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Present A Business Solution Not A Technology Solution

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Donagh Herlihy | CIO | Avon

I was the European IT manager for a division of Gillette. At that time Gillette's business was run by product line. The division I was in was called the stationary products group. It was quickly apparent that we were suffering because we were a unit that had been built up by acquisitions. You know Paper Mate had been the original Gillette writing instruments group, and then they bought Waterman, a French company, and then Parker, which had been headquartered in the U.K. We had come together, and in most countries there was a legacy of three competing organizations. From an IT point of view, there were three infrastructures. Working with a small team—and I had a very small team—we worked with a partner called Oracle. We decided we would create a European-wide data warehouse and business intelligence tool. Whether it was finance, whether it was sales, whether it was senior executives, whether it was a sales manager in the field, everybody would be drawing on the same data warehouse. Data warehousing technology was still at the newer end of its maturity at that point. We went through an extensive analysis. What did we need to have in the data warehouse in terms of information? How would we present it? How could people analyze it and come up with a very elegant technical solution? Then it was time to submit the capital request for spending to our global headquarters in Boston. With all the support of the European management team behind me, I foresaw no issues until I got a call to get on a plane and go to Boston and explain myself. I was kind of puzzled. I went to Boston to meet the CFO and the CIO of Gillette, thinking this is a nice opportunity for this midlevel manager to show this great initiative and get their support. What I found was a fairly hostile reception in terms of people in Boston, not understanding our business issue that we were trying to resolve, and also then not supporting our approach because they felt it was a siloed approach solving a business issue for one division at the expense of the overall corporation. I took a couple of things away from that experience. I shouldn't have needed the lesson at that stage in my career, but it was it was definitely a reminder. First of all, don't ever try and present a technology solution to a business problem unless people understand the business problem. We were there talking technology solutions and technology elegance instead of problem solution from a business perspective. That was one key takeaway. The other takeaway was I just misunderstood the stakeholders. I thought that if I satisfied the needs of my business unit and I could meet the needs of my immediate customers, then I had done my job. What I failed to recognize was that there was a broader ecosystem in our organization that had a stake in the decision and the approach. The nice ending to the story is that ultimately our approach was given the go-ahead and was seen as a pilot of a broader approach within in Gillette. Once we had proven to be successful within our division in Europe, the approach to that solution was expanded out across the Gillette Company. But it took a couple of bumps along the way in terms of understanding stakeholders and articulating issues and business problems, in business solution terms.

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