Innovation Drives Business
By Eileen Feretic
“We celebrate innovation,” said Steve Phillips, senior vice president and CIO of Avnet, a global distributor of information solutions, during a meeting with Baseline. “We have a program that encourages our employees to submit innovative ideas, and we recognize them for the ideas we implement.”
Avnet, which has more than 100,000 customers in more than 70 countries, prides itself on continually searching for pioneering ways of doing business. It even has a senior vice president of business innovation, Greg Frazier. On its home page, the company features a “Got an Innovative Idea?” button that links to a page that invites employees, customers and business partners to send in their ideas.
Viable suggestions are implemented, and the results are impressive.
In recent years, Avnet made its data center significantly more power-efficient, saving energy and money. It also implemented a successful and ongoing mobility program. Currently, Phillips’ IT organization is testing a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) pilot.
Several years ago, the company’s data center, located in its headquarters in Phoenix, was at its threshold. To provide enough power for the future, Avnet would have had to spend about $7 million for the power build-out.
The firm obviously wanted to avoid making that investment, said Phillips, so it began looking for ways to make the existing data center run much more efficiently. First up, it virtualized about 2,000 of its 3,400 servers. Then it put unused servers in hibernation and recycled old ones. Other energy-saving ideas included managing the hot and cold air flow in the data center more efficiently and automatically turning off lights in unused areas.
As a result of all these efforts, the data center is now at 65 percent power utilization, with plenty of room for future growth.
This focus on energy efficiency in its data center led to another innovative idea: At the beginning of April, Avnet launched a new business, Integrated Resources, which repairs, refurbishes, recycles and responsibly disposes of electronic products.
A Mobility Strategy
Like many businesses, Avnet is dealing with the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon. However, unlike many companies, the company is taking a very proactive approach to this challenge. “People want choice, and we want to give them that choice—in a responsible way,” Phillips said.
Because it’s a global company, Avnet has different policies for various geographies. “In the Americas, for instance, there are no company-owned phones,” he explained. “There’s an employee affiliate program with the major wireless carriers, so employees can buy their own phones and services, and then get reimbursed up to a set amount.”
The program is different in Europe and Asia, where Avnet provides the phones.
In addition to standard mobile apps, Avnet develops custom apps for employees who need them. Salespeople, for example, can use an app that lets them check on inventory levels and order status. There are also standard PowerPoint presentations that employees can customize to meet their individual needs.
Avnet is also running a pilot program to test VDI in the United States. “We think we’ve got the technology right, so now we’re working on the policies to support virtual desktops,” Phillips said. “Once the policies are set, we’ll roll this program out. Eventually, we plan to open it up internationally.”
Avnet’s progressive approaches extend to privacy and security. “We follow best privacy practices and procedures,” Phillips said, “and we make constant investments in protecting our data assets. We have a director of architecture and security, along with about 20 professionals working on IT security.”
What innovations will Avnet implement in the future? That depends, Phillips said, on input from their employees, customers and business partners.