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CIO100 2017 #14: Gerben Otter, Fonterra

  • Name Gerben Otter
  • Title Chief information officer
  • Company Fonterra
  • Commenced Role March 2016
  • Reporting Line CFO
  • Technology Function 320 IT staff in New Zealand and 140 IT staff overseas
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    Being CIO of a global organisation, based in New Zealand, provides Gerben Otter with a raft of opportunities to work on disruptive technologies and innovation programmes.

    Otter joined Fonterra a year ago, coming from the Dutch dairy co­operative Royal FrieslandCampina, where he was programme director, business transformation and before that, its CIO.

    Fonterra has an ambitious IS Strategy which is referred to as the ‘Direction of Travel’. The strategy focuses on investing in digital technologies, globalising processes and systems using cloud technology and consolidating Fonterra’s ERP platform.

    Fonterra also has a strong focus on innovation and disruptive technologies. They have identified and used artificial intelligence, using machine learning, for their marketing process. As well, they are trialling the use of connected devices or Internet of Things for their farms and manufacturing environments. Blockchain technology is being planned in the area of food provenance.

    Over the past the past year, he and his team worked on the multi-phase Traceability Programme.

    “We have combined manufacturing technology, cloud authentication software and consumer web interfaces to provide consumers with an authentication solution for infant products,” he says.

    The first QR coded product will be made available this year.

    “Each can or carton is lasered with a unique QR code during manufacture, which consumers can scan using a standard QR reader app on their smart phone. This takes them to a tailored web page where they can check that the product is authentic and get up to date status information about the product. They can also get information about where the product was manufactured and where the milk was sourced from,” says Otter.

    This project required the IS to work with manufacturing, digital and brand marketing teams to develop a truly cross-business solution to build trust with the customers, he explains.

    The 10 per cent initiative

    In parallel with this is the goal to work more closely with local startups and the academe. Otter says the IS department has launched a 10 per cent initiative - where the same amount of the employees’ time will be used to work on innovative projects.

    Across Fonterra, “our innovation agenda is led by our Disrupt Team,” says Otter. “This team runs internal hackathons and competitions to produce new disruptive business models. Global IS works closely with this team, ensuring that prototypes can be industrialised with the least amount of friction and cost.”

    The Fonterra team at the NIZO Protein Dairy Conference in Singapore<br />
    The Fonterra team at the NIZO Protein Dairy Conference in Singapore

    Evolving the Culture and Methodology of IT

    Otter says it was important to transform the culture and operating model of IS from a pure waterfall model, focused on predictability and risk reduction to a more agile, customer focused culture and methodology.

    “We established dedicated teams to focus on a problem area using Agile and a customer first culture. These ‘tiger teams’ have delivered value quicker and are more cost effective than the more traditional waterfall methodology” says Otter, “we believe Agile will be the primary delivery methodology in the years to come.”

    Fonterra has recently adjusted its IT operating model to ensure there is a strong customer focus, with end-to-end accountability and a continuous improvement culture.

    The six-month bucket timeframe

    Otter says the team has defined its direction of travel for the next two to three years.

    The focus is on delivering business outcomes in ‘six-month bucket’ timeframes. This strategy has been endorsed by the Fonterra Leadership Team, with IS providing quarterly updates on the programmes.

    The IS team also hold one-on-one meetings with each member of the leadership team in order to get feedback and acknowledge changes in priorities. They also run business engagement forums with the business directors to review the portfolio of the IS business unit, and assess priorities and progress. Otter and his team regularly visit Fonterra operations overseas and locally to get direct inputs from the different business units.

    Otter says engaging with the business units enables IS to play the role of advisor in influencing the way to move the business forward. It is an ongoing collaboration that needs to be improved as prioritisation of projects often change.

    Otter discusses the nuances of working in and leading in a very diverse environment.

    Diversity, within Global IS, exists firstly through our presence across multiple foreign locations, and through the implementation of several international projects, he says.

    “In addition, we are recruiting international capabilities within our NZ team. We also have a graduate program with six-month rotations across four different IS functions.”

    Otter says the team actively recruits females for managerial roles like project management, but says gender diversity is still unbalanced for technical positions.

    Softer skills are also being developed through the global programme across Fonterra focusing on fundamental skills like prioritisation and courageous conversation, starting with managerial roles within IS.

    Divina Paredes

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