Digital Beauty – from the Eye of a Technology Leader
Written by Dan Christopherson
Deputy Global Chief Information Officer
Several months into a global crisis that even a seasoned, 35-year technology veteran like Michael Kingston “never even contemplated,” the L’Oréal Deputy Global CIO paused during another long remote-work day to take stock.
Despite pandemic-forced shutdowns of physical stores, L’Oréal, the world’s largest cosmetics company, bridged the gap with triple-digit online sales growth. Kingston’s IT organization did not skip a beat – quickly scaling up a long-established fleet of customer-facing digital capabilities.
“I think we were well prepared,” Kingston says.
I am very, very proud of how our team responded, being able to support that shift in consumer behavior.
L’Oréal’s IT engine is reshaping the face of beauty – augmenting digital services, enabling new commerce channels – from work-from-home offices and living rooms.
Kingston relishes tracking team resiliency from his remote workstation. And while endless hours of virtual interactions are getting the job done, he does miss the camaraderie, and the pure exercise, of making daily rounds at team headquarters.
“I’ll be very honest, I am not the best remote worker,” Kingston says with a laugh.“ I am pretty active, but I’ve kind of gone backwards. I think I’ve put on the COVID 15!”
Revealing that stress relief and a well-managed schedule are keys to Kingston’s personal success, he shares deeper insights on keeping L’Oréal’s IT business humming throughout the second half of 2020.
At Evanta’s June 2019 New York CIO Executive Summit, you gave a presentation on digitizing the L'Oreal beauty experience. How did years of digital work prior to this crisis prepare you to respond to customer needs?
We’ve been working on digitizing the consumer experience for quite some time. You can call it a little bit of luck; you can call it fantastic foresight. Either way, we were pretty well prepared for a situation like this. It is really about capitalizing on the work we had already started. Clearly, there has been a massive acceleration of consumer demand for these types of services, and we were in a good position to respond to that consumer need to engage digitally because it became the only way during the crisis. We’ve been able to leverage that at a much greater scale.
Where do digital services go from here? When you think of future consumer behavior, do you anticipate having more digital interactions when stores are fully re-opened?
There’s certainly a lot of indication that this, at least to some degree, could be a permanent shift. I would anticipate the idea of collaborating virtually is something we will continue to leverage more than we did before the crisis. From a consumer perspective, a lot of these digital experiences and connecting with brands more digitally is here to stay. We don’t anticipate that we’re going to go back to the way it was before.
Does this business disruption through the first half of 2020 change your strategy for the rest of the year and beyond?
It’s going to require that we think differently about our priorities and where we allocate resources within the company – certainly within the technology organization. We’re going to have to put more behind digital services and we’re going to have to think about how we’re working with our consumers and brands. Building out these capabilities is very dynamic. You’re trying different things, you’re getting feedback in real time from consumers and then you’re adapting and adjusting. Being much more agile, creating an environment where people are empowered to make decisions on the fly, those are all cultural shifts that we’re going to have to apply in our company to respond to the new normal.
What advice would you give other IT leaders who are just ramping up their digital capabilities?
First, you have to assess the skillsets in your organization and see where you need to invest in developing different skillsets. The scale of it is very different than what we experienced in the past. We’ve been working on digital upskilling at L’Oréal for a decade. It’s investing in the people you have, while adopting a recruiting strategy to attract and retain the different types of talent you need to support building out these digital capabilities.
Another thing is adapting ways of working. We’ve accelerated our shift to a product-centric organizational model – working collaboratively with business partners in a very agile way. We’ve had to accelerate that because it’s really the best way for us to build out these new experiences for consumers.
As a CIO, how do you view your vendor partnerships now? What can they do to provide better service?
To me the most important thing is flexibility. There are some partners that have a very methodical way of doing things. And then there are partners that will adapt to the circumstances and to the culture of their clients. In this world we’re living in now, we very much value partners that have the ability to adapt and drift a bit away from the models they’ve developed in the past. A little more flexibility goes a long way in terms of how we think about the partners that we need to work with in the future.
What is your message to your team during all of this – to get them motivated for what lies ahead?
For people like me who have been in the technology industry a long time, we’ve waited for the day when we’d become the center of our company’s strategy – and here it is. Tech and data are at the core of every business and every industry. On a good day, that’s great. On a bad day, that’s lot of pressure, so we have to be ready for that. But it’s exciting to be a position now where we contribute to a company’s goals and objectives – a company’s strategic growth.
As leaders, I think communication is more important than ever. As I reflect on the last few months of this crisis, that has been my biggest learning. People really need to feel connected, even though they are virtual and remote. They need to feel like their leadership is empathetic to what they’re going through. It’s really important that we connect and communicate so our team members understand the contribution they’re making, even though they’re working in their living rooms.
Special thanks to Michael Kingston and L’Oréal.
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