by Thomas Wailgum

A Rare Look Inside Coca-Cola’s IT

Apr 23, 20074 mins
Enterprise Applications

There was no tour of Coca-Cola’s bottling facilities, but there was all the Coke you could drink at the Atlanta headquarters. (Full disclosure: I’m addicted to Diet Coke, like many of you, I’m sure, and I took a “free” one during the presentation.)  

Even better than the iconic cans of sugared water, however, was the presentation by Coca-Cola’s executives regarding the global SAP ERP rollout that Coca-Cola has embarked on. This is a biggie. You could tell as much in the loving introductions by the SAP executives. (How many times can an SAP executive mention the word partnership? Answer: Not enough, apparently.)

You could also infer by the Coca-Cola executives’ comments that they have high expectations about what the their new SAP system should deliver, how it should be delivered and when it should be delivered. Senior Coca-Cola execs kept talking about the fact that the system and SAP now needed to deliver the results that had been promised.

I asked the SAP and Coca-Cola execs what was the value and duration of the deal: No one would comment on either. (No surprise there.) But it has got to be huge because Coca-Cola is so international, and this implementation is going global. Though its headquarters are in the United States, the brand is utterly pervasive on a global scale. One statistic stands out: Worldwide, it delivers 1.4 billion “servings” of its product each day.

Coca-Cola standardized on a common IT backbone (SAP’s ERP 2004 product at first) last year, and there’s much more to go. The scope of their plan was grand: 15,000 users, 45 countries, 175 legal entities, 18 languages. The modules Coca-Cola rolled out were Finance, HR and Supply Chain. The next big trick, it seems, will be to get everything integrated on the global scale, get all of those bottlers to adopt the SAP systems (which seems to be OK for now) and utilize SAP’s NetWeaver capabilities to mesh it all together.

Jean-Michel Ares is the CIO who’s going to pull all this off. If he is daunted by the challenge, he didn’t seem overwhelmed during his part of the presentation or afterward during the audience Q&A (which was just for the media). He’s got an impressive pedigree—McKinsey, then General Electric, now Coca-Cola.

Everyone in attendance on the Coca-Cola side admitted that it was still very early in the process. (Ahh, the honeymoon. Isn’t it so nice?) However, over the weekend, Ares reported a successful migration of some systems (he didn’t specify) onto the new SAP ERP system.

After the presentation, I talked to Ares about this massive undertaking. I asked him what was the one leadership-related skill that the business side was looking for from him. His one-word response: “Clarity.” I liked that response because it really did sum up everything about how IT and the business relates. We can talk about alignment and governance and ROI and marketing IT to the business. But, really, the business doesn’t want to know all the nitty-gritty details from IT. Just some clarity, please, and make it work.

Ares and Coca-Cola have their work cut out for them, obviously from the technical side but also given the fact that they are betting their future strategy on SAP’s software. The power and monopoly-like influence of SAP in action, which my colleague Christopher Koch hammered home in his blog post titled The Monopoly that Matters More than Microsoft.

That sentiment was echoed by SAP’s PR head as the presentation ended. He said, essentially, that SAP was Coke’s IT strategy for the future.

More later from the conference.

Also, I wanted to note that there are more people giving away Oracle paraphernalia outside hotels where Sapphire attendees are staying. They are bold!