Fonterra CIO Chris Barendregt says a big development for him and his team at the dairy giant is “the continuing maturity of IT”.”We are moving past the point where people in Fonterra largely don’t care about technology anymore. The sidetracking debates are gone,” says Barendregt, who moved to Fonterra nearly five years ago following executive roles in banking and IT services outsourcing. To illustrate this, he relates how years ago, a vendor gave him a box of joke cards. The cards were personalised and carried messages like, ‘Chris my phone doesn’t work’ and ‘Chris, my laptop doesn’t work.’ “You don’t get a lot of stuff like that now,” says Barendregt. These days, he says, “The conversation is more about, ‘If I invest more in IT, what greater business value am I getting especially on things like supply chain?’ “
This perspective is clearly demonstrated in the key projects for the IT team at Fonterra. A major focus for him and his team is enterprise architecture and governance. “Our biggest challenge is to not try to do too much,” says Barendregt. “There are a lot of people wanting to do a lot of things. Our challenge is to pick the right things and focus on them and do them well.”Fonterra, with nearly 16,000 screens, ranks third in the MIS100 list of top IT using organisations in New Zealand. “Being such big organisation, a lot of people can start projects,” he says. “In the past, we tried to accommodate and respond to everybody’s desires, and running a lot of projects,” says Barendregt. “At any point we will be running over 50 active projects.””We need to make sure there is a clearly understood hierarchy” for these projects, he states, and the orientation is towards making them more successful.
Transform and innovate
From the IT point of view, the key challenge for Fonterra in the next 12 months is supply chain optimisation.Barendregt says the organisation is in the “biggest transformation programme” where IT plays a big role — implementing a new SAP based system encompassing local and offshore operations.The deal was signed in 2010. “We never really slowed down during the GFC,” says Barendregt. The project includes the integration of the business units across Australia and New Zealand. “We are taking those four operating companies with four different systems and turn them into one business.”The “people side” or talent management is also a big focus. This year, apart from recruiting graduates, the IT department has started an internship programme for university students, mainly from business schools. “We look at talent from a global perspective, we look at people from our operations around the world and how we can move those around to give them experience working in the corporate sector (New Zealand) as well as out in the operating companies.”
Barendregt says Fonterra is implementing an upgrade of SharePoint to be used for corporate social networking. At the moment, some 4000 people are using the free version of Yammer, which was installed as a pilot. “It is a tool we can use and learn from, but over time we will move to SharePoint.”Barendregt says Fonterra is part of a pilot for Microsoft Lync which will also be deployed globally in the New Year. He says videoconferencing is a big focus for CEO Theo Spierings, who joined Fonterra in September. “He wants to hold leadership meetings without anyone flying in,” and the technology will allow them do to this, says Barendregt.The communications upgrade has a positive flow on to the health and safety of the IT team. The team is primarily based in Auckland and Hamilton so the number of people driving between these two cities everyday is large. “When we look at our office environment, our single biggest risk is travel. So part of what we are looking to do is using technology to stop that risk, by reducing people from driving all the time,” says Barendregt.
Barendregt finds it useful for him and his staff to have regular meetings — both formally and informally — with ICT colleagues. He and a group of CIOs from other sectors have set up an “interaction forum” where they talk about their programmes, such as a restructuring or working on a major supplier contract.He also draws from his experience in previous roles in other sectors. His six years at EDS (now part of HP), for instance, have given him a better understanding of how to work better with ICT providers. “A confrontational relationship, in my view, does not necessarily work with outsource providers,” he says. When issues arise, he says, “You just keep on working with them to resolve issues. If you try to push them too hard, it does not always have the same effect. You really have to come up with a constructive working relationship to get a good outcome.”