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FEATURE

Networking Communications for the Global Corporation: An Interview with Kraft Foods CIO, Mark Dajani

As part of an ongoing series celebrating Cisco's 25th anniversary, News@Cisco spoke with one of the networking vendor's most important customers throughout the years, Kraft Foods

January 11, 2010

by Charles Waltner

Kraft Foods epitomizes the modern, global corporation. A member of the elite Dow Jones stock index, it sells its food products in more than 150 countries, employs 98,000 people and generates revenues of $42 billion. Its brands are some of the most familiar names in the grocery store: Oscar Mayer, Oreo, Nabisco, Maxwell House and its own Kraft line, famous for its mac and cheese. As a sign of its exemplary performance, Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway is Kraft's largest shareholder.

To consistently maintain such success over time, across markets, and from one brand to another, Kraft tirelessly focuses on replicating its very best business practices throughout its operations, continually increasing efficiencies, improving quality, and finding even better ways to make food to feed the world.

Over the past two decades, and particularly in the past 10 years, Kraft has found an invaluable ally in its efforts to run its far-flung global enterprise: the network. "This is how we connect the company," says Mark Dajani, Kraft's chief information officer.

Synonymous with Kraft's network since the Internet's earliest days has been Cisco Systems.
Today, Cisco not only provides equipment and technical services, it is assisting the Fortune 500 company in developing its vision for how new networking communications technologies can transform the very nature of business.

"When you start collaborating with people who aren't next to you, that's when it hits you just how much potential modern communications have for changing how we work," Dajani says.

As a special installment to News@Cisco's 25th anniversary retrospective, we spoke with Dajani about Kraft's relationship with Cisco and the profound influence of networking technologies in Kraft's global operations. 

Over the years what has been Cisco's role with Kraft Foods and how has it helped Kraft take advantage of advances in networking technologies?

Mark Dajani: Cisco has long been a key technology vendor for Kraft. The relationship goes back as far as I can remember, and I've been with the company 18 years. Certainly, they have been crucial in providing the equipment to build and expand our network as the Internet and communications have evolved. But during the last two years, there's been a huge shift in our relationship with Cisco. They've gone from being great technical advisors to key strategic business partners. I think this is an indication of just how important networking has become for a company like Kraft. It is also an indication of just how much Cisco has developed as a company.

Our new, deeper, strategic relationship started when I approached John Chambers, Cisco's chief executive, after a talk he gave at a meeting of corporate CIOs. He enthusiastically embraced my suggestion for Cisco to work more closely with Kraft. It was based on a recognition that we simply couldn't be reacting to technology developments, but as a company we needed to be able to see over the horizon to anticipate and prepare for the continuous wave of changes networking technologies will continue to bring to business operations.

We now speak frequently with the leaders of their business consulting group, as well as other leaders in the company, such as Cisco CIO, Rebecca Jacoby. As part of our closer relationship, for example, Cisco people often jointly present with my team to Kraft's business units.

From my perspective, the network is at the heart of everything we do. Certainly, all kinds of other technologies and tools need to run on top of that. But as a company, we need to have that unique strategic vision and insight from Cisco about how communication technologies will evolve and how a business like ours can take best advantage of those.

How have Internet communications changed the way Kraft runs its business? 

Mark Dajani: Because of the scale and global reach of our operations, networking technologies have a huge role. In the early days, you might send an email to someone around the world and then wait a day or more for a reply. It went from barely being able to get a hold of people to having the ability to be in constant contact with anyone, no matter where they are. So, network communications has been bringing our company closer together.

One the radical changes is how we can leverage our leadership and managerial talent. Now, thanks to the ways the Internet enables communications, a manager doesn't have to work in a country to lead work in that country. For us, this is huge. With people in more than 150 countries, our best leadership talent could be anywhere in the world. And these people are perhaps the most critical resource we have. So if we can pick leaders for projects solely based on performance rather than location, this opens up our talent pool enormously, allowing us to put the right person on the right job, no matter where they are. We haven't even begun to make full use of this possibility, so it is very exciting.

This same concept for people is also happening for our other resources. We are creating globally shared services, which can be located anywhere but shared throughout our operations. That promises much greater efficiencies than we've ever been able to achieve previously.

