by James Henderson

Digitally disrupting distribution: Inside Ingram Micro’s innovation agenda

Jul 29, 2020
IT Leadership

As CIO of Asia-Pacific at Ingram Micro, Michelle Wu is shaping the digital transformation efforts of the largest distributor in the region—and the world.

michelle wu ingram micro
Credit: Ingram Micro

In operating as the largest distributor of technology products and solutions across Asia-Pacific, as well as the world, Ingram Micro stands tall as a supply chain titan. Nudging $50 billion in worldwide revenue, the logistics giant serves more than 200,000 customers through a portfolio housing more than 1,700 vendors, spanning hardware, software and cloud. In Asia-Pacific, more than 800 vendor products are distributed to more than 30,000 customers from regional headquarters in Singapore, from warehouse to user deployment.

For a technology distributor at such scale, depth and capabilities, a commitment to digitalisation is paramount. To do that, “we have strategic programs that aim to increase our digital engagements with vendors while also improving our resellers’ experience,” said Michelle Wu, CIO and executive director of Asia-Pacific at Ingram Micro. “We are prioritising our go-to-market capabilities in Asia Pacific, alongside becoming lean and embracing automation.”

“With Lean [methodology], we are working on a roadmap to modernise our infrastructure network and manage infrastructure and operations risks with proactive monitoring and diagnostics scores,” Wu said. “We also want to help move into a data-driven culture, and to achieve that, we’re setting up the foundation and roadmap of data-as-a-service [DaaS] as a top priority. This is in addition to working on migrating our on-premises data stack to our global data warehouse in the cloud, alongside establishing data management and governance and publishing the guidelines for a data consumption model.”

Wu also told CIO ASEAN of unveiled plans to enhance web positioning at a regional level, supported by an increased focus on B2B e-commerce offerings and the deployment of global enterprise systems.

Drawing on more than 20 years of experience—and an enviable CV spanning executive roles in America, Middle East and Asia Pacific—Wu currently leads a team of more than 145 technical associates across the region, shaped by a strategic list of agenda items.

Bringing a new framework to IT in a region with skills challenges

In joining the regional team at Ingram Micro in November 2019, Wu quickly recognised the need to create an internal framework built around facilitating speed, quality and innovation, supported by the introduction of third-party training and support. “Our IT team had solid technical capabilities but missed a framework to go fast and control quality,” Wu recalled. “We introduced an agile trainer in January this year and moved our software delivery to agile sprint releases which started in the first quarter.”

In Asia-Pacific, the talent pipeline has matured in certain disciplines but in other domains remains at the developing stage, Wu noted. For example, infrastructure, network and ERP expertise is abundant for last-mile executions but lacking in the design and architecture capacity.

“Since joining Ingram Micro, people and talent development have been one of the areas I have had to work hard on,” Wu said. “To digitally enable Asia-Pacific with agility, my IT team would need to provide services and be equipped with 17 types of technical competencies. That’s a lot of ground to cover, and much of it is specialised.”

As a result, ramping up expertise across B2B, B2B2C, data-as-a-service (DaaS) and data-centre-as-a-service (DCaaS) ranked high as leading challenges, and priorities for Wu. “After eight months in the role, my Asia-Pacific IT team is now made up of the right diverse mix of technical domains,” Wu said. “And I am proud to say that a third of my leadership team are women and that the overall IT team is comprised of 30 per cent women.”

The role of IT is evolving in a dynamic market

Wu also acknowledged that the role of IT within a multinational organisation such as Ingram Micro has evolved in parallel with changing market dynamics—such evolution has created new requirements from a skills perspective. “While business users expect IT to continue providing user and network infrastructure support, they also look for IT to help improve business processes with digital tools and to enhance customer experience,” she said.

Not only is the technology department required to meet KPIs and SLAs in equal measure, new-look demands centre around executing programs capable of generating cost-out targets, productivity benefits and revenue through digital channels.

“Because business is increasing expectations of IT, it becomes more difficult to find senior leaders with broad technical experience—those who can connect the dots, speak the business language and have the courage to lead the team through change,” Wu said. “We look for talents who demonstrate accountability, curiosity and problem-solving skills, given that they already have the right technical competencies and can work with different teams across the globe.”

In operating as the world’s largest technology distributor, Wu also acknowledged the importance of leveraging emerging technologies—such as 5G and the internet of things—to enhance customer experience levels.

“We are enabling the as-a-service economy for our customers and are also leveraging automation suites, including robotic process automation [RPA] and Microsoft Power Automate to reduce repeatable tasks, digitise workflows and increase the accuracy of data consumed by the downstream,” Wu said, while recognising the added complexity of balancing new technologies with legacy investments. This is one of great challenges that regional CIOs have. It is important for CIOs to have business buy-in on both short-term and long-term IT strategic roadmaps.”

Wu advised future executives to acquire the ability to “zoom in and zoom out, while connecting the dots”. “Zoom in, so you can work on details and provide directions, and zoom out so you can lay out a strategy and break down silos,” she said.

Deepening B2B engagements with tech providers through digital services

In addition to driving digital transformation within the business, the division is tasked with modernising infrastructure and operations and deepening B2B engagements at the vendor level, as well as enhancing e-commerce experience regionally. “One of the top priorities of our CEO is Asia-Pacific is to drive top-line and bottom-line growth,” Wu said. “To enhance our vendor and reseller experience, we focus on providing digital services, ranging from on-boarding, electronic data interchange [EDI] message automation, cross and up-selling to B2B and B2B2C offerings.”

With a vendor line-up including Microsoft, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell Technologies, IBM, Cisco and VMware, Ingram Micro is close to the action in terms of industry innovation and transformation. To facilitate such transformation, however, an internal overhaul is underway to sharpen customer life cycle and experience capabilities, supported by a commitment to optimise orders and deliveries, build resilient compute power and house secure and complaint assets.

“We measure success in technology from healthy user adoption and sustainable change realised in the business,” Wu said. “This is alongside proactive IT risk management and differentiated market positioning. All of these points should also be measured by top-line and bottom-line number impacts. On the soft benefit side, we will be also looking at user touchpoints, customer net promote score [NPS] and environmental sustainability.”

Greatest career achievement: Building an all-woman team in Saudi Arabia

After growing up playing arcade games as a child, Wu minored in computer science and returned to technology through General Electric’s entry-level IT leadership program. In joining the organisation after college, Wu spent more than 18 years rising up through the ranks across six business divisions and four continents, before taking a “brief detour” in 2010.

Fresh from completing an MBA in finance and marketing, Wu spent 12 months working in a marketing intelligence role at GE Capital America. “I loved it,” she recalled. “It was the first time I had truly leveraged data and statistical models for sales force deployment and pipeline effectiveness.”

A five-month career break soon followed in 2012, when Wu and her family relocated from New York City to the Middle East. “My greatest career achievement was my role in supporting the build-up of the first all-women shared services centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,” Wu said, in reference to her Qatar-based role at General Electric. “The goal of the centre was to focus on localisation and the talent development of Saudi women. It was the hardest project I’ve ever done.”

Not only did the business transition more than 100 Level 1 and Level 2 service roles in master data management and IT domains into the centre, but the team also enabled a secured infrastructure and role-based application access for the joint venture.

“In 2014, we had to start everything from scratch as the framework that worked for other regions did not apply to Saudi market conditions,” Wu said. “We had to recruit and develop newly graduated women from universities as quickly as we could and ramp them up to deliver services that met the company’s enterprise standards of cost, speed, and quality. It was stressful and exhausting but incredibly rewarding both professionally and personally.”