Domestic appliance giant Whirlpool stopped all business-to-consumer IT development projects to focus on rebuilding the organisation’s IT infrastructure, its CIO has revealed.

Kevin Summers, global CIO of the $18 billion-turnover company told the Forrester Forum in Barcelona how he had restructured the company’s core IT from the bottom up.

The aim, he said was to take the IT team from a failing technology supplier to a strategic business partner for the company.

Recession Lessons from Whirlpool CIO

This involved a rigorous effort to create stable technology foundations, and a ruthless cull of suppliers from 500 to a core of strategic partners – IBM, SAP, Accenture, AT&T, Cisco and Microsoft.

From 2007 to 2010, Whirlpool reined back more than 400 ongoing IT projects, including 100 B2C projects to get its infrastructure right and to align IT with business needs. 

“As IT pros, this might not seem the most exciting thing to do,” said Summers, but he said that it was essential and that the business accepted the cancellation of many IT projects because they understood the importance of getting the infrastructure right.

Three years spent building the foundations created a platform for IT innovation and also saved Whirlpool $50 million. The next five years should deliver $1 billion (£610 million) benefits to the business, he said.

The IT group and its strategic partners are now focussed on enhancing Whirlpool’s online presence, improving aftermarket services, product lifecycle management, delivering a global integrated supply chain, creating an IT services model for emerging markets and creating a global pricing system for the company, which already operates in 130 countries.

Once this has been completed, Summers wants to create a global business services operation.

The key to success, said Summers, was to lay out a clear roadmap for how IT would develop to serve the business, to understand the importance of emerging markets and the technology required to service them and to look for the growth of non-traditional IT services – such as smart grids in the home.

He highlighted the importance of emerging technologies and the need to enable consumer-driven technology in the business, and emphasised the “critical need for talent management” in the IT team.