What Whirlpool’s CIO does to make its digital business models run end to end
During a recent CIO Leadership Live session, Danielle Brown, SVP and CIO of household appliance giant Whirlpool, detailed how collaborative teams and data management are integral to both product leadership and the entire customer journey.
As a household name in household goods, with annual sales of $22 billion, Whirlpool has 54 manufacturing and tech research centers worldwide, and bursts with a portfolio that includes several familiar brands including KitchenAid, Maytag, Amana, Yummly, among others. The company employs 69,000 around the world as well and Danielle Brown, the company’s SVP and CIO, has a unique perspective on how best to lead the company’s digital transformation strategy.
Having joined the company in November 2020 to lead its Global Information Systems, Brown understands that cross-collaboration and effectively leveraging data to create new products and services are not only essential to future success, but speak of having the responsibility in such a privileged position to lean into that seat at the table, which means having a voice and an understanding of where technology is headed.
“Our vision is to be the best kitchen and laundry company in constant pursuit of improving life at home, which has become even more evident and important over the past couple of years,” she says. “Data shows that people continue to use our products on a more continuous basis. We’ve also seen people at home researching, browsing, and purchasing more online. All of these things have been transformational for our business.”
Of course, the end-to-end consumer journey is always a work in progress at Whirlpool, which began prior to Brown’s arrival. “But working across our leadership team,” she says, “one of the things I always say about IT is we have a unique view of the company. We can see all of the various processes, so with that unique vantage point, part of our role is to connect a number of those dots. That’s where we have the opportunity to talk about this as a full journey and know what a consumer has. We have to think about that technology and how it’s layered together as an IT organization. That is part of the value we bring to the table. So with my coming in, those are some of the things the IT organization focuses on as a leadership team.”
Brown recently spoke with CIO Leadership Live host Maryfran Johnson about advancing product features via sensor data, accelerating digital twin strategies, reinventing supply chain dynamics and more. Here are some edited excerpts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insights.
On four strategic priorities: One is delivering product leadership, which includes data and technology that support things like the digital twin and digital thread throughout a product’s lifecycle. And that is where the IT organization really has a hand in helping to enable that product leadership. The second is leveraging IoT and AI to support new digital services and new digital products that we can offer our consumers. Third is about winning that digital consumer journey by utilizing the technology to engage with a customer from pre- to post-purchase. And our fourth strategic priority is about reinventing the value chain with greater visibility. That’s another way in which our IT organization was able to work side by side with our business partners to advance this one. So end to end, our strategic priority has stood the test of time.
On re-recruiting talent: Employees today have more options than they had in the past. As a company, we have to ensure we promote our value proposition. There’s the saying, “People will leave a boss, but not necessarily leave the company.” And what they want from their boss is someone who cares about their career. It’s the employee’s role first but they’re partnering with their boss or supervisor because they only have a limited view. So we have a tool called Career Compass, which shares employee experiences and helps let an employee know a manager cares about their career. When you have different leaders or new leaders in an organization, you don’t want your experiences to be forgotten. So we start with what that person’s career has been to date and then explore where you want to go in your career, but not on the traditional ladder. I’ve heard it referred to as the lattice. There are many different routes to take. It’s not necessarily about a job or promotion; it’s about the experiences that someone wants to have in their career, because it’s those experiences that are required if you want to be a global CIO or an enterprise architect. Things like that really matter and will allow companies to retain talent.
On innovation ecosystems: You have to think about what technology is really mature versus the technology that is more speculative. AI and machine learning are mature today. You also have natural language processing, doing technology through RPAs and things of that nature. So we’re leveraging those things in our business and market. But you also have the more speculative technology, like metaverse and blockchain and things of that nature. For emerging technologies like those, we’ll experiment internally and think about how they might apply to our business and how it could create new or different opportunities. But things have to add value for the end consumer. It can’t just be the technology for the sake of it.
On the enterprise data strategy: I am a self-admitted data geek. When you leverage internal data, you need governance around that data. The two are extremely important. Our priority is around delivering product innovation and having that digital twin or that digital thread where data is fundamental. This is working in partnership with the strategy of our product organization, and how to simplify the data and ensure it’s threaded throughout—in a digital way—or whether it’s embedded within our systems of record. The right governance around that product data has to be in place too so it can be used throughout the full product lifecycle. That’s how data governance is critical to our organization and analytics are a way to unlock value.