Transformation with Global Vision

CIO Stephen Byers helped globalize operations for food ingredient supplier Tate & Lyle. The result is a more efficient company that adjusts quickly to market conditions.

Stephen Byer, Tate & Lyle

Being in operation for more than 150 years, Tate & Lyle has grown exponentially across the region as it supplies the global food and beverage industry with key ingredients. With this expansion, though, the regional units of the United Kingdom-based company developed and operated separately, as did their support services and IT systems.

But in 2009, the company developed a new guiding vision. It would transition to functioning as one integrated global company. The aim was to service customers who increasingly operated as integrated multinational companies themselves. Additionally, there were many opportunities for Tate & Lyle to roll out a best practice developed in one region to the entire company after transitioning to a more unified organizational structure.

Creating the organizational framework and systems to realize that global vision required a major, coordinated effort. At its peak, about 250 of the company’s four thousand employees worked on the project. The endeavor included representatives from all business units and geographic areas. It exemplified how business personnel and IT can work in harmony to achieve organizational transformation. And with IT systems as the key enabler, Stephen Byers, chief information officer at Tate & Lyle, was asked to spearhead the effort.

As a result, every business management process and function—including procurement, financial reporting, human resources, shipping, and billing—was analyzed. “We basically rewired the company,” Byers recalls. The overriding goal was to create common processes and data that would allow “extreme portability” of data sets. If data standards were harmonized globally, then there would be numerous opportunities to perform sophisticated analysis that would lead to insights to ensure the business was more efficient and better able to respond to market trends.

That project commenced in 2009, and the first step was to gather staff from various business functions from thirty regional sites to discuss best practices. Understandably, there were conversations regarding who had the best ways of performing certain tasks. To encourage consensus building, the company’s CEO Javed Ahmed made it clear that nothing would stand in the way of moving to a unified way of conducting business. To drive this point home, Ahmed participated in the planning exercises himself.

“You have to describe the business objectives so people understand the big picture and feel part of the larger goal. It’s not just teaching them how to push buttons.”

Stephen Byers

His commitment encouraged participants to talk about their differences and prepared the organization for the work ahead. “Everybody understood that there were going to be business process changes, and there would be increased workloads during the project,” Byers says.

During the three-week initial planning stage, IT staff—along with representatives from SAP and implementation consultants who were embedded in multiple work groups—focused on developing a plan for a systems framework. “It was vitally important to have SAP involved early,” Byers says. “They have seen hundreds of projects from different companies and had a good sense of what are best practices. With their feedback we could get to the most robust solutions.”

The company already had small SAP systems in three regions, but none of them were suitable to be the basis of a new global system. As a result, the strategy was to build a new one from scratch. Roughly sixty participants in the initial planning workshops got to work over a three-week period. The initial design wasn’t overly detailed, Byers says, but it laid the groundwork for features to emerge.

Developing functions to support transactional processes was a fairly straightforward process, he says. There was some regional variation in regulations and taxation to consider, but other matters took more effort. “The more challenging part was understanding the analytical side,” he says. Different business personnel want different ways of looking at data. Some may want to analyze trends by product, time, region, or by other means.

It wasn’t realistic to expect the first version of the system to satisfy all of the organization’s analytical demands. So, the IT team took an iterative approach that they continue to revamp in quarterly updates. As business leaders become more adept at using the tools, they conceive of new ways to use them.

In response, Byers transformed IT from a traditional technical services unit to one that also collaborates with business groups to develop new analytical capability, including new data visualization functionality. “That’s an area that’s still very fertile ground,” Byers says.

He also split IT into three teams—IT Innovation, IT Operations, and Global Business Excellence. Those in the innovation group spend significant time on advancing analytics capability. Global business excellence focuses on ways to improve IT user training and business processes. Operations staff take care of the traditional IT role of keeping systems working optimally.

Implementation of the new unified global system took place by region, with Europe the first to go live in July 2012. The final major rollout was in the United States in August 2014. The completion of the project marked a turning point for Tate & Lyle. The company is now a unified entity capable of global operations in vital areas such as procurement. Now, for example, procurement managers can buy packaging, consulting services, and travel services for the entire organization, and they are able to realize the cost-saving benefits of bulk purchasing.

The company has since created a central shared services center in Poland that provides accounting, human resources, and IT services worldwide. This arrangement creates multiple benefits. For example, finance can now provide “greater, timelier cost and profitability reporting,” Byers explains.

The new corporate structure and supporting IT platform also make it easier to transfer best practices in one region to the whole company. For instance, one region may identify a supplier of fiber for nutrition bars that has the best quality product for the best price. That information can then quickly be identified and transferred to other regions so that they can reap the benefits.

Even though technology was a key enabler of Tate & Lyle’s global transformation, the change could not have taken place without significant cultural change. Management asked for commitment from employees at all levels of the company. Altering long-entrenched ways of doing business takes effort, and leaders were able to inspire that collaboration. The key was ensuring everybody understood how their efforts would contribute to the larger goal.

“They needed to know why they were doing it,” Byers says. It’s an important lesson that any organization should take to heart. “You have to describe the business objectives so that people understand the big picture and feel part of the larger goal,” he continues. “It’s not just teaching them how to push buttons.”

Photo: Mark Campbell