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Roadblock: Executive Management

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2005-02-01 Print this article Print

When top management needs to be convinced.

The Obstacle

Philip Morris International has yet to choose a system for labeling and tracking its cigarette packages all the way to the retail sale. Yet, the global arm of the world's largest tobacco manufacturer is now faced with $1.25 billion in penalties from the European Union, and the possibility of more if it doesn't overhaul the way it monitors its supply chain.

Getting top management behind spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on a technology initiative is no easy task. Here's how technology project leaders can help business executives make the right decision.

The Response:

Talk directly to your audience. Executives, from the finance chief to the head of production, have different priorities. Highlight the points that matter most to each member of the management team.

For example, in a Radio Frequency Identification project, the chief financial officer might be most interested in the savings that result from better product tracking and tracing.

Sales and marketing managers might be more interested to learn that RFID can be used to collect valuable demographic and time-to-delivery information that can be used to generate revenue, by improved use of marketing and sales dollars.

Honestly show how a technology will change day-to-day operations. Management may appear slow-moving when it's simply trying to determine what impact a new technology will have on a business day-to-day.

It's incumbent on the project leader to explain the ramifications of implementing a new information system. For instance, if the application of microcircuit tags during the packing process will slow down a production line, show how much, and what steps can be taken to limit the impact.

Be up front about the short-term pain but also ready to prove to management that, despite the obstacles, deploying a given technology will benefit the organization over the long term.

Think three steps ahead. There's no magic bullet that's going to, in this case, eliminate contraband and counterfeit cigarettes. Even if Philip Morris and other manufacturers put microcircuit tags on every pack, counterfeiters may eventually begin manufacturing their own tags, says Tim Scannell, an RFID analyst at Shoreline Research in Quincy, Mass.

Think three steps ahead about what new problems will emerge and how you will address them. How will you recognize counterfeit tags, for instance?

Show how other companies address problems. Study Wal-Mart's tagging project, as well as those of Target, Albertson's and the Department of Defense. Check out European efforts (Tesco, etc.). Find out what Gillette first did, why it pulled back, when it will once again try to tag every razor it sells, and what the bugaboos were.

Demonstrate that you're learning from others' mistakes—and applying the lessons.

Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.
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