Outsourcing support, Carhartt CIO preps staff for New Digital Roles

The clothing manufacturer employed town halls, roundtables and training to ease workers into new roles

Coming off a five-year upgrade of a core business software platform at the end of 2015, clothing manufacturer Carhartt Inc. had a long list of backlogged digital projects waiting and not enough resources on its 115-person IT team to tackle them.

In an effort to free up IT employees to work on newer e-commerce projects and other initiatives, Carhartt at the beginning of this year hired International Business Machines Corp. to take over routine application maintenance and support. The move allowed the Dearborn, Mich.-based firm to move about 25 IT employees from support to project-based work more directly related to the company’s digital transformation initiatives, Chief Information Officer John Hill said.

Carhartt’s digital push is driven by a desire to move faster and improve capabilities in areas such as e-commerce and supply chain. In addition to upgrading its SAP SE enterprise resource planning software, the company began working with AppDynamics to monitor application performance and optimise e-commerce efforts, and implemented customer relationship management software from Salesforce.com Inc., among other projects. Other initiatives include using machine learning to analyse customer data and target online shoppers, and using 3-D modeling to speed up the product development process.

Many CIOs call in consultants when it’s time to cut costs, and it often results in layoffs for existing workers. Hill assumed employees would be concerned about what the transition would mean for their careers, particularly in an age of increased anxiety about the rise of automation.

John Hill
John Hill Chief Information Officer of Carharrt

“We had to make sure to let them know their job wasn’t affected,” he said. He ran quarterly town halls with employees, as well as a series of roundtable discussions with groups of 10 to 12 workers. In those meetings, he reiterated that the move was more focused on increasing capacity and allowing workers to advance their careers.

Hill facilitated a three-month “knowledge transition” in which Carhartt employees sat down with IBM workers to discuss what they did each day beyond each app’s technical specifications.

In this particular case, Hill says the shift was cost neutral, included no layoffs, and increased capacity by 20 % as a result of not having the learning curve and transition costs associated with using external contractors to completely staff new projects.

Employees previously assigned to app support now participate in a number of project-based tasks that require them to learn new technologies, including Salesforce and a new project lifecycle management tool. The company sent employees to external training programs, or brought trainers in house when it needed to reach a larger group of employees, Mr. Hill said.

“In the past they would have just been working on SAP or core internal systems,” Hill said. “From a job satisfaction standpoint, most technical folks want to learn new things.”