Why I traded in my Adidas to help get to a smoke-free future, faster

In 2019 I made a career-changing move to leave Adidas and join Philip Morris International (PMI) as their Chief Technology Officer. You might be wondering, "What makes a guy passionate about sport and technology join PMI?" It's a fair question. So here's why: PMI today is a very different company to the one that's probably top of mind when you think about the tobacco industry of the past. How? Because the PMI of today is squarely focused on replacing cigarettes as quickly as possible with scientifically substantiated smoke-free products that are a much better alternative to cigarettes for the millions of adult smokers who would otherwise continue smoking.

That's a pretty bold goal. And for me, that vision to create a smoke-free future merging the worlds of tobacco and technology marks a new way forward and a rare opportunity to contribute to the complete transformation of a company and an industry for the better.

The historic challenge I've accepted with PMI is to evolve its technology capabilities so profoundly that it will accelerate the company's transformation from one of the most traditional, unchanged manufacturing businesses in the world to one of the most technologically advanced.

And we're already deep in the throes of this business transformation as we work to become a science and technology leader in smoke-free products. To date, PMI has invested more than $6 billion in science, technology and research to develop and commercialise smoke-free products that are a better alternative than continued smoking. While technology is, and will continue to be, a critical enabler for this transformation, like in other businesses it is only as powerful as its ability to enable human creativity and innovation to unlock opportunities for change by ensuring PMI becomes a "consumer-first" organisation.

During my tenure at Adidas, I managed, besides the usual infrastructure, the global OmniChannel solutions for the company's wholesale, retail and e-commerce portfolios. My philosophy and strategy were to put people at the centre of all activities because they are your best proxy for the consumer you're trying to reach. Doing so helped me create centralised working models that leveraged technology and digital pathways to successfully deliver consumer-centric solutions of value.

I'm now able to put this experience in digital transformation models to use at PMI - helping us become nimbler to anticipate consumer needs and transform PMI into a company with the consumer front and centrE. To succeed, we need a harmonised, secure technology operating model that gives our teams in the markets confidence and the tools they need to deliver our unique selling proposition to the consumer. And that's why we need a brand-new technology stack, new ways of working and unique skill sets we didn't have before at PMI. Where we once focused primarily on trade partners, we now focus on the adult consumer - legal age smokers who would otherwise continue smoking. That's a tall task. And it's one I'm excited to be a part of.

That means, first and foremost, understanding how best we can support adult smokers along their entire consumer journey to switch to better alternatives. From there, we determine how technology can help us achieve this at scale. PMI's new operating model in IT enables us to build data-driven, cloud-native, secure applications fast and frequently (as much as 10 times faster than today) so we can stay close to adult consumers and nurture innovation.

Together with 1,700 technology experts across PMI, I'm working to build an open digital platform to deliver common core features for maximum impact in the largest number of markets where we extend differentiating elements to adult consumers within their local ecosystem with speed and scale. These agile product teams cover four key areas - commercial, manufacturing, corporate functions and R&D - and include software engineers, architects, scrum masters, etc., in delivery centres around the globe in a "DevSecOps" fashion. The teams' focus is not on technology per se but on continuously delivering consumer value in collaboration with more than 180 markets worldwide. Because the markets are at the forefront of our direct adult consumer engagement.

As a new year begins and we make inroads in transforming our company, I recognise that we're just at the start of our technology transformation journey. There's lots to do - and it's fast-paced and motivating.

Yet PMI's business transformation doesn't start and stop with a novel IT operating model; our smoke-free future is not feasible without technological innovation and without experts in science, research and product development who together, are creating the highest impact through technology.

As technology continues to disrupt sectors all over the world, there's no doubt the technology team at PMI will continue to expand and adapt. My ambition is to help take us beyond today's success with our smoke-free product portfolio. The advances in technology offer endless possibilities of where our capabilities - and this industry - can go in the future and the lasting, positive impact we can have on society as we continue to unsmoke the world.

Michael Voegele is Chief Technology Officer at Philip Morris International

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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