIOs I've seen who has forced us to keep to a manageable list of projects," Lopatynsky says. Staying focused on what's important to the business "gets hammered into the leadership team," he says. "She makes it clear that focusing on our agenda is paramount."

Carlini has to wear her global hat as well as her North American one. She, along with the global CIO and the CIOs of Europe and international, form the process steering group that decides what to work on as an IT organization globally. There's room for flexibility, of course--there has to be in an industry that's regulated differently across countries. For instance, in Canada, Diageo must sell to the government.

As part of the process steering group, Carlini has to think like the head of the technology division but also like a senior executive of the companywide brand. That means putting careful thought into defining the global business processes that will benefit the organization as a whole.

As Carlini looks out to the next phase of her career at Diageo, she's excited by the possibilities: "It's all about understanding the business and providing solutions to drive top- and bottom-line growth."

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