In 2014, a few months into Jim Swanson's tenure as CIO at Monsanto, he explained to the company's executive team how an enterprise digital strategy could transform the global agriculture leader.
Swanson started by defining the term `digital' in ways business leaders could understand. He also described how digital and data science created value for external companies and illustrated various benefits that Monsanto could gain from deploying this strategy. Benefits tied to important business outcomes such as accelerating the product pipeline, reducing cost of goods, enhancing value for customers, and enabling revenue growth.
"We set foundational components required to enable that strategy and took the view inside, starting with a heavy focus in R&D and our supply chain," said Swanson, an HMG Strategy 2016 Transformational CIO Award winner who will be speaking at the upcoming 2018 CIO Summit of America in New York on March 28.
"Our goal was to develop a predictive pipeline to accelerate the selection and advancement of products and leverage a connected supply chain to optimize selected products to market."
In partnership with his business colleagues, Swanson's team secured some early wins in Monsanto's R&D pipeline and supply chain activities. They modernized the company's infrastructure (network and cloud), unlocked the value of data through APIs, established companywide software platforms, and leveraged decision science (machine learning and statistical-based models) to inform critical business decisions. Successes in these areas enabled Monsanto to tackle opportunities in other parts of the business, such as commercial sales, and support the company's digital farming efforts.
Swanson and his team focused their activities across four targeted categories: improving Net Promoter Scores with customers; lowering Monsanto's cost of goods; strengthening Monsanto's pipeline progression; and boosting its business productivity.
Swanson partners with Monsanto's digital ag division, The Climate Corporation, to provide data from the company's research and supply chain fields into the Climate platform. That data, coupled with Climate's world-class tools and grower data, enables the company's offering of digital advisors, such as seed scripts, to growers.
"This allows our customers to optimize their planting for their particular type of field," said Swanson. "If we do it right, we can increase our yield and help growers to meet a vital mission - to feed a rapidly growing global population while using energy, water and land more efficiently."
To help strengthen its yield, Monsanto has been using machine learning models to drive these decisions.
Machine learning and other data science techniques are also helping Monsanto identify customers to target to strengthen engagement and reduce churn.
"It costs a lot of money to reacquire customers," said Swanson. To help retain customers, Monsanto uses data science techniques to evaluate the efficacy of its customer retention models and to curate those models.
To date, Monsanto now has close to 200 data models in production and has made those models accessible among the company's business units and organizational functions. "We've also created a machine learning-as-a-service model to enable business leaders to get answers to key questions quickly and easily without the need to have data modeling skills," said Swanson.
Cultivating a Data-Driven Culture
To help nurture a data-driven culture, Swanson has fostered a community approach to the benefits of using data science techniques for business and operational benefits and then shared examples in every part of Monsanto's business - with its growers, in its supply chain, in finance, and in research. The community draws on expertise throughout Monsanto's enterprise - not just within IT but also with data scientists, the commercial team, external business partners, and others.
Through its business partnerships, Monsanto has applied data science techniques to automate and streamline business processes, remove redundancies, and significantly impact both the top and bottom lines. Last year, Monsanto's digital and data science activities generated significant value through increased revenue generation, lower cost of goods, improved NPV of the pipeline, and operational efficiencies.
Swanson recently described to the company's board how machine learning has matured at Monsanto over the past year and the impact it has had on the business. "Our data science strategy is focused around the business outcomes that we're driving. When you've got it right, you accelerate. When you've got it wrong, you pivot and correct," said Swanson.
While Swanson is encouraged by the strong support he and the data science community has received from across the company, he also recognizes that the key to success is promoting a data-driven mindset throughout the organization. "Data science is not something you can do on the side and expect it to become embedded in the company and its core mission. You have to demonstrate the business value that's being achieved, and there has to be commitment throughout the company for this to succeed."
Swanson adds that becoming a data-driven company doesn't happen overnight and there are obstacles that must be overcome, including instances of poor quality data that can hamper particular initiatives.
"You have to make sure you don't oversell," said Swanson. "And you also must make it sustainable. But when we point to our successes, it's such a powerful vision. It's a journey we're on, and we continue to move forward.
To learn more about Jim Swanson and the other dynamic speakers who will be presenting at the 2018 CIO Summit of America, click here.