Digital acceleration at Stanley Black & Decker places data at the center

CIO Rhonda Gass explains how a cloud data platform, technology business management framework, and agile architecture are keys to the $14B global company’s digital transformation.

Rhonda Gass, CIO, Stanley Black & Decker
Stanley Black & Decker

For Stanley Black & Decker, digital technologies are transforming every aspect of the company, from internal operations to customer experience to the products and services themselves. Recently, I spoke with Rhonda Gass, CIO, about her approach to strategy, architecture, and change management as well how her CIO role is evolving now and into the future.

What follows is an edited version of our interview.

Martha Heller: How is Stanley Black & Decker currently deploying digital technologies?

Rhonda Gass: We are using digital technology in all areas of the company, but we call out three focuses: business technology (BT), which is traditional IT; operations technology (OT), global connectivity and automation on our manufacturing and distribution floors; and commercial technology (CT), the digital products and services we provide for our customers. We use these three terms not to divide our efforts, but to align them. While each area uses digital technology in different ways, the technologies themselves are similar, and these technologies are the core of our business.

How are digital technologies transforming your business?

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We’ve identified four key digital acceleration areas. First is e-commerce, because increasingly, our customers want to explore, investigate, and purchase online. Second is the resurgence of the do-it-yourself and outdoor products space. Since the onset of the pandemic, people have been looking for digital innovation in the products they bring into their homes. Third is our security business, particularly around health and safety solutions including touchless automatic doors and contact tracing. And fourth is Industry 4.0, where we are deploying digital expertise in manufacturing solutions for connected machines. Automated manufacturing and distribution centers are becoming little data centers, so we’ve architected an edge computing platform that segregates the network and puts cyber protections in place.

What is the architecture you’ve built to support this digital innovation?

Our North Star architecture has a data platform at the center, so all our constituencies will have seamless access to real-time data at the point of impact. Our vision is to use “as-a-service” solutions to allow our business community to configure data that suits their moment-to-moment needs. As an example, we want our supply chain operations organization to be able to perform their own analytics and reporting on demand. By securely accessing our data platform and having all of the information they need at their fingertips, they won’t need to wait for IT to produce reports. With self-service, IT can enable rapid innovation while reducing our own repetitive data delivery activities.

What is your advice for CIOs who would like to develop an enterprise data platform that enables self-service?

Focus less on the fancy tools that ride on top of the data platform and focus more on the foundation; let your user community experiment with those. Start at the core. If you own your own data center, get out of it. Leverage cloud providers and put in software-defined WAN so you can take advantage of internet-based solutions at scale. And I cannot say enough about application rationalization and ERP consolidation. Consolidation and modernization will accelerate the journey to a centralized data platform that is exposed, available, and reliable.

With your focus on innovation, platforms, and self-service, what are the competencies you now look for in your IT organization?

One key competency is accepting that leverage is important. Whether it’s leveraging partners, ecosystems, or new data sources, we’ve realized that we do not need to do everything in-house. We are also seeing real vigor around agile—not just the methodology and process—but in architecting for agile. In the e-commerce space, for example, we should be able to deliver new content to our web properties on an as-needed basis. To do that, we need to disaggregate customer engagement systems from our systems of record. I am seeing people embrace agile, not just in terms of processes and roles such as product owners and scrum masters, but in how we think about the technology landscape and architecting it for agile.

How are you leveraging connectivity platforms?

For data at the center to be successful, you have to give people access to it. That’s where the connectivity platform comes in, which also ties back to the agile discussion. With IT’s legacy project-oriented approach, we were motivated to deliver point-to-point integrations. With agile, we use microservices and standard APIs to create reusable components on a cloud-based integration platform. We are also not singularly focused on one cloud provider; we see value in having multiple cloud providers and our integration platform enables that.

With technology having such an impact across all of Stanley Black & Decker, how do you communicate your IT spend?

In the past, IT was a big black box of cost, with standard chart-of-account financial planning tools. But today, at Stanley Black & Decker, we’ve adopted Technology Business Management (TBM), a value management framework, as a way to move from a defensive stance of “justify your value every day” to an insight-driven position. With TBM, we provide analytics to give our business users a consumption and ROI-based mechanism to understand IT spend and make more informed decisions.  

When you dissect IT expenses with a standard framework, you can understand which levers will change your overall cost profile. This leads to a lot of A-ha! moments. You can demonstrate the surprisingly expensive cost to run some rarely used applications. That knowledge becomes a motivation to move that service somewhere else and decommission the application. When you have the right cost data, you can have really great value realization conversations between the business and IT.

Having built a platform-based, self-service environment with a framework that allows you to spend less time on cost-justification, how is your CIO role evolving?

As CIO, it is important to look across the entire company and drive digital risk management. This framework is relevant once you have data at the center and connectivity all around. For a while, we were leading strategies around the areas of BT, CT, and OT separately. Our product group led its commercial technology offerings; manufacturing teams were leading in OT; and IT was leading all of the business technology. Individual risks in a particular silo might seem minor, but as those risks stack up, it can lead to a major impact on our customers, employees, or brand. We recognized that the company needed an enterprise view of digital risk, so my team has taken on that leadership role.

What does your enterprise digital risk management role portend for the future of the CIO role?

I believe that in the very near future, the CIO role will be much more of a technology broker, integrator, and consultant to the organization. We’ll provide insight around how to drive value in all areas of technology innovation. Business leaders are very focused on the goals that are specific to their own function or business area and rightly so. But that can lead to one narrowed focus rather than a breadth of knowledge about what is happening across the rest of the company. The CIO and the IT organization are connecting the dots to ensure that the sum of the parts increases the value of the whole. More and more, that is the role the CIO will play.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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