Coca-Cola CIO on how to keep staff, get SaaS and go green

Interview: Esat Sezer, CIO, Coca-Cola Enterprises

At a CIO event in Scottsdale, Arizona, MeetTheBoss TV's editor-in-chief Adam Burns caught up with Esat Sezer, CIO Coca-Cola Enterprises, to talk about the challenges of shifting 75,000 employees to the cloud, the buzz behind green IT and the changing demands on employee skillsets.

MeetTheBoss TV: With more than 70,000 employees, over 50 per cent of the workforce is mobile. In 2008 you bet on software as a service in the communications space, and in just under nine months transitioned 75,000 users. What have been your key learnings from that move?
Esat Sezer, CIO Coca Cola Enterprises: In the software as a service case, the wow factor was there, which exceeded my expectation, quite honestly. It was the ease of use standpoint that exceeded my expectations, putting in the capabilities in a very short period of time, the speed of development and deployment standpoint - the wow factor was there. And the adoption, speed of adoption by the user community. The wow factor was there. So those were really something that many IT shops were really looking forward to achieve at the end of the day.

And I must tell you, in this communication collaboration space with the software as a service, partnership with Microsoft, an underlying partnership, the whole infrastructure partnership with some of the carriers, AT&T, that we are partnering with as well as Cisco as our communication collaboration partner worked well for us.

You talked about the business transformation agenda there. How involved was the IT department in the creation of that?
Very engaged. I should give credit to our senior leaders, specifically to our CEO for that purpose. As a CIO, I have a seat at the table in the executive leadership team. I'm part of the eight direct reports of our CEO, so to get IT as an enabling capability into the driving of our transformation agenda was top of the list for our CEO.

Do you think that made a difference IT was so engaged, and what difference then do you feel that made to the business transformation agenda? Were you more empowered to take control of it as it was rolled out?
[There are] several ways that you could look into that. First of all, having engagement of business transformation created a path for us to transform the IT as well, so it is an integral part of the business, you cannot separate the IT as a function from the overall transformation agenda.

The transformation agenda that we built within the IT to enable the business transformation are the two separate things that we managed in parallel. One of the things that had been changed in IT to enable the business transformation was our internal resources. The people and dollars, money, financial resources were, if you look into the end of 2006 timeframe coming into 2007, probably close to 90 per cent of our internal resources were occupied to maintain what we have. Keep the lights on, in other words.

Today, when you look into the Coca-Cola Enterprises' IT organisation, that percentage reduces from 90 to 60 per cent, roughly. So in other words we created around 30 per cent capacity of IT resources to get engaged into business transformation-enabling activities. So that's the critical transformation that IT took during that period. Why? Because the enabling capabilities were fundamental for the business transformational activities.

To give you an example: we created a shared services centre for our financial transactional activities. We created another employee service centre for our human resources activities, and they are consolidated, and they are providing service to all the business units and regions that we have. They - all those services, financial activities and HR services - used to be handled by the local business units and the countries that we operate. Today they are consolidated in a shared services model.

Consumer behaviours are changing - especially, I would imagine, in the soft drink space. How do you balance the formal goal setting often required by the business, with the flexible nature and inherent agility required by modern business practice?
Our strategy is primarily explained in a sense that we need to be creating enough resources to fund the growth-related initiatives which differentiates us from our competitors. In a nutshell, our IT strategy can be summarised like that: in other words, create resources through the efficiencies and productivity initiatives and fund your growth-related activities that business is requiring.

In the meantime, look to enterprise benefits, corporate benefits, and then make the resource allocation decisions parallel together at the same time.

You said in your keynote speech CIOs should take advantage of the buzz around green IT to upgrade their systems and drive cost reductions. Is it really that simple?
I don't know why do we need to make this more complicated than what it is, quite honestly. As a CIO, I could relate to the Sarbanes-Oxley rules that have been introduced. I think many smart CIOs took advantage of the buzz around this act to drive some of the simplification efforts that they would like to make in their IT back office, if you will.

I think the green IT is not maybe the same but [has a] similar kind of a buzz at the moment. I think we could use that as an opportunity to define, especially the companies like Coca-Cola Enterprises, where corporate responsibility and sustainability is an integral part of the operating framework that we have.

We take this very seriously. But on the other hand in the IT space if you look into that and then drive some of the upgrade processes, virtualisation, datacentre consolidations that reduces your carbon footprint and energy consumption, it's not a bad idea. Using the green IT as a buzz word to drive the print consolidation, fax consolidation, reduction of paper use - is not a bad idea. And using that buzz as a tool to drive some of those efficiency-related activities makes sense.

And do you think this drive for innovation is perhaps a more modern way of viewing IT and requires different skillsets from IT staff?
It does. Skillsets are maybe not the only thing, but you need to build different competencies in your IT organisation. You need to be very specific around where you are differentiating and where you are going to be focusing in, so that requires a different dialogue with your business partners.

You have to really be engaged with your business to understand where the differentiation is going to come from. To do that you have to have very business-savvy IT people that need to be dialoguing with business to extract where the differentiation points are, so that requires a lot of different competencies like consolidative skills that you need to be building within your IT organisation.

But if your IT organisation is very occupied with maintenance of business, you can't build though. So therefore, your focus needs to shift from maintenance of business into differentiated solution development and with the speed and pace deployment of that.

How is Coca-Cola Enterprises attracting and retaining those more business-savvy IT staff?
We are absolutely looking into the skillsets in development, deployment areas and governance areas today; and we define our core competencies in each of the development, deployment, support, and governance areas in IT. We have clearly articulated core competencies for all of those specific areas. Obviously we are bringing skillsets outside in and refreshing our talent where it makes sense, but we have also a very focused internal people development programme in place today. And the amount of investment we are making into our people has never been at this level, and the return of that is ten-fold.

I am now able to bring those differentiated solutions faster than what I used to be doing with the external resources coming in because the internal institutional knowledge married with those core competencies added on top of those strategic technologies that we have is the winning formula at the moment.

See the full video interview here, on MeetTheBoss TV.