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How one CIO transformed a million-dollar company with no IT

Innovation Executive Forum | Posted on October 31, 2016


No resource planning software. No product development strategy. No IT. Add to that a household brand, millions of dollars of sales and exponential growth across the globe, and what do you get?

Some execs might call that the makings of a nightmare. But for one CIO, who participated in an exclusive IT executive dinner in Santa Monica, it was a dream come true.

“When my team and I showed up, it was basically an opportunity to turn this business around and grow it,” said the CIO.

The story he shared with his peers at the Softchoice – hosted meet-up was a stand-out case study of the strategic value IT holds for the business — proving just how interlinked business process and technology are with results, innovation, and sustainable growth.

Early organic growth, without IT

It wasn’t always this way. Long before the CIO was brought in to turn the chaos into order, the health and wellness product manufacturer was a “fly by the seat of your pants,” type of operation. Driven by an energetic, entrepreneurial founder and CEO, the company went all-out on a lean sales strategy, almost entirely focused on selling through the infomercial channel.

At the time, nearly every single aspect of the company was outsourced, including IT, marketing and operations.

“The CEO’s model was finding products, sourcing ideas, and then developing a show to sell it. Everything was outsourced… He did this whole thing with zero employees,” said the CIO.

>>> GET THE HIGHLIGHTS: See all the highlights and advice from this IEF event, including security strategies, leadership advice and insight on the war for talent.

Major success leads to problems

But in 2012, following ten years of slow but stable growth, two major things happened that would change the company forever and put the company’s future in jeopardy.

The first is they struck gold. They released a hot new product that took the world by storm and which has sold hundreds of millions dollars worth of units in the short time. Overnight, demand and logistics for their products increased exponentially.

The second, driven largely by that explosive growth, the company began leveraging new sales channels. From all-in on infomercials, those entertaining TV ads now make up just a fraction of the pipeline, with retail in big box stores like Walmart, and direct to consumer online, taking up 80% of sales.

“Today, we are an omnichannel business,” says the CIO.

But getting there would be no small task. Thankfully, though, the CEO and founder put his trust in a dedicated team of IT professionals and gave them space and trust needed to oversee an impressive and hugely successful ground-up transformation.

Building business discipline with IT’s help

Another member at the IEF event summed up the company’s predicament this way: they had no “business discipline.”

Decisions were not based on any objective insight. There were no mechanisms to understand customer needs. No accounting control. Customer representatives had no management tools. The IT team was staffed almost entirely with web developers, without any professional IT training.

“They had created a monster that ran the business,” said the CIO.

His actions were swift, calculated and powerful. His first major project was delivering an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution. On top of that foundation, they continued to roll out key technology innovations, with a Customer Relationship Management tool that gives a single-pane view of customers and partners, a Call Center application to take orders and manage calls, as well as new capabilities to collect, segment, and derive insights from massive quantities of customer data.

The results have been big.

One example is the impact it has had on product development. In the past, the company acted a bit like an “impulsive mom and pop shop,” he said, “throwing blank checks and money at a project and hoping it would sell.” Today, however, product development, upgrades, and launches are based largely on structured, useful customer data and feedback, gleaned from the new CRM and call center solutions, and parsed by marketers and product owners.

Hands-on approach to change management

Another local participant at the IEF witnessed this CIO’s work when visiting him one time. He said he was blown away by the hands-on leadership the executive took when introducing massive changes to all the employees.

“He got that entire call center bought in on the new solution, it was incredible,” said the other IEF member.

The CIO however, remained modest, saying it’s easy to get buy in when the user sees just how much easier the technology will make their life.

A dream job

“In the last two years, I have probably spent 75 percent of my time on this transformation, and 25 percent doing technical stuff,” he said, describing what many IT leaders today see as the ideal mix of innovation and maintenance.

And speaking of innovation, thanks to all these changes the company is currently planning some major new products that will take advantage of the most cutting-edge digital advances.

Whatever their next big product will be, it won’t be solely thanks to the cunning and intuition of their bright CEO. It will be in large part thanks to their IT leadership, and the intelligent, business discipline and strategic approach it has brought to the business.

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