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How Honeywell and PepsiCo are adding digital tools to boost cross-team collaboration

November 9, 2021, 4:15 PM UTC

For much of the 20th century, individual offices reigned in many workplaces. In the past couple decades, companies have smashed through office walls to better integrate teams and create more dynamic, flexible spaces. 

Companies today need to take a digital sledgehammer to traditionally digitally siloed functions, Honeywell Chief Digital Technology Officer Sheila Jordan said at this week’s Fortune Brainstorm A.I. conference in Boston. 

The lesson is just as true for customer-facing online retailers and airlines as it is to business-to-business companies like Honeywell, whose advanced manufacturing businesses cover safety, security, and energy needs.

“Every organization is functionally optimized—sales, engineering, marketing, supply chain. Each function is optimized,” she said. But “digital is horizontal. Digital is a customer journey that spans across all those functions.”

Rather than optimizing divisions focused on separate functions, companies can—and should—use “end-to-end processes and end-to-end data” to integrate and optimize across the organization, Jordan said.

“When you book your airplane ticket, and you go through the whole process without pulling out your credit card or your loyalty number, that data flow is happening throughout the whole experience,” she said. “You really are touching six or seven different functions—marketing, branding, packaging, pricing, finance to process your credit card.”

Digital tools give Honeywell and other companies the capability to utilize cross-function data flows designed to optimize customer experience. 

But people have to design them and have to figure out how to get the most from the tools. At Honeywell, Jordan is focused on getting key people in the company’s 110,000 global workforce to be digitally proficient and also to have the broader perspective to see how A.I. and other tools can break through those functional silos. 

“Move people around, so they get the breadth of this experience, because that’s how our customers are interacting with us,” she said. 

Jordan joined Honeywell in early 2020, about two months before the pandemic hit. At the time, about 69 percent of the company’s digitalization work was outsourced. One of her first priorities was bringing key parts of that work back in-house, and she hired about 600 people to make that possible. 

For all the advanced technologies Honeywell produces, it is not a Silicon Valley company, yet it is competing for many of the same people. Jordan is a tech industry veteran. Before joining Honeywell, she was chief information officer at Symantec (which shared a parking lot with Google) and prior to that, senior vice president of information technology at Cisco

Honeywell has not had a problem hiring the skilled people it needs to have an edge against competitors, according to Jordan, who credits two key factors: mission and challenging work.

“We’re seeing that millennials care about [meaningful] mission,” which takes leadership to create, she said. They want to solve difficult challenges and be part of a company that makes tactile and advanced products.

PepsiCo’s products are not advanced, but its systems, from raw materials to grocery store shelves, have to be world class to compete in the cutthroat food industry. 

The global company is using mid-level managers to drive that change within its organization. It rolled out a program four months ago to train them now and provide ongoing growth and make them “digital ambassadors” for technological evolution within PepsiCo, the company’s Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer Athina Kanioura said. They are “the ones who actually live and breathe the changes in the company, who make decisions every day down in the market.”

It also opened two technology hubs, most recently in Barcelona, and is hiring data scientists, who are “excited to work on real problems at a real business,” she said. 

But PepsiCo’s vision is not limited to a select number of its approximately 291,000 workforce, including a huge number of frontline employees in selling, distribution, and warehousing, she said. 

“When we thought of artificial intelligence transformation…we thought this is not a journey just for the few,” Kanioura said. “This is a journey for everyone at PepsiCo.”

In parallel to the digital ambassador program, the company is setting up digital academies, which will include mandatory training for the entire company, over a phased approach over the next year. The learning experience will be tuned to workers’ place in the company and include wider opportunities to gain insight into other functions. 

“If you are an account manager, you need to be trained in intelligent sales, of course you need to be an expert on that both in terms of technology and adoption,” she said. “But you also need to understand the repercussions down the line when it comes to supply chain resiliency and inventory management. We are connecting those journeys.” 

PepsiCo is being very deliberate about how many initiatives it is undertaking to use artificial intelligence to transform its business. 

“Otherwise what happens in a company like PepsiCo, is you are overwhelming people who should be spending their time selling, making our products, moving our products,” Kanioura said. “So, we want to focus on the ones that matter, and allow our company, as our CEO says, to transform while we perform.”

Correction, Nov. 9, 2021: A previous version of this story stated an incorrect figure for PepsiCo’s global workforce.

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