Corporations Must Gain Speed and Agility, Emphasizes P&G CIO

Filippo Passerini, CIO of Procter & Gamble, speaks during The CIO Forum, September 6, 2013. Photograph by Aya Yoshida.

Filippo Passerini, Group President of Global Business Services and CIO of Procter & Gamble, addressed an audience of 100 C-level executives, Columbia faculty, students, and guests during an invite-only CIO Forum breakfast, held at the Columbia Club on September 6 by the Executive Master of Science in Technology Management program and hosted by Arthur Langer, the program’s Academic Director.

During the nearly hour-and-a-half address, interspersed with a PowerPoint presentation and audience Q&A, Passerini, who oversees more than 6,000 P&G employees, focused on how corporations can stay relevant in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.

“Volatility is about vision. Complexity is about bringing clarity. Understanding is a way to manage uncertainty better. And the only way to manage ambiguity is to stay flexible,” he explained.

Passerini added that “agility and the ability to respond fast and to stay flexible are becoming more and more critical,” and noted that the recent drastic increase in the speed of innovation-to-market has left many previously great companies in the dust.

To “force the pace of change in the organization,” Passerini said, P&G eschews the “silos” of traditional organizational charts (which he said are “becoming obsolete pretty fast”) to focus on a model that can flex to external conditions and change every 18 to 24 months.

As Passerini’s organizational model has changed, his desired employee skill-set has shifted dramatically. “It’s less about technology people with knowledge of business. It is much more now businesspeople with a passion for technology. It’s the other way around completely.” He added, “It’s not about what function you work in; it’s what experience you bring to the business.”

P&G focuses less on the technology itself and more specifically on what Passerini described as “delivering business results through technology-enabled solutions.”

One of these solutions is an informational visualization that provides every P&G employee with access to raw sales figures and related data as it becomes available, from as high level as an entire country and as granular as how a particular product is performing in one store. There’s no massaging of figures or “repositioning” of bad news, Passerini pointed out, and if something isn’t meeting expectations, it’s flagged. Everyone shares the same information and is able to make decisions faster, effectively responding to business fluctuations in real time.

Another technology-enabled solution is P&G’s “virtual walls.” Consumers in focus groups or retail representatives can walk into a room and experience new products virtually, in the context of a store or a shelving unit. This removes the typical five-to-six-week delay to physically develop a label or packaging mockup and allows changes to be made to attributes such as color, shape, dimensions, or typography on the fly, digitally. With this method, said Passerini, “The insights we get from consumers are considerably deeper and better.”

Following the talk, nearly half of the attendees remained to speak with Passerini or to network with one another.