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The Value Of Peer-To-Peer Learning

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Donagh Herlihy | CIO | Avon

When I was the CIO at Wrigley in Chicago, we had a major SAP implementation. The consulting partner at Deloitte had lunch with me one day, and we started talking—I was asking him who was doing similar work. He mentioned to me that the team up at SC Johnson, a company north of Chicago in Wisconsin, was doing similar work. I asked whether he could broker an introduction. My intent was to find other people who had similar issues and just learn from my peers. What started with a lunch between myself and the CIO of SC Johnson actually extended ultimately to a grouping forum, which we called the Midwest Alliance. It was a group of companies with similar IT strategies and similar business strategies, but non-competitive. SC Johnson, Wrigley, General Mills and Kimberly-Clark were the four companies. We stopped at four because we felt it was important that the group didn't get too broad. What we did was, twice a year we would dedicate ourselves to meet for a full day. We’d have dinner in the evening and then spend a full day together—the CIOs, their direct reports, and some extended members of the teams. We'd craft our agenda around three or four hot topics for each meeting. The topics could vary from SAP, implementing a specific piece of SAP functionality, to something broader, like how we are going to deal with Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, or how to deal with the emergence of consumer technologies, information technologies. Whatever it may be, they were the things that we all felt were important. We all felt a little exposed, and we'd like to learn from each other. That was a good example for me in terms of bringing my team and helping them meet peers. Rather than just going to conferences and hearing from experts, but feeling a little bit disconnected from the concepts and the ideas, they formed strong peer networks. The head of infrastructure for each company and three or four other people had a very good personal relationship with [them]. In between meetings, information sharing and best practice sharing happened at a peer-to-peer level.

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