How Monsanto CIO talks about digital transformation

How Monsanto CIO talks about digital transformation

Articulating digital strategy is tough: Monsanto CIO James Swanson starts with customer centricity

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May 29, 2018

Digital is a loaded word that means many things to many people. When we discuss something like digital or digital transformation at Monsanto, we unpack what it means.

We talk in terms of customer centricity, and we think about products and services. We talk about automating operations, about people, and about new business models. Wrapped inside those topics are data analytics, technologies, and software – all of which are enablers, not drivers.

In the center of it all is leadership and culture. You could have all those things – the customer view, the products and services, data, and really cool technologies – but if leadership and culture aren’t at the heart, it fails. Understanding what digital means to your company – whether you’re a financial, agricultural, pharmaceutical, or retail institution – is essential.

[ See our related story, Digital transformation: 5 lessons on finding the right business model. ]

Show the team the possibilities

Beyond unpacking the term, you need to engage your employee base in the journey and show them the transformation possibilities in a way that resonates with them.

Maybe that means demonstrating to sales and operations that you can distribute supplies at a more sustainable pace with higher quality, or that you can increase a net promoter score that enhances their value because you’re reducing customer churn and identifying the right customers that will grow the product.

Monsanto, for example, has reduced its carbon footprint by 350 metric tons by eliminating 1.4 million miles of traffic. Thanks to the data we collect, we have better insights into the precise location of our products in transit across the world, enabling us to optimize routes and reduce potential seed loss. This has saved the company millions in cost and has improved customer satisfaction. That’s transformation, and that’s the stuff that matters.

Digital showcases make projects real

To drive home this point and to make digital transformation more real to employees, we hold digital showcases where people can walk through a room and see a panel of digital opportunities that we created – models, software, processes. Business people, not people from IT, talk to employees about it. This demystifies the term, makes it real, and helps to sell these efforts internally.

I truly believe that IT needs to play a critical role in helping to shape and drive the agenda of a digital transformation. Transformation needs to be a partnership; that partnership is what makes all the difference.

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Jim Swanson is Senior Vice President/CIO and Head of Digital Transformation at Bayer Crop Science. Previously, Swanson served as Chief Information Officer at Monsanto, where he led 1,200-plus employees in the company’s IT function.  Jim was responsible for leveraging the company’s information technology to deliver long-term strategic vision for IT to transform Monsanto into an information-based organization and adding value to the company’s business.

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