IT Trailblazers: With the Right Value Prop, IT Can Become an Evangelizing Force in Business Discussions

istock 638128698 dupe 2

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Southern Comfort, Herradura Tequila. That may be why you recognize the Brown-Forman name, but what you may not know is that Toby Lester, VP of Technology Architecture and Innovation at Brown-Forman, is an evangelist of sorts for cultivating a collaborative culture of diversity and inclusion for its 4,000 employees. Tasked with leveraging new technology to achieving this goal, Lester placed his bets on the cloud.

1. You were given a huge opportunity to impact Brown-Forman globally.

That is very true. When I started with the corporation, about 85 percent of our business was inside the United States. Now, over 60 percent is outside the U.S. We have employees around the world, many who don’t speak English as their preferred language. So with my new title came the opportunity to set ground rules as to how we choose software. We needed a platform that worked everywhere, worked in any language, and was mobile. Salesforce had the entire package and definitely helped as we globalized as a company. And it's brought us closer. We've expanded out, but at the same time have become closer as a company with the use of Salesforce.

2. It’s also provided your IT department with a seat at the table.

We used to charge different departments for our time using a chargeback system. You can imagine the problems that caused. And because different departments and countries used different systems, we had a lot of people that were experts in one single thing. And that one single thing often didn't translate to other things. That's why IT was often left out of meetings, because nobody wanted to pay for us to be in the meeting. It's very different now. By moving to a platform everybody understands, it really changed how we operate. The way you get a seat at any table is showing your value in helping the company move forward. And by using Salesforce, we've shown that IT can help the company reach its goals.

3. How have you proved your value specifically?

We actually use Salesforce as the place where everybody goes to get their information. And that's through our corporate intranet, My B-F, built on the Force.com platform. It has links to many different things that we do, including our HR system. Chatter is integrated. People can personalize the apps they want to go to and what tabs and information shows up when they log in. So if we hire a new sales director in a market, we can load it with the sets of things they need to have access to and the sets of reports they need to be able to get to. And there's much more collaboration. People who sell Southern Comfort in Germany learn from those who are selling it in Australia and vice versa, and this can now happen in real-time. People can interact and share ideas and information with people they never may have met in the past. And for Brown-Forman, that's extremely powerful.

4. What has the development process been like?

We replaced probably 50 or 60 applications very quickly. We have consistency on the way things are viewed, as well as the way people access and create information. There is also a consistency to the applications. People understand how to use the system without having to be told. I use a saying often: “If I've got to teach you how to use something, you won't use it.” With Force.com we're able to build applications that are straightforward, intuitive, and easy to use, and on top of everything, mobile. And we can modify them. If we need to do something different for Poland or Germany, it doesn't take two weeks to update. It takes 20 minutes.

5. Did this speed and ease of use make it easy to convince your developers?

There was a debate about which platform we were going to go with for our development. To me, Force.com seems like a natural thing, but we actually left it up to the developers. We sat around the table with about 12 of them and had everybody say what they thought we should go with. And Force.com, because of the way it integrates with everything else and its ease of use, was the choice. Before, we had Java developers and C developers and different toolsets. But now they can share their knowledge with each other and it has really changed how we work on things. Now everybody is on the same team.

6. It sounds like your department has really evolved.

We're gluers now. We're puzzle builders. We're taking pieces of information and ideas and matching them up with the needs of the corporation. As we do that, having a tool such as Force.com allows us to quickly build something and get it in front of somebody, and then iterate on it in a very rapid way. If you're going to continue to help your company grow, you need to be agile. In five years we'll look back at the way we're doing things now and we'll have a laugh. Things are going to continue to change. And if we do not continue to embrace that change, we're going to let our company down.

7. How has this approach supported what the Business does overall?

At the end of the day, Brown-Forman sells and markets spirits and wine. That's what we do. If we can use our IT dollars to assist that work in any way possible, rather than just keeping the lights on, we should continue to do so. We are not a technology company. We used to have server rooms and three-tier architecture, and we had to make sure a lot of infrastructure was working. Now we have more people working to help sell and market our wonderful brands using the best information possible. If it is not something that gives us a competitive advantage, it doesn't belong in IT at Brown-Forman.

Want more tips? Get inspired by these 12 IT trailblazers who are leading their whole business forward by building on the Salesforce platform.