CDO Interview: Athina Kanioura, chief strategy and innovation officer, PepsiCo

Athina Kanioura, chief strategy and change officer at PepsiCo, is an experienced executive with a mission to use technology to help transform the multinational food, snack and beverage company’s operational processes for for the better.

“My digital transformation ambitions involve a five-year journey and we are now two and a half years into that journey,” he said. “We are completely on track, both in terms of bandwidth and deliverables. And at the end of this process, I want us to be a different company.

Kanioura says it’s important to understand the scale of the change. Instead of using digital systems and services to change what business does and how it operates, his goal is to use different tools and methods to improve business efficiency, effectiveness and performance.

“That doesn’t mean creating a different kind of company that relies on technology to do everything,” he said. “But it is a superior company in terms of the use of technology, digital and data, so my team can drive better results for the wider organization.”

Have a thirst for change

Kanioura joined PepsiCo in September 2020 after 13 years with consultancy Accenture. Before that, he was in academia.

“My background has always been theoretical,” he says, suggesting that his time as a consultant allowed him to analyze different problems in industries, to find commonalities, and to develop capabilities. to the functionality that suits the use case.

“Part of the reason I joined PepsiCo is that it’s probably the only company I haven’t worked for in my years of consulting,” he said. “This is a big challenge. For someone like me, with a digital and technology background, there are many opportunities to take this company to its next growth curve.

Before joining, Kanioura spoke with the chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo, Ramon Laguarta and met a “big vision”. Instead of just focusing on current performance, he emphasizes how the key to long-term success is continuous innovation by creating better experiences for the company’s consumers and its employees.

He said what was really appealing was the role he hoped to play in this transformational program. And now, as PepsiCo’s first-ever chief strategy and transformation officer, Kanioura oversees the company’s end-to-end digitalization strategy. He manages a team of more than 700 data engineers, software engineers and data scientists.

In his extensive role in the C-suite, Kanioura is responsible for several key areas of the business, including corporate strategy, mergers and acquisitions, innovation, change management, value realization, digital products and services, product management, software engineering, process engineering, data. analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).

“This role gave me the opportunity to do everything from defining the strategy of this company, to translating that into executable digital components, to rethinking organizational processes, and then translating that that work on insights and faster actions. And this is where data analytics, AI and software engineering come into the mix,” he said.

Build strong foundations for change

Kanioura said his first year in situ at PepsiCo is focused on strengthening the company’s five-year digital transformation strategy.

“That’s about saying what we need to do – what are the big bets, what are the priorities, what’s the roadmap, and what are the big enablers?” he said. “Aligning everything was a huge success. The top 200 people in the company knew what we could deliver in terms of results, how we were going to do it, and where we were going to start. .

With expectations set, Kanioura says his second year at PepsiCo is all about delivering. He said that the major success of that period was the delivery of results on time and on budget. While that may seem like a straightforward goal, external factors play a part.

Global macroeconomic and geopolitical instability means meeting targets on schedule and in a cost-effective way is far from simple. Today, his team continues to focus on effective delivery.

“We have to keep our eye on the ball, so we don’t sacrifice the long-term success of this company for short-term performance”

Athina Kanioura, PepsiCo

“We have to keep our eye on the ball, so we don’t sacrifice the long-term success of this company for short-term performance,” he said.

“That’s about making sure we can deliver on our commitments in two areas: one is the original horizontal base, which is mainly about the enterprise data platform; and the second is about vertical capabilities from the perspective of the program, which is focused on the initiation and launch of integrated business planning.

The first of these commitments – the enterprise data platform – was delivered ahead of schedule and within budget. Microsoft is PepsiCo’s largest data partner and the company uses an Azure data lake. However, Kanioura does not believe in completely outsourcing data platform development. His team of internal data engineers completed most of the work and their effort was reinforced by the tactical use of external integrators.

The integrated business planning system, on the other hand, allows business people to make forecasts for the next three years across supply planning, financial planning and commercial planning as a centralized process. . “In times of uncertainty, supply chain shocks or manufacturing shortages, that gives you a lot of perspective,” Kanioura said.

Again, the development approach is mix and match – external provision from technology company O9 is combined with internal expertise.

“The brain, the analytics pane, the data integration and the user experience are all our internal resources that we are building – we want to have the brain of the integrated business planning system,” he said.

Delivering major programs of work

In terms of the horizontal projects that make up PepsiCo’s operations, Kanioura says that the next stage of digital transformation includes three major work programs, one of which is the sharpening of the core enterprise data platform that has already been established.

The second initiative centers on core system modernization. His team is currently in the middle of rolling out SAP S/4Hana. That program involves moving from a variety of enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to a single, cloud-based instance across the company. “As you can imagine, that’s a huge effort and a lot of work for a company of our size,” he said.

The third work program includes app rationalization and cloud modernization. This initiative requires the movement of hundreds of applications to the cloud. The company has a roadmap to complete the migration process within the next three years. “We have a lot of legacy applications, so this is a big project,” he said.

Building on these horizontal foundations, Kanioura said his team will aim to build strong business capabilities this season. While PepsiCo typically markets and sells products through other organizations, such as retailers, the company also wants to develop its business-to-consumer (B2C) channel and find ways to improve customer experiences. .

Commercial efficiency is another area where Kanioura is looking to improve business capabilities and build a true omnichannel experience.

“That’s not easy for a CPG [consumer packaged goods] context, where you rely on multiple parties,” he said, referring to a complex range of potential market channels, including retailers, distributors and the company’s own sales channels.

Kanioura will also continue to work on integrated business planning, which is about ensuring there is a single source of truth for current and future managers, and supply chain transformation, which is focused on improving operational processes. in key areas, such as packaging and logistics.

Finally, he explained the employee experience and the need to ensure that staff can access information intuitively from knowledge management systems.

“That work covers everything from hiring to retirement and to onboarding and upskilling,” Kanioura said. “I don’t want people to have to go through five different logins just to get their payroll information.”

Grow with sustainability in mind

While Kanioura is clear on his main targets for digital transformation, he says that another factor – sustainability – is an important goal that precedes all the work to be completed by his team and more broadly. business in the next decade.

Kanioura’s team manages a variety of systems and programs to ensure that environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors are considered in all business decisions. Here, the business data platform that his team has worked to build and organize will be crucial.

Instead of holding data related to ESG targets in disparate systems across the business, Kanioura said the unified data platform will be a single source of truth that people across PepsiCo can track and trace. of performance indicators.

Collectively, the company’s ongoing efforts to improve the environment and the wider community it serves are known as Pep+ (PepsiCo Positive), which PepsiCo CEO Laguarta describes as “the future of our company”. The initiative aims to ensure that the products sold by the company are produced, shipped and sold as sustainably as possible.

“It’s focused on how we can create a positive environment for the world, for the food value chain, for the communities, and the people we serve,” Kanioura said.

“For the data foundation, we decided to build it ourselves. For other capabilities, we worked with startup partners to address the specific problems we had.

The pioneering work with startups is led by David Schwartz, vice-president of PepsiCo Labs, which is a specialized group under Kanioura’s management, tasked with using external innovation. Schwartz explained to Computer Weekly last year how the lab has scaled more than 30 startups in more than 200 countries so far.

These innovations spread to a wide range of areas, including preventing water leakage in factories to develop bio-based thermoplastic for product display stands. The longer-term goal, Kanioura said, is to ensure that the new technologies his team delivers help the rest of PepsiCo’s business grow in a positive way.

“Sustainability requires everything we do in this company to be sustainable, whether it’s about sustainable planning, sustainable procurement or sustainable sales,” he said.

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