How Brunswick IT enables digital business

CIO Mike Adams shares how the company has designed its digital and data platforms to put the customer at the center of its products, services, and digital ecosystem, underpinned by enterprise architecture.

Mike Adams, CIO, Brunswick
Photo credit: Brunswick

Mike Adams joined Brunswick, the $4.3 billion manufacturing business, in 2017 to define its enterprise architecture function and to work with then CIO Danielle Brown to craft a modernization strategy. Since then, the company has sold off its non-marine businesses and is now fully focused on the marine market (its brands include Boston Whaler, SeaRay, and Mercury), which allows for a streamlined customer digital engagement strategy.

Promoted to CIO last fall, Adams has identified three horizons that will move his team from run and maintain mode to digital enablement. In our recent discussion, Adams described these horizons and talked about the architectural, competency, and budgetary levers that are key to the transformation. The following is an edited version of our interview.

Martha Heller: What is IT doing to drive Brunswick’s business transformation?

Mike Adams: In IT, we are introducing a digital business platform to enable customer-centric products and services, frictionless consumer experiences, and operational excellence. This digital business platform, which is the core of our strategy, is underpinned by business continuity, cybersecurity, analytics, and enterprise architecture. 

Today, our brand is no longer tied just to our physical products; it is also tied to digital experiences, both web and native mobile, which must be secure. Foundational to all of this is our work in consumer insights, where we are developing a customer data capability to learn more about how our customers engage with us, what they are interested in, and what they buy. Through our digital and data platforms, we are putting the customer at the center of our architecture.

You have identified three horizons of IT evolution. What was the first horizon?

When I joined Brunswick in 2017, as Chief Architect working with Dani Brown, who was CIO at the time, we were squarely in Horizon 1, which was more of a “react and respond” model with most of our investments tied up in keeping systems secure and running. Our focus was on delivering to each of our divisions—we were not organized as an enterprise model. 

The purpose of our move to Horizon 2 was to get out of this divisionally focused maintenance and support model and into an enterprise model, with standards and modern enterprise platforms that would position us to better engage in digital enablement.

To drive this massive change, and move us to the second horizon, we needed a burning platform, which came in the form of our divestiture of the Life Fitness business. In selling that business, we knew we would have to replace a key data center, so we decided to use that opportunity to move all of our enterprise applications to the cloud and exit all of our North American data center estates.

How did you manage the cloud migration?

We did a lot of work to decide which applications would move to the cloud, and which cloud providers we would use. We took a methodical decision-tree approach. Among other criteria, our cloud engineers identified whether the application was off the shelf or custom, and how we would best navigate its transition to the cloud. In some cases, we did not move an application to a public cloud provider but replaced it with a SaaS product. When we did go with the public cloud provider, we automated provisioning by using infrastructure as code, automated release pipelines, and some containerized services.

The Life Fitness divestiture accelerated the move from Horizon 1, a divisionally focused IT delivery organization with an on-premises based infrastructure, to Horizon 2, where we abstracted the physical elements of infrastructure and shifted our architecture to cloud, microservices, and APIs.

How have your competency needs changed as you moved into the second horizon?

The team began defining what competencies we would “buy” from strategic service providers and what “core” competencies we would develop within the Brunswick IT organization. The capabilities we were looking to buy from service providers included legacy application and platform development and infrastructure support. In parallel, we needed to begin developing and investing in cloud engineering skills to support our cloud first and software defined path of adoption. This also included front-end development resources as well as API and integration developers. With our teams spending less time on maintenance and support, we are now spending more time enabling digital business strategy, so we’ve needed to develop competences there, as well.  

When does Horizon 3, digital enablement, begin?

For some areas, we are beginning to reach Horizon 3, but in others, we are still earlier on in our journey. For digital supply chain, for example, we still have work to do to modernize our platforms and extend critical data via our API management layer from legacy systems of record. We are currently working to standardize our enterprise processes as we work to modernize enterprise platforms across our supply chain.

For employee experience, we are advancing to Horizon 3. Currently, we use Microsoft Teams and are enabling remote work for our office workers, engineers, and call center agents. We are now evaluating integrated Teams calling and managed Team rooms to support what we expect to be a hybrid workplace later this year.

For cybersecurity, although our work is never done, we are investing quite a bit to mature our security posture. We have a well-integrated DevSecOps capability, which we are scaling. As our digital footprint grows and supply chain diversity needs increase, cybersecurity is critical to ensure protection of our most important assets. As all CIOs and CISOs know, we are on a constant journey as threats change and evolve all the time.

With customer experience, we are approaching Horizon 3, with work still to do building competency and finalizing our Digital Product Management operating model. We’ve introduced an Adobe and Salesforce based customer experience target architecture with a product information management capability for the syndication of products and services for web and native mobile experiences.

What Horizon 3 competencies are you developing?

As we mature as an IT organization, we are increasingly focused on digital enablement as part of a broader enterprise digital product management operating model. Enterprise product managers, who define best practices, customer journeys, and experience capabilities, work with our enterprise IT digital delivery capability. The product manager defines effortless experiences through the lens of the customer. In our business, that includes an owner, participant, channel partner, or prospect. The product manager then partners with enterprise digital delivery teams made up of agile practitioners, modern application developers (microservices and APIs), business analysts, and quality assurance leads to define the roadmap, program increments, and sprints. Each cross-functional team is supported by enterprise architecture, cybersecurity, and cloud engineering to ensure capability is scaled optimally.  

The new digital product management capability is no longer considered the demarcation between business and IT. It’s just one team focusing on one set of customer experiences.

All of the competencies above are critical, but if we really want to operate with speed, and release new capabilities and code quickly, securely, and in an extensible way, we need to create a quality assurance capability that establishes and scales automated unit and regression testing.

Looking back on your journey through these horizons, what would you have done differently?

We have learned many lessons since the inception of this journey. For instance, we are in the process of aligning our strategic plan with a more holistic multiyear investment strategy. In the past, I believe the investment to transform was too distributed across division and functional budgets. 

We also recognized the need to develop an operating model that better aligns with digital product management, much the way we develop and manage the products we sell to our customers. 

Moving forward, we are establishing a portfolio of investments that outlines how we will fund the IT and digital strategy that supports the business. Our approach will be, “If this is the strategy we’ve agreed to execute; let’s develop the right investment plan for that strategy and make the investment required more visible, in order to facilitate the right trade-off discussions.”

What advice do you have to other CIOs on moving from run and maintain to digital enablement?

Never let a burning platform go to waste. When we divested Life Fitness, we thought about doing what was familiar by replacing the data center we were losing as part of the transaction. Instead, we decided to take the opportunity to change our entire operating model and accelerate the execution of our cloud first strategy.

Be bold. I am always telling my team, "We cannot be reckless, but we have to be bold and have the tough conversations necessary to put the company in the best position to deliver value. Those are not always the easiest conversations, but they are the necessary ones to have.”

Finally, you must tirelessly communicate how these investments and initiatives anchor back to your strategy to enable the business. Some of your business partners won’t internalize your message the first, second, or even the eighth time they hear it. You build credibility by demonstrating benefit, and then tirelessly communicating that benefit and what it could look like at scale. Only when you have business believers—who are also agents of change—can you really gain traction.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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