Supporting sprawling business operations seamlessly across 86 countries would challenge any IT group, but at The Procter & Gamble, a company known for innovation, that's not enough. Since the IT organization at the 169-year-old consumer products titan was melded into its shared-services business in 2005, CIO and Global Services Officer Filippo Passerini has challenged the IT team to live up to the company's reputation for creativity.
"We started with the mind-set of 'What can we create that's unique for the business?" says Passerini. As he sees it, P&G's IT organization should play a vital role in shaping the company's future. But given P&G's size and scope, he doesn't expect "an overnight transformation."
For the past two years, he and other top IT executives have worked with business leaders from around the company to identify market trends, anticipate business needs and create programs globally.
This includes honing P&G's business intelligence (BI) to help the company's consumer-focused businesses better anticipate market shifts. "What happened a week or a month ago [in the market] is no good," says Passerini. "We have to predict what is coming."
P&G is also investing in analytical software and predictive modeling tools to help its business leaders better understand the markets it serves.
The company's scale complicates this effort, Passerini says. IT must deliver highly customized analytic and data mining tools geared to support 300 product brands, each with unique geographic and competitive market needs, but the technologies also need to be standardized. "Our teams are developing a working marriage of these two critical demands," says Passerini.
Douglas Christopher, an analyst at Crowell, Weedon & Co., says BI and predictive modeling tools have helped P&G identify and react to market shifts more quickly, though he says it's difficult to quantify how much their use has contributed to its businesses.
Speeding to Market
But BI is just one element of the IT organization's speed-to-market strategy. P&G's IT group is also using homegrown and commercial software to help the company obtain and incorporate customer feedback and launch new products more quickly.
In the past, P&G created physical mock-ups of new products and showed them to customer focus groups early in the development cycle. Participants provided feedback on packaging, pricing and competitive products. Then the product team modified the products and retested with consumers; a process that could take many weeks.
IT has shortened this cycle using a digital workflow system that creates "a virtual mock-up," says Passerini. "If consumers give you feedback, you can change [the product] on the fly," saving weeks of development time.
P&G's IT team began developing those capabilities just over a year ago and has since applied the virtual approach to testing versions of products, including paper towels and potato chips. The concept has already delivered "big reductions" in development costs and time to market for some of P&G's new products, says Passerini.