As communications technologies continue to improve, what will be the role of traditional forms of communications, such as face-to-face meetings or the good old telephone?

Mark Dajani: The network is putting more and more tools in the toolbox, creating new options and new flexibility. As I mentioned previously, the network is making it possible to be in contact with people nearly constantly, regardless of their location. For example, I might meet with certain staff members, say, four times in a given period. Three of those times can be over the network and one time in a traditional face-to-face meeting. In the past, we would either meet less or else spent much more time and resources meeting in-person more often.

And now we are seeing how advances in technology can revolutionize the experience with networked communications. Cisco TelePresence, for example, shows how technology is increasingly reducing those trade-offs between physical meetings and electronic ones. The other day I had a meeting with some of my managers located in Zurich, Switzerland. With TelePresence, it was literally like being there. There was very little I felt I wasn't able to convey because we were communicating on the network.

Technologies like Cisco TelePresence are also improving our external connections. We are now using Cisco TelePresence to work with some of our key external partners. And we now have more than 5,000 Apple iPhones in the company, which is especially helping us connect with consumers.

Much has been made of how virtual communications can save travel costs, reduce pollution and make a company far more efficient by saving travel time. What are the biggest bottom line benefits the network is bringing to Kraft?

Mark Dajani: For Kraft and from my perspective, the savings from reduced travel are small compared to the other benefits network communications is bringing to our company. I think the most important thing about reduced travel is how it improves the lives of our employees. With good network communications, they don't have to live in airports and be away from their families as much, and they don't necessarily have to stay in the office to make those final calls or finish a report. Now they can do it on the go or at home near their families and friends.

For Kraft's bottom line, however, I think the network's greatest benefits are the speed of execution and the speed of decision making that it facilitates. As is now crystal clear, the network is greatly improving the ease with which we can communicate across the globe. We can make decisions and execute plans as if we were in the same building. To me, that is an invaluable benefit.

A practical example of that is with our trucking operations. Moving our products to market is one of our biggest costs. The network is continually improving how we coordinate this extremely complicated operation. Any fractional improvement we can make in coordination among all of our trucks translates to huge savings. Networked communications now help us track the location of all trucks, provides two-way communications to make changes en route, and records patterns of usage for further analysis and continual improvement. While other technological tools work hand in glove with the network, such as fleet management applications, databases, and global positioning systems, the network is the foundation for connecting all of these together.

Where are all these changes in communications leading? How do you see the network changing business in the future?

Mark Dajani: I see a fundamental shift taking place in how businesses and other organizations operate. Rather than work that is oriented to location, it will be much more oriented to output, which is really the crucial issue for a business based on knowledge workers. During the modern era, we created an infrastructure for the physical work place: offices and factories, then telephones, copiers, typewriters, and computers. And we've been programmed to get up, shower, drive to work, sit at a desk, work, drive home, then start it all over again the next day. Networking communications, however, is breaking down these established work structures and patterns. I don't think it will lead to the elimination of headquarters and offices. These are crucial for developing an organizational culture, but the Internet and new communications options are now creating viable options to the old constructs of how people work and organizations function.

There are still many challenges to networking communications and many more possibilities. How does Kraft approach some of the issues that are now of greatest concern to corporations, such as mobility, security and social networking?

Mark Dajani: For any of these issues, I tell my team to "solve the problem." While there are crucial legal, logistical, and security concerns to anything that goes on with a corporation, we need to pay close attention to history. Trying to stop or block technology is not a very good strategy and one that fails. People tried to block the Internet from the workplace when it first came to be. But that's like saying your workers are not allowed to read books. The Internet is a fundamental tool for any worker these days. At Kraft we block very few Web sites so our employees can find what helps them do their jobs best.

This is the same for all the other tools coming online. My team's job is to solve the problems so people can use these tools. We would be turning our backs on fundamental improvements in how we work if we tried to block social networking applications or mobile devices like smart phones. Certainly, new technologies will come with their set of challenges, but from my perspective, we don't connect to the network; we live on the network. This is the new architectural approach we are striving toward at Kraft. It is one that makes it possible for all our employees, partners and customers to be always connected, so we can work anywhere, at anytime, and in whatever way is best.

 
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