Bacardi Focuses IT on Selling More Spirits

The CIO of the largest privately held spirits company in the world stays close to customers and recently deployed an iPad app that explains the rich history of its brands.

Bacardi Ltd. is the largest privately held spirits company in the world. Founded in Cuba more than 150 years ago, this family-owned business makes brands such as Bacardi rum, Martini vermouth and Dewar's Scotch whisky.

When I joined Bacardi in 2011, there was a desire to work as a more cohesive global company. The first thing I did was develop an integrated view of the business priorities and current IT landscape, and then I identified where IT could make distinctive and valuable contributions.

I strive to make all the work of IT revolve around a single vision: helping our teams around the world sell more cases of our brands in a more profitable way. Whether you're selling laundry products, cosmetics or spirits, a value-driven IT leader must have a genuine interest in and knowledge of both the customer and consumer.

I sometimes spend full days in retail locations to gain a deeper understanding of our consumers--observing why they choose our brand over another and the factors that influence their purchasing decisions. I've learned many lessons this way about selling spirits. For instance, people really want to know the story behind a brand--its heritage and authenticity.

IT has a role in telling these stories. We recently made the rich history of our brands available to salespeople instantly on an iPad app, with an easy-to-use search engine. Our teams now spend less time on manual work--updating paper-based materials and surveys--and more time with customers explaining how the world's most popular cocktail, the Cuba Libre, was created with Bacardi rum in 1900 or discussing promotions to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Martini brand.

Going forward, we will work to provide sales with even better business intelligence to increase the speed and quality of decision-making--shipments to store, consumption per category and brand, and market share. That means leveraging our global platform where we have all the data, internal and external, and can deliver it, end-to-end--from the procurement of sugarcane molasses, through the entire production process, and all the way to the retail outlet.

The advice I've followed my whole career is to always look at the business first--it's of no benefit to anyone to implement technology for the sake of IT. My formula is simple: First, deliver impeccable IT services from an infrastructure and operational standpoint; second, ensure the back office can operate as efficiently as possible; and third, enable the front line to drive sales.

To do this well, you need strong business process and transformation skills in your IT organization. When I hire people with a background in engineering or technology, I try to gauge how much interest they have in the business; if they've studied business, on the other hand, I probe and challenge them to see if they understand how to make effective use of technology.

IT is uniquely placed in a company--it is the glue that holds the business together and transcends the boundaries of all functions. This is our specific, dedicated mission. It's at the intersection of these business priorities and the technological possibilities where you can bring distinctive value and contribute to a more profitable business.

Caroline Basyn is global CIO at Bacardi Ltd.

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