At VMworld 2016, we spoke with customers about how they are supporting digital business transformation (view our video interview below). Senior IT leaders, all describe a challenging but exciting multi-year journey, and all agree that technology is ever-more critical to business innovation, agility, and resilience. And they are embracing a customer-first approach. For end customers and employees alike, they want to make life and work easier, more convenient, more productive, and more fruitful.
Throughout the history of IT, only one thing has remained constant: change. For Steve Phillips, CIO at Avnet, the ever-evolving technology landscape represents an exciting opportunity. It offers the potential to help Phillips and his IT organization scale in new ways, forge better relationships with the business, and encourage employees to grow and develop over their careers.
Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Avnet is a well-known global distributor of electronic components, computer products, and embedded technology. However, the company is changing its business. “Historically, Avnet has sold a lot of IT products into the data center,” Phillips says. “CIOs today are still buying a lot of products, but they’re also buying a lot of services, such as software as a service and platform as a service. One of the things we’re looking at is how to distribute those types of services as well as our hardware products.”
Scaling Through Cloud and Mobility
Cloud plays a large role in transforming Avnet’s business model. “We are looking at the cloud and all the new technology changes that are becoming mainstream,” Phillips says. “We’re looking at how they’re changing our business model, in terms of the things that we go to market with as well as the way we operate.”
The Avnet Cloud Marketplace reflects this new business focus for Avnet. Customers can access cloud services from dozens of partners, handle their own provisioning, receive consolidated billing, and manage their cloud services through a single portal.
Because Avnet operates globally and brings in more than US$26 billion in revenue each year, automation within its own hybrid cloud makes it possible to efficiently provision cloud services. “We work at a scale where it was impractical to do that on a manual basis,” Phillips says. “Automation is important to us.” His team has taken its experience in automating business processes and scaling systems and transaction volumes and applied that expertise to the cloud.
Mobility has also become increasingly important in recent years. “In the past, mobile access was almost an afterthought,” Phillips says. “We always developed new systems for a browser. Today, it’s the opposite—now we take a mobile-first approach where we’re thinking about mobile apps and responsive design.”
Collaborating Across the Company
The trends influencing IT at Avnet aren’t all technical, either. “When you’re doing groundbreaking work, the path isn’t always clear,” Phillips says. “It’s up to IT to partner with our business colleagues. The process is iterative in nature, which is exciting.”
As the pace of change has accelerated, agile development methodologies and techniques have been critical in enabling Avnet’s engineering teams to keep pace. In the past, the company released new solutions every three to six months. Today, they land new releases every three weeks. “The quality is good, we’re delivering faster, it’s meeting business needs, and it’s exciting as well for the software developers,” Phillips says. “I’m thrilled with the results.”
Phillips and his IT organization are exploring ways to ensure the company’s teams can continue to cope with increased business velocity in a sustainable way. In addition to tools and methodology, he considers how to resource correctly, how to train employees effectively, and how to make sure the team feels supported and is engaged in its mission. “We think a lot about how to attract and retain the right talent,” he says. “It’s not just about compensation. It’s about giving folks interesting opportunities and interesting projects, and empowering them to work in a supportive and collaborative environment—in addition to paying market rate.”
This collaborative environment extends beyond the boundaries of the IT department to encourage strong relationships between IT and line-of-business leaders. “Every member of my senior IT team sits on the leadership team of one of our business units,” Phillips says. “This arrangement means that at the leadership level, representatives from IT are part of business discussions as well as technical ones.”
The People Factor
The cross-pollination between business and IT has yielded some unexpected—and impressive—results. “At one point, we acquired a European technology distribution company that had an online training business,” Phillips says. “When we were carrying out due diligence, my IT leader noticed that they had a small online training business. They had some innovative use of the cloud and technology that allowed them to spin up capacity and take it down again when it wasn’t needed. As we went through due diligence, we actually got quite excited about the business opportunity.”
Today, that acquisition has become a significant global business unit, not just a regional one. “It’s delivering value for Avnet every day,” Phillips says. “I’m just so thrilled we had that IT lead with a sense of business savvy who saw a very important opportunity, and we provided an environment in which it could blossom.”
Thanks to experiences like this one, Phillips believes that people, not technology, make all the difference in a business. “I think too many business and IT leaders get caught up in the speeds and feeds,” he says. “But if you’ve got people energized, they can do wonderful things for you.”