3 CIO Strategies for Going Global

When these companies went global, they leveraged IT to unify, localize and lay the foundation for future growth

The CIO Executive Council talks to CIOs about the role IT played when their companies went global. Here are three lessons you can learn about unifying, localizing and laying a foundation for growth.

Unify the Business

Joe AbiDaoud, CIO, HudBay Minerals: After many years of operating in Canada, we acquired a mining project in Peru. We are truly a global company--one that is multilingual and operating in several jurisdictions and cultures--so we are using technology to help build a unified corporate identity and to minimize the effects of geographical distance and language differences.

We standardized our collaboration platform and basic functions like email, document management and communications. In 2012, we moved these to the cloud so we could provide services quickly and consistently throughout the world, at low cost, without making significant infrastructure investments. In a commodities-based global industry, the cloud enables us to scale up or down quickly.

Today our email is in the Google cloud, providing employees with a consistent look and feel, whether they're in North America or South America. We strive to be device-agnostic--employees use various devices to access their email--and Google has some basic translation capabilities, so I can translate an email I get in Spanish into English. We also have some collaboration capabilities like shared calendars, online video, chat and documents that let us work as one company.

Build a Platform for Growth

Peter Weis, VP and CIO, Matson: For more than 120 years, Matson focused primarily on the Hawaiian market. Nearly 10 years ago, we expanded internationally into China, and we knew then that our IT strategy needed to enable global expansion. We've embedded globalization into all four components of our IT strategy: applications, organization, architecture and governance.

We now operate all enterprise applications on a single, virtualized, Internet-based technology stack. By eliminating multiple instances of applications, each with different business rules and on different IT platforms, we can cost-effectively provide consistent levels of service globally, and can expand into new geographies quickly and inexpensively. We can easily add new IT capacity on demand as business volumes grow.

We also have a follow-the-sun strategy for 24/7 application development, with IT staff in both China and India. Organizationally, we hired an IT manager in Shanghai, who has been instrumental in our recent expansion into New Zealand and in our rollout of new applications in China.

IT can't help with global growth by being merely order takers. We must have a seat at the table. We as CIOs can do that by making sure we are trusted and respected, and by ensuring that strong executive-level governance is in place. The right governance ensures IT is involved in the early stages of new initiatives, such as our recent expansion into New Zealand.

Standardize and Localize

John Collins, CIO, Digi-Key: We do business in 170 countries worldwide through e-commerce sites supported 24/7 by our Minnesota IT team. One of the things Digi-Key prides itself on is being reliable and easy to work with, no matter where our customers are located.

This is why many of our e-commerce sites are in the native language of the customer or, in the case of countries like Germany and Switzerland, are multilingual. We support multiple currencies as well, which necessitates significant involvement from IT because it requires coordinated activity across many of our systems, such as pricing, ERP, shipping and our corporate financial systems.

We have strategically placed a few local call centers around the world that provide localized customer support. Each of these centers uses our central ERP for order processing, which we rolled out worldwide through Citrix. This results in a very consistent sales cycle for customers--they know exactly what's happening at exactly what time, no matter where they are ordering from. For our multinational customers, the ordering process is the same, no matter where their employees are located. Our consistent customer experience is one reason engineers rate Digi-Key websites highly.

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