The relationship between CIOs and IT has evolved dramatically as more organizations have embraced digital transformation and IT has become business-led, addressing the needs of customers both internal and external. Digital CxO contributor Mike Klein recently sat down with Bentley Curran, CIO at Brady Corp., to discuss how IT has shifted from acting as an internal support system to enabling true business value in today’s digital environment.
Mike Klein: Hello, and welcome back to another edition of Digital CxO Insights. I’m your host, Mike Klein. And today we have with us a very, very special guest, my friend, Bentley Curran, who is the vice president and chief information officer of Brady Corporation based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s great to see Bentley again.
And the theme of our discussion today is the evolving role of the CIO and IT. Bentley on that note, could you give us a little bit of a background on Brady Corporation, as many of us carry your products around or work with them or around them on a daily basis, but don’t necessarily know much about the company, a little bit about how your role has followed over the years.
Bentley Curran: Sure. Thanks again, Mike. Nice to see you again. Brady Corporation is an over 100-year-old company based in Milwaukee, like you said, about a $1 billion in size and scattered across the globe in 70 locations. We focus primarily on printing systems, labels, tags, high-performance needs. Everybody has probably seen a Brady product, they just don’t know it.
Klein: Any examples of products you might be able to share?
Curran: Oh, anything as a safety sign or any facility whether or not they’d be in a manufacturing facility or out in the public. So you’ve probably seen ’em on mobile devices, all sorts of products from a handheld device to industrial stuff and even in airplanes and trains and planes and so on.
Klein: Don’t you also make the stickers to give people six feet of separation?
Curran: Yes, we do make the floor labels and all the different things that helped us with our distancing for the last couple of years. So a lot of that stuff is part of our normal factory lean manufacturing, you put tape on the floor, you identify where things should be, including people
Klein: Well, that’s fantastic in that you make good products better. Can you give us a little bit about how your role has evolved at Brady Corporation over the years?
Curran: Sure. So I have a unique role at Brady. So I started here in IT as a CIO. So I’ve been a CIO for 15 years, and in that 15 years, it has evolved from running IT and delivering the products and solutions, ERP rollouts. And then it transitioned to a digital focus.
And so, I took on the digital transformation about eight years ago, led that for about five years. And then after that, another transition to getting to the first steps of business-led IT. So embedding divisional IT and making sure that the businesses are properly able to take on the next generation of IT needs in the business. So it’s been a pretty interesting 15 years here at Brady.
Klein: That’s a very long stint for CIO to be in one position for 15 years. So looking back and looking a little bit to the future, how has the role of the CIO changed in 2021? And where do you see it going in the future?
Curran: Well, the pandemic in just the whole last 18 months has dramatically focused our attention on a lot of things. I would say cyber is a new world that we have to live in every day, and it’s in the news all the time.
Automation is becoming a higher need and within IT, within a business and, and within our customer basis as our needs grow, and then data. The need for getting data in, making the data useful to the business leaders in near real-time is critical.
Klein: So Bentley, what you’ve been talking about is digital transformation and a lot of the digital tools. What are the types of transformation are taking place? Because there is some kind of a chasm between digital and transformation. They’re two unique things, but they’ve been combined together.
Curran: Yeah. So some of the things I’m working on right now is trying to automate business processes. So like customer service, order entry, order management, taking in orders from multiple channels and just automating the movement of that order to production. And also we have many manufacturing plants across the globe.
And so, making sure that our plants are operating efficiently. So automation within the plant, robots and automation at the picking and packing, lots of areas where automation is going to occur within a business. And then we’re trying to move forward in this next generation. And so, we’ve been looking at a couple of acquisitions. We had three acquisitions in the last couple of months.
So doing the due diligence. So IT getting involved in the early stages of how do you grow an organization? How do you get in and understand what’s important and what we have to do right away? Whether that be an ERP implementation or a security overhaul, or just opportunities to automate further and provide some efficiencies within the new businesses that we’re acquiring.
Klein: So obviously with all this automation, there’s a lot of data being generated. And your goal is probably to take that data, turn it into information and make it actionable knowledge. So how are you recognizing or enabling the value of the data to be realized?
Curran: Yeah, so we were an early adopter of cloud. It’s been over ten years since we’ve been in a lot of cloud applications. And so we’re leveraging our cloud vendors and just looking to move more data into the data lakes so that we can provide a self-service model to our business users.
So a lot of times, the data scientists will not know exactly what they need. And so, we’re trying to provide an environment where we create the models and the raw data so that they have access to information and they can do what they need to do with it in real-time without us having to always be there.
So trying to provide a self-service model in real time to our data, suppliers and consumers so that they can make these decisions on what they’re trying to do with the models that they’re generating and all the information that they’re gathering from us.
So feeding this information, we’ve set up an API system. So we have over 40 APIs gathering data, whether that be from the analytics that are coming from an external world or internal systems or ERP systems and putting it into a data lake so that they have the access and the data when they need it.
Klein: So how do you see this new integration of all these new technologies improving the business?
Curran: Well, one it’s … when you have automation, you have a lot of data that comes from automation. So you can start to see insights at a much quicker rate. When you have data about your customers and data about what’s going on with the behavior of the customers, I’ll take the pandemic as an example, the pandemic has caused people to change their buying behavior.
Now where it changed, when you have over a million customers like we do, you have to kind of look at the data and understand what has changed and what is going to stay going into the next generation or the next couple of years.
