IBM Impact 2012: Whirlpool talks up benefits of IBM partnership

IBM Impact 2012 logo

Domestic appliance giant Whirlpool took to the stage at IBM's Impact conference in Las Vegas today to talk about the importance of ensuring your tech strategy is actually both beneficial and executable.

While this might sound like common sense, such areas are often overlooked, leading to potential budget faux pas and compatibility issues.

Cloud computing back then existed but it was mostly depicting when it would rain. Today, look where we are. Look how fast tech has changed.

As a global company, using technology to support some 68,000 users in 170 countries, availability and focus are key, Alan Douville, global vice president and CIO of Whirlpool, North America, told delegates.

"We're an IT organisation in a 100-year old CPG corporation. Our strategy is also a house. Here at Impact, we're going to talk about a lot of cutting-edge solutions. There are a lot of vendors out there with great products that want to come in and help companies transform their business model," he said.

"As IT professionals, in a global CPG company, we have to make sure what we execute benefits our consumers. Our foundation is our core like any good home. Our foundation is built around governance, solid infrastructure, core organisational capabilities. We have to run multinational business. We cannot fall down. Everything we do has to run at a global scale. We have regional solutions. We have local solutions. But those roll into our global enterprise platform to executive on our global accounting. Only then, with that foundation in our home, are we actually operating advanced capabilities."

The company, which boasts $19 billion in global revenue, invests back in local communities and economies. In the US, for example, it has invested $1 billion and spent some $540 million in research and development. Some 80 per cent of what Whirlpool sells in the US is made in the US, according to Douville.

"Whirlpool is a 100-years young company. Our goal is to improve lives. One home, one family at a time. We're made up of a lot of brands, six of which are worth over $1 billion," Douville said.

"We really believe that our strategy is about investing where it makes sense, where it is good business and where it adds value to our consumer. Our business strategy is simple: Every home, everywhere, with passion, pride and performance."

Businesses today not only need to innovative to stay in the game, they also need to change it, according to Marie Wieck, general manager of IBM's application and integration middleware group.

"Innovation today doesn't happen alone. It does require collaboration and partnership. You need the skills and the tools to bring an intelligent, instrumented, and interconnected world together and make it a reality. We think Websphere is that platform," she said.

"[Whirpool] knows reinvention is a key to longevity. Just like IBM, which has reinvented itself over the years, Whirlpool [recently] celebrated its centenary. Today, it continues to innovate."

The company has to deal with volumes of transactions never before anticipated. One order can have up to 50 simultaneous transactions and millions of transactions are processed each day. Regardless of that volume, consumers expect and crave real-time responses and software alone is not the answer, according to Douville.

"As IT professionals we can't go running down the path like a cat to a laser pointer at every exciting new piece of technology. What I invest in and put in my datacentre and in the cloud better well work. That's where we look to companies like IBM to not only provide the technologies, solutions and ideas but also to make sure our strategy is an executable based strategy. Strategies are useless on a PowerPoint slide, in a presentation, if your company cannot execute against them. At Whirlpool, our solid foundation allows us to ex against our strategy.

"The challenges we face on a daily basis are new. I couldn't think of a better profession to be in. I get to support every process, every role within my company. I get to support how we deal with our trade partners and our consumers outside of our company. I get to help new products launch. And I get to make sure our plants run 24/7. It's a great time to be in IT."

Douville concluded: "In 1911 a lot of things were going on. It was a great year. The first plane landed on a ship successfully. Exciting new technology was coming to the market. In the UK, a patent was brought forth for a new device called a wall plug. All of that was new. Cloud computing back then existed but it was mostly depicting when it would rain. Today, look where we are. Look how fast tech has changed in 100 years. We have seen the dawn of technology from rain-based cloud computing to true virtualisation and simplicity, speed to market and ERP platforms, on a global scale. But, at Whirlpool, none of that matters unless it benefits our consumers."

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.