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Business and IT alignment gets physical at Avnet

As CIO at Avnet, a global technology distributor, Steve Phillips has a front-row seat to the dramatic impact of digital technologies on traditional business processes.

At the recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass., Phillips spoke with SearchCompliance senior site editor Ben Cole about how Avnet and its customers are adapting IT processes to meet the demands of a digital marketplace. Hint: It includes a lot of cloud.

But technology is only one facet of thriving in the digital economy. As the rate of technological innovation continues to accelerate, Phillips said business and IT alignment has become more important than ever at Avnet.

The theme of this year's MIT conference is thriving in the digital economy. Can you talk about a key technology investment you've made in the past year that's helping your company thrive -- and not just survive -- in the digital economy?

Steve Phillips: There are a lot of innovations going on in the digital economy right now. One of our businesses at Avnet is called Technology Solutions and there we distribute enterprise IT products to our customers. There's a big shift happening in enterprise IT, as I'm sure everybody's aware. We're moving from on-premises solutions to cloud solutions.

We want people to know that if their information is in one of our data warehouses, it's safe, it's secure, and it's looked after correctly.
Steve PhillipsCIO, Avnet

At Avnet, we've tuned our systems over many years to sell products and product-based solutions, and we're making the transition now to sell cloud-based solutions. We're looking harder at our IT systems, how we innovate and change them to sell cloud-type solutions. About three months ago we launched something called the Avnet Cloud Marketplace, and it's a way for our customers to go into our website, so the cloud marketplace, and be able to provision for all of their cloud services. You can think of it as one-stop shopping. We're very proud of this platform. It needs a lot of development yet, but it's live. We're processing our customer orders through it, and it gives quite some value to our customers, such as aggregated billing and fully automated provisioning across many different service providers.

Can you tell me how big data is affecting your security processes?

Phillips: Security is a hot topic, of course. We read about it every day, and typically we read about the breaches that happen. We don't always read about the good work that's going on behind the scenes in many companies to help protect their information assets. At Avnet, like many other companies, it's a top issue for our board, for our employees as well as for our partners.

Actually, just a few months ago we appointed our first chief information security officer. [He's] a long-serving Avnet employee who's also had responsibility for IT security, but we decided that we really wanted to raise the profile within the organization as well as with our partners. He's now a direct report to myself as the CIO. We wanted to give him greater influence within our organization, and really some measure to all of our stakeholders of how importantly we take information security.

From a data warehousing perspective … when people think about information security typically the attention has been on transaction systems. At Avnet, we extend all of those controls and monitors into our data warehousing because we want people to know that if their information is in one of our data warehouses, it's safe, it's secure, and it's looked after correctly.

Business and IT alignment isn't a new goal, but there's no question that the digital economy is redefining the relationship between IT and business. Have you experienced any bottlenecks in bringing the business and IT together, and do you have any specific examples of how you tried to reach that business and IT alignment?

Phillips: We take business and IT alignment very seriously at Avnet. For example, my senior IT leaders are part of the lines of business unit teams, and they sit in those executive teams. Their variable compensation is tied to business performance and not just IT performance. We take that very seriously. What we find is happening in business, in general, is just the rate of innovation, the rate of change is accelerating. So at Avnet, we're introducing agile methodologies to help move faster and be more nimble.

What we're finding is key to that increased rate of innovation is really that we need colocation, so we're colocating our IT teams with our business teams. It helps to really bring the groups together and follow a term that we have in IT, which we call 'place business at the center of IT.'

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