So just having that data at your fingertips and being able to ask different questions gives you insight into some of the patterns and behaviors, what products are going off the shelf quicker, which ones are not, what customers and what channels they’re coming through, which ones they’ve abandoned, and so on.
So it’s really insightful to really understand the buying behavior and the product mix and all the different things that are going on with this new world we live in.
Klein: You mentioned you’ve been a cloud-based environment for many, many years. So how do you stay current and try to get ahead on some of the technology that could be shaping the next generation, and more specifically around data and cyber security that you’ve been talking about?
Curran: Yeah. I have a very good network of other CIOs and even CFOs and CXOs which has helped me over the – I mean, I’ve known you Mike for a long, long time, and we’ve brought people together. And having those insights and bouncing ideas off of other CIOs is critical.
I also set up a network of venture capitalists in the early days. When you’re an early cloud adopter, you get a lot of early attention, and I kept those relationships up. And it helps me understand where the angel money’s going.
Venture capitalist is investing in the next five years of technologies and they’re trying to get companies off the ground, and it helps to talk with them and even talk with the companies that they’re seating to understand where they think the value proposition’s gonna be, and also understand where they see the next generation of technology shift occurring.
So just staying current and understanding where the money is going has a lot to do with what talent I’m gonna need in the future to drive the next generation of efficiencies.
Klein: Well, that seems to be more of an emerging trend of enterprise technology leaders, such as yourself, meeting with startups, taking the time to listen to what they say, meeting with the venture capitalist to see what they’re putting the wood behind the arrow on.
And it seems like you’re just taking a whole lot of actions to stay current in the market talking to others about what you read, what you see, analysts and reports and so forth. Let me ask you kind of a deep think question.
Thinking back on your career, what are some of the most memorable, satisfying moments as a CIO and a technology business executive? There must be quite a few.
Curran: Yeah, that’s a good question. I would say in my first early days here at Brady, one of the most memorable things was, we were rolling out an ERP system to most of our locations at that time.
And I got to meet with the business leaders, the general managers and the business executives of every one of our businesses, and really understanding what business value IT is providing them back in the day when you’re just trying to improve efficiencies, but understanding how the business makes money, understanding how the interface with customers, really understanding how the business works I think was one of the beneficial things.
And then applying that to the technologies that we moved through the organization. Probably most of my best memories are our transformations where we have a team, a very dedicated, solid team of people. And they get into a new technology area, whether it be a new cloud provider or a new automation technology. They like it because they stay current with their careers.
We like it because we get a lot of attention early on to drive the improvements through. But when you’re on a three-year transformation and you actually see the business results come out of it three or four years later, it’s really satisfying to see the fruition of your work.
And the team is excited to work on it, even though they’re long hours, I mean, they are, transformations can really accelerate your knowledge of the way things are working and the business improvement. And then the business sees the value of IT helping them in the long run, do a better job at what they’re trying to accomplish.
Klein: Since you mentioned teams, and that’s so much about people orientation, you’re a global company, you have people in different parts of the world. How do you maintain that culture?
Curran: Well, Brady has a unique culture. We’ve been here over 100 years, and the people at Brady no matter where I’ve traveled, I’ve traveled in all the large regions in Europe and Asia, South America, North America, and every time I’m at a Brady location, there’s a Brady culture. I know I’m at a Brady location. It doesn’t matter where I’m at.
People are there to do a good job. They’re servant leaders, they’re humble. They just want to get their job done and improve their business outcomes. So that helps that we have a really solid Brady culture. From an IT perspective, staying connected, video calls all the time. You’re talking with people from all over the globe, whether you’re doing an ERP implementation in Asia, or you’re doing a customer service automation in France, it doesn’t matter.
Teamwork together, they get things done. They work well together, and we have a very, I would say, a very solid team to just deliver everything we’re trying to accomplish. And that team has migrated over the last number of years. You know, we have cyber professionals now. We didn’t have that 15 years ago. We have data scientists in our business. We didn’t have that 15 years ago. So a lot of things have changed. But the culture has been pretty solid.
Klein: So it seems like the evolving role, the CIO, has come within the technology executives, like you said, kind of the domain of the CxO. You have C-level titles that didn’t exist before. Are there some others that you have a chief security officer? Do you have a chief digital officer?
Curran: We don’t have –
Curran: Yeah, I would say my role is the chief security officer at this point in time. We’ve transitioned the digital officers to the divisions, which is a better way to run it. When we had the digital transformation early on, that was one of the gaps, the talent wasn’t in the divisions to really drive the digital improvements forward. But now that we have those leaders, they’re taking the reigns and running with it.
And technology has become pretty pervasive in the businesses. So you have business leaders who are now very tech-savvy, and they know what they need to get done.
So from an IT perspective, we’re there to help them drive the benefits in the organization. But a lot of times, the transformation is being driven now by the business. And that’s what I call business-led IT. The business is leading the initiative, but IT is there to do all of the fun work to make the program go forward.
Klein: So what I hear you saying is you’re a very forward-looking CIO. You’re looking at the business, you’re enabling the business, you’re partnering with the business because IT is part of the business. In fact, it’s part of the main businesses that you’re in.
Klein: I really appreciate the time you took today to join us on Digital CXO Insights. Visit us on the web at digitalcxo.com. I’m your host, Mike Klein. And thank you for joining today.