SVP & CIO
Perdue Farms Senior Vice President and CIO Mark Booth has been in technology for his entire career. He says he remembers when IT leaders were worried about which kind of branded technology to select – instead of focusing on which technology best supported the business. “It's still about the right technology, but having it in support of the business,” he says of the evolution of IT.
Mark was hired at Perdue three years ago to bring a strategic focus to IT, which included driving their digital transformation. He and his team have embarked on a four-year transformation and are one year into it with their first launch coming soon. “The operational part of IT is excellent,” he explains. “But from a strategy perspective, we hadn’t upgraded our systems in quite a while.”
His focus is making sure the 103-year old company is evolving in a strategic way. “If some of our systems are old, it probably means that the business processes are old. The business has changed, so the business processes and systems need to support where we are headed.”
Driving a Complex Digital Transformation
Mark and his team are currently leading a digital transformation – or what they call business process re-engineering – in three areas of the company: Finance, Foods (chicken, beef, and pork), and AgriBusiness. While it sounds like a lot, he notes that they are, “running at three different paces.” Finance is about to go live, and the others are in earlier stages.
A key focus for Mark is managing the enterprise-level strategy, as he says, “so that when we’re stitching these things together, we are consolidating and not just adding to our footprint.” He continues, “Because at the end of the day, it's all interconnected, and the data has to be consistent between all three of those entities to draw enterprise-level conclusions. And the conclusions will help us deliver to our customers and drive efficiencies.”
One early success is a highly engaged senior management team and Board that are supportive of their digital business strategy. “We started off saying, ‘Hey, let's do the finance project, and let's sort of kick the tires,’” Mark explains. “And we’ve had good success executing the finance project… As a result, we are going to move up the Agribusiness transformation, which was scheduled a couple of years out.”
The success is that the Board is highly engaged. Their question is not anything but — ‘how can you go faster?’”
Their digital roadmap is four years, and he is proud of his team for the trust they’ve earned. “What I tell the team is – we are trusted to do these strategic initiatives because the operations have gone so well in the past. And so, we've kind of earned the right to secure these business processes and reengineering projects.”
Keys to Success in Digital Transformation
Mark cites three areas that are important for CIOs in gaining support for digital initiatives – and they’re not necessarily related to technology.
- Understand the business.
His number one piece of advice is not only to have a strong understanding of your business, but also to link the IT strategies to business objectives. “We think of it as ‘business first.’ What do we need to do for the business?” For instance, when they were deciding how to approach analytics, they decided to use a cloud strategy because it is demand based. But they are not necessarily using the same cloud strategy for everything. “We try to think about the business first, and then apply technology in the right way to meet those demands,” he says.
- Partner with your CISO.
Security can at times require a balancing act between business needs and protecting the organization, and Mark thinks this is best approached by partnering with your CISO. “Some CISOs get so security conscious that you can't do business, or it costs extra money to do business,” he says. “If you think about diversity and bringing diverse thoughts to a problem, having both of us and our teams approach a problem together, we find the compromise, and that is key.”
- Don’t underestimate strong ‘people’ skills.
In addition to knowing the business, Mark believes that you need to work with people cross-functionally, approach them as individuals, and understand where they are coming from. “I think, ‘people’ skills are more important than we give them credit for,” he notes. “I believe it is important to engage at an individual level. Everyone has different perspectives and that diversity adds so much to the conversation.”
Next Steps on the Digital Journey
Mark is proud of his team at Perdue and their progress on digital initiatives. Currently, they are providing analytics at a high level, using technologies like never before, and leading the organization’s business process re-engineering – all while keeping the company secure and gaining the trust and support of senior management and the Board.
Mark describes himself as a collaborative leader and says that he shifts his leadership style depending on the situation, as well. “What I like to do is build the right teams, give them guidelines on strategy and direction, and then let them go,” he explains.
He believes that the team feels good about their work – even with a lot of demands and deadlines – because they are contributing to the business in a meaningful way. “All of these strategies, partnerships, and people are really important,” he notes. “And I think having a story to tell about how your business feeds people, protects the environment – it is really important to have a story. There is no better story than Perdue Farms!”
He looks forward to how his team is writing the next chapter of the digital story at Perdue. “If you are a technology person and you want to feed the U.S., this is a place to think about expanding your career and working with some of the latest and greatest technologies,” Mark says. “It's an awesome story.”
Special thanks to Mark Booth and Perdue Farms.
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