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How Kraft is transforming the meaning of work in a digital enterprise

Kraft Foods' push to become a more virtual, digital enterprise is driven by savings on hard costs and a lot of marketing know-how.

With its bulging portfolio of iconic brands, Kraft Foods Inc. understands how to sell people something they didn't know they wanted. Recently the world's second-largest food company, based in Northfield, Ill., brought its advertising prowess to bear on a demographic close to home -- its 125,000 employees. In its effort to operate as a digital enterprise, the company wanted its people to be more collaborative, social, flexible, networked, mobile and, yes, productive. It also wanted to help pay for this new way of working in savings on real estate and other hard costs.

"The business value statement was to transform the way Kraft Foods works by increasing the speed of innovation and reducing costs," Roberta Cadieux told an audience of IT leaders at the recent Forrester Content & Collaboration Forum in Boston.

So, channeling Kraft Foods' marketing know-how, the company gave the effort a name and a tag line. "Digital Life is the name of the program," said Cadieux, director for information systems service delivery. Transforming the way Kraft Foods works is the slogan. The logo is a yellow umbrella; underneath it are a dozen tech-enabled "game-changing capabilities" available to Kraft employees, from virtual desktops to softphones. "Hokey as it is," she said (referring to the yellow umbrella), the branding showed employees the breadth of projects IT was spearheading to help change the way they worked.

Under the Digital Life program, work would be redefined as what people did each day, not where they went to earn a living. Office space would shrink. Desks would go away. Travel would be reduced. From global telepresence to virtual desktop applications, enhanced search, softphones and a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) capability, IT would implement the technology that enabled employees to work anytime, anywhere, from any device -- and, it was hoped, with a lot more of their colleagues than they had before. "Kraft's culture was siloed and functionally driven," Cadieux said. "This was no longer about user computing but about the work experience -- how people felt about their work and how IT can improve that."

'IQ bars,' technology showcases needed in Kraft's digital enterprise

What the company -- and Cadieux-- soon discovered, however, was that Kraft was not going to be transformed into an innovative digital enterprise spontaneously or by edict from IT. "Knowledge workers were overwhelmed by the expectations of them -- to connect to customers, colleagues, to boost productivity," she said.

This was no longer about user computing but about the work experience ... and how IT can improve that.

Roberta Cadieux, director for information systems service delivery, Kraft

The IT department had its problems as well. For many Kraft employees, IT was simply "the help desk," Cadieux said. Or worse, the department was seen as an impediment to getting work done. It certainly wasn't the group that would transform how they felt about work. "We heard from users that they had no personal connection with IT," she said. Plus, it was difficult to see how all this change was actually going to happen. IT's rolling out telepresence, for example, or giving employees the green light to migrate to Windows 7 seemed more like "random acts of kindness" than an action plan for transformation, she added. "Having tools is one thing; getting employees to take advantage of them is another."

The Digital Life program's technology supports three aspects of the digital enterprise: Mobility, collaboration and personal effectiveness. A video was developed to show how employees from various divisions can use these capabilities."We wanted to get stakeholders to start thinking about what is possible," Cadieux said. So that employees could put a face to IT, her team set up "IQ bars," freestanding centers surrounded by marketing materials where people can stop by and ask questions about their iPhones or iPads or about any other tech issue. "We created this connection with our clients that we did not have before," she said.

In response to employee complaints that "IT forced technology" on them, the department launched so-called technology showcases, similar to trade show booths, where people could try out new stuff. "Technology investors" within IT, and now on business teams as well, help groups tailor the tools to their needs.

Key to business transformation: A progressive CIO who asks, 'Why not?'

The marketing efforts to promote the digital enterprise worked both ways. Employee feedback helped IT "start bucketing activities" and "determine how to bring out the right tools at the right time to the right employees," Cadieux said. The sales group moved fast, not surprisingly, and so did research and development. The marketing people jumped on BYOD, which they were doing already. "We took them out of hiding, and gave them money to buy their own device," she said.

Her CIO's "why not" approach was key in helping IT get to the root cause of old rules and determine if and how and for whom they could be changed, Cadieux added. "We were also not bashful about taking advantages of our partnerships. We worked with Forrester, Cisco, Microsoft, Citrix and anyone who has done this before to learn from them," she said.

Determining how to set up the architecture and move forward with the technology is important, but in the end a transformation on this scale is not about the tools but the people, Cadieux's team discovered. IT groups should expect to find "people who want to go first and those who never want to go," she said.

Show me the business transformation

Not many organizations have the marketing smarts of a Kraft to push this kind of transformation -- or the IT bench of a Cisco, another company showcased at the Forrester forum, for aggressively adopting the content and collaboration tools of the digital enterprise. Nevertheless, the majority of organizations will evolve to anytime, anywhere work, said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Rob Koplowitz. The underpinnings are already here, he said. According to Forrester's recent survey of 4,985 information workers in North America and the European Union, 66% already work remotely, and half of them are "hypermobile."

"This whole new world of work can be more than a little scary," Koplowitz said, but most organizations won't have a choice about adapting to it: "At the end of the day, if somebody is finding efficiencies by using these tools, and you are not, will you be able to survive?"

Cadieux agrees. None of the branding would have mattered if Kraft, which recently announced it plans to split its North American grocery and global snacks business into two separate companies, had not seen the business value in becoming a more virtual, digital enterprise, she said.

Baked into Digital Life was an ambitious plan to reduce the company's real estate footprint and other operating costs by redesigning offices as open and virtual workspaces. The program targeted a 25% to 50% reduction in real estate, a 40% reduction in printing and as much as a 20% reduction in travel at sites with telepresence technology. "The brick-and-mortar changes provided the hard-core benefits. By having hard-core savings, we could start the conversation about soft benefits. Prior to that, we heard, 'It's great that people can be more productive, but we are not going to invest,'" Cadieux said. Well, all that has changed.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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