At Toyota, we were making very significant investments in functional systems for discrete parts of the business without an overall view of how they might be better leveraged across the supply chain or how the business would need to operate over the coming years. IT here was all about service, alignment and value; wehad no rights to influence the strategic direction the business was using to go to market. So we were always behind the business waiting for the handoff. I determined to change that.
It wasn’t as overt as saying "I’m going off to establish a beachhead in the strategic planning department." It was simply starting a series of focus groups with individuals from the planning side of IT and mid-level managers from the planning organizations and line operations on the business side. I deliberately started at the middle level of the organization. When you get that level of people together and make it comfortable for them to speak up, they will share where they see the gaps and the opportunities. In fact, they were pleased that someone was asking and that they were in a room with their peers from across the company, since they generally worked separately. To make it safe we asked them to focus 10 to 15 years out. If you’re talking three years out, it puts them under pressure because it’s more real. Farther out, you can fantasize a journey, but using the train tracks of the business to get you there.
One area we discussed was quality. Can we maintain our relentless focus on quality with larger volumes and increased complexity of product lines? What would that mean 10 to 15 years from now to our current business processes, our customers and our application portfolio? We looked at how we would connect from Japan all the way through the supply chain to our U.S. dealers and customers. What effect would telematics have, when every Toyota on the road is equipped to send maintenance and performance data back to the company?
After these meetings, we had enough information to triangulate and coalesce 10 business themes focused as far out as we could go. I brought these to the top executives at the company. I didn’t want to scare them, so I was careful to frame it as a request for advice: “As you know, we have a real challenge in IT with more demand than supply, and we want to try to get ahead of the curve. The more I can anticipate in as refined a way as possible, the better we will be at fulfillment.” I wanted to get them comfortable talking about the future and get their opinions on the business drivers I was putting on the table. They suggested some edits and signed off on the strategic vision.