Whirlpool CIO moves 69,000 global employees to Google Apps

Mary K. Pratt

Can you summarize your objective as CIO at Whirlpool? It's driving business value through our IT investments. Every dollar you spend on IT is an internal investment in your business and ensuring that those drive value in the business is crucial.

What's at the top of your agenda? The Winning Workplace really matters to us. It will touch every employee. It's email, calendar, chat -- all these capabilities that allow us to work more effectively anywhere at any time and be more mobile. It creates a better work environment. We're just beginning the cutover to that platform. It's not just getting the tools implemented, but transforming the way work gets done.

There's also tremendous opportunity for us in the connected space. Sensors are getting to be so low-cost that you're finding them in everything, and we will be able to put sensors into our products so we could predict the need for maintenance, monitor fluctuations in temperatures, [enable people to] download recipes to a stove. There's a whole set of things that let us create a better experience for our customers. And the connectivity and network effect to that will be the next big thing in appliances.

What's the biggest challenge with the Winning Workplace project? I think optimizing, leveraging the Google platform will be the greatest challenge. How do we take how work gets done to the next level? We're trying to think about those possibilities. Envision this: Superimposing sales onto a Google map and looking at trade partners, looking at sales in communities and the size of the sales bubble increasing over time, and then drilling down into that on a real-time basis. [That's] a different way of doing business. That can happen on a mobile device. You can bring out a chat or hangout to talk about that. It's immersive, and it's driving a different level of opportunity in how you react or plan. Contrast that to a report that comes out on the Monday after Black Friday on an Excel spreadsheet.

How do you drive innovation within your own IT operation? You have to paint a vision for what's possible and then you have to be that possibility. That means when you show up, [you have to ask] how do people experience you and what are they left with. I know that gets a little philosophical, but I believe in our products, and the contributions we can make to those products. One of the best things you can do is tell stories that resonate.

So you paint the right vision and create an environment where they feel they can win. Nothing happens without the people, and if you can't drive their passion and enthusiasm in a way that's linked to the purpose of the firm, you're just not going to get great output. I think we've been successful at doing that. Our chairman gives out something called W awards, and at the end of 2013 our IT department won a W award for highest employee engagement scores in the company. That takes the whole team believing.

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