Hunter Douglas is a global manufacturer of window coverings and architectural products. The company operates in more than 100 countries. The company has a reputation for developing innovative, high quality, proprietary products that can be found in millions of homes and commercial buildings. The company operates as a highly decentralized, global federation of small and medium-sized companies that manufacture and market similar products.
Rob Meilen has been North American CIO for more than four years. In this interview, he speaks with CIO Insight contributor Peter High about his strategic priorities, the decentralized nature of IT, his pursuit of mobile apps, his team’s path to innovation, and a variety of other topics.
CIO Insight: Please describe some of your strategic priorities for the foreseeable future.
Rob Meilen: Hunter Douglas North America is focused on maintaining our innovative product leadership, enhancing the experience of our customers, operating more efficiently. We are part of a recently created, executive IT steering committee to guide our project portfolio to match business and IT priorities. Our IT priorities include business process re-engineering and ERP optimization, customer-facing applications, improving master data management and partnering with product development teams on next generation window coverings.
CIO Insight: Your company is based in the Netherlands. How do you interface with the global IT team?
Meilen: Our company operates in a decentralized, federated model. I lead the HD North American IT organization. There are IT teams in other regions: Europe, Latin America, Asia and Austria. These teams operate largely independently and will periodically consult with each other. We do not have a global CIO or IT organization.
There is a periodic exchange of ideas among the CEOs and CFOs of each global region (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia). These exchanges generally focus on product and supply chain topics. When the group sees technology opportunities, they will spur discussion between regional IT teams.
CIO Insight: Your team gets involved in mobile apps and the web, and therefore, you have reason to think about user experience and customer facing technology. What perceptions do you have about the changing demands of customers? What do they expect now when they interact with digital channels like the ones you provide?
Meilen: As we think about customers, we think about two primary groups: our dealers and the homeowners that buy our products from dealers. Simply put, we see mobile and web applications as ways to enhance the customer experience for both groups. We are using these technologies to make it easier for our dealers to do business with us and easier for them to grow their businesses. We continue to improve our motorized window coverings products – incorporating smart home automation features. Mobile and web applications are making these products simpler and more satisfying for homeowners.
CIO Insight: You have pushed your team to think beyond systems uptime and projects delivered on time and on budget as success metrics for IT. How do you and your team measure success?
Meilen: We look at IT success in two categories: day-to-day operations (sometimes called Keep the Lights On) and business improvement initiatives. For KTLO, we measure efficiency to determine success – are we spending less capital, operating funds and IT labor each year to maintain KTLO performance? For business improvement initiatives, we review quantitative results by comparing project performance against planned benefits. We also stay close to our business partners / project sponsors to understand their assessments of project results.
CIO Insight: You also view IT as a source of innovation on behalf of the enterprise. Is innovation the full-time job of a few people, or is it a part-time job of the majority, or is it a hybrid in your setting?
Meilen: In the past this has been a part time job of many people in IT. We were organized into small, decentralized teams and each team spent a bit of their time looking for innovations to help their business partners. As we have consolidated IT teams, we have built some shared services. Some services are focused on KTLO operations and some are more focused on business growth. Part of the motivation for this shift is to focus the operational teams on stability and efficiency. This focus often works well with highly planned, methodical approaches to work. For teams focused on business growth, we are emphasizing faster, more innovative methods. To borrow a phrase from Mark Zuckerberg – these teams are working more often with a “done is better than perfect” approach to get to business benefits more quickly and then iterate improvements.
CIO Insight: What technology trends particularly excite you as you look to the future, and why?
Meilen: As a company, we are excited about the trends in home automation and smart home technologies. Building on our history of market-leading window covering products, we see these technologies as growth areas for our dealers and for our company. Work on these technologies will be enhanced by partnerships between our product development & engineering teams and our IT teams. We see this improving our products, the apps that animate our products and the use of the data from these products for quality improvement.
Peter High is President of Metis Strategy, a business and IT advisory firm. His latest book, Implementing World Class IT Strategy, has just been released by Wiley Press/Jossey-Bass. He is also the author of World Class IT: Why Businesses Succeed When IT Triumphs. Peter moderates the Forum on World Class IT podcast series. Follow him on Twitter @WorldClassIT.