The Evolving Role of IT for Value Added Solutions

Aaron Weis, VP & CIO, Axalta Coating Systems
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Aaron Weis, VP & CIO, Axalta Coating Systems

Opting for a Business Enabling Mindset

We have to move beyond delivering tech­nology and instead move to delivering competitive differentiation for our busi­ness. Our coatings business is not only about providing the best paint possible for our customers. It’s about providing a host of value added services and capabili­ties designed to make Axalta the choice in the marketplace. IT needs to enable that by moving beyond the IT service delivery mindset and move to a business enabling mindset. It’s an easy thing to say, but quite difficult to do successfully. We need to move to a model where the services are provided by suppliers who are best in class because they can support customers seamlessly and consistently. Success will depend on a number of capabilities com­ing together. We will need a world without a physical data center, where solutions are delivered as services and infrastructure ex­ists in the cloud, with robust uptime and disaster recovery. We will need managed networks that can self-heal before we even know they are broken. We will need col­laboration tools that are available on any device, anywhere and data delivery that’s fast, flexible, and device agnostic. When all these factors run together seamlessly our IT teams can focus on providing the value added solutions that will help differ­entiate Axalta in the marketplace.

Need for a Stronger Data Framework

Data starts with a strong master data strategy and is underpinned with a consolidated ERP strategy. We’re working to create both by bringing multiple instances of SAP into a unified ERP landscape. At the same time, we’re moving from a distributed data management approach to create a real master data strategy that will allow our business managers to see data holistically, no matter what region or business may be looked at. In order to provide the new and multiple dimensions of data analysis, we’re going to need a stronger data framework, aligned within our enterprise systems.

"Time spent “feeding the monster” in the data center is time not spent on helping our business win"

IT Backed by Data Analytics for Customer Satisfaction

Leadership will be driven by providing differentiated customer interaction. In our coatings industry, we serve multiple business models, whether it’s painting new cars in the factories of our OEM customers or providing small quantities of custom matched colors through a vast distribution network to thousands of small body shops or the many industrial customers we serve. Along the way, IT will be critical in helping those processes to move as smoothly as possible and enabling rapid customer fulfillment, backed by strong data analytics.

IT is Evolving into an Enable Role

Today, IT spends an inordinate amount of time managing the ERP and surrounding systems. Granted, it’s the classic mission of IT, but time spent “feeding the monster” in the data center is time not spent on helping our business win. Beyond that, running enterprise systems is not a core competency. The promise is moving to fully service driven software solutions across the board. It exists today in some providers such as Salesforce.com and Workday and others, but it’s still not fully realized. We want to see that capability across all our enterprise systems. Our core system provider, SAP, is moving in that direction with their new suites of S/4 HANA, but it’s a work in progress.

Beyond enterprise systems, the middleware we use is also a work in progress. To operate more effectively its plumbing will need to evolve to work seamlessly in a cloud delivered model, where solutions provided from different vendors can interact without constant attention. We’re not yet there in the middleware market, but it’s moving that way. I see a lot of promise in Informatica as they move towards a cloud delivered middleware strategy, but nirvana is still several years away.

IT has begun evolving into an enable role in Axalta. We are now beginning to bring together business teams to create a more robust digital strategy for customer engagement. We are also moving towards business process optimization enabled by a consolidated ERP strategy. Recently, we hired an IT leader for Business IT Innovation and she will be part of a strong push to continue the evolution of IT as a business enabling function.

Mobile and IoT as Two Critical Forces

I think mobile and IOT will become critical in the next few years. Our customers run the gamut from Fortune 50 to small mom and pop businesses. We need to be easy to work no matter who is on the other end of a request. Mobile technology will be a key to that, and we’ll see continued use of mobile customer interfaces. This needs to lay over a strong data infrastructure and solid delivery systems, so we’re back to my first point. But this is one of the critical paths to differentiation.

On the supply chain side, IOT will help us provide real time information on the efficiency of our processes to our internal teams. Pulling together the data of process manufacturing to optimize our production and fulfillment will help us provide the best products possible on a consistent basis.

An IT integrated Security is Essential

We’re not a consumer company, so today we see the need for IT integrated security. Having IT security embedded in our push to cloud and software as a service is critical now. As we continue to move customer relationships to mobile enabled, we may evolve how we think about IT security, but for now we think it’s positioned correctly as a member of our IT leadership team.

Advice to Budding CIOs

Get out and understand the business. If you are inwardly focused, trying to “run IT,” then you’re not helping as much as you could. Process manufacturing is a widely variable industry that has multiple supply chain, process technology, and customer engagement processes. Create a strong working relationship with Procurement, as raw material strategic sourcing is another critical enabler. Understanding the variety of business process and customer interaction is critical to optimizing the IT systems you are responsible for. That’s advice that works in any business, but it seems to be amplified even more in process manufacturing where the cost is in the raw materials and the customer fulfillment process. Layer in automotive manufacturing and the high service coatings business and you can’t afford to be an inwardly focused CIO.

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