JTI: Investing in people, investing in technology

JTI: Investing in people, investing in technology

Japan Tobacco International looks to expand into the Middle East and Africa region, successfully bringing its global best practices and service offering...

JTI (Japan Tobacco International) is a member of the Japan Tobacco Group of Companies, and a leading multi-national tobacco company with a foothold in more than 120 countries, spreading across 399 offices, 25 factories and five tobacco-processing facilities. JTI continues to grow and to capture the global market to this day.

Since its formation back in 1999, following the acquisition of the US operations of R.J Reynolds, the company has continued to grow and “nurture” its internationally recognised brand roster, while being a major player in next generation products and new ways of doing business.

As the company continues this growth, it does so in part through strategic acquisitions of local companies within emerging markets. This is where Ozkan Donmez, Regional IT Director for Middle East, Near East, Africa and Turkey (MENEAT) and World-Wide Duty Operations, comes into play.

For Donmez, there is a crucial element of this growth journey that he is keen to focus on, the people.

“As of today, the region owns around 3.000 HP computers, more than 100 HP servers hosted on our data centers (as many on cloud, as well), running key business solutions supporting our business growth. But, though my role is delivering technology for the business, I always consider people as the most crucial component, arguably as crucial as technology in general,” he says.

JTI has a strong presence in the MENEAT region primarily in countries such as Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Tanzania and South Africa. This is further evident following acquisitions in Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia, and the establishment of “Leaf” subsidiaries, including Malawi Leaf, Zambia Leaf and Tanzania Leaf.

Through these initiatives, Donmez has recognised the importance of establishing a talented IT team in order to deploy JTI global technologies and processes.

“We have to start with the change of mind-set as well as understand the core technology and capabilities in the local company,” he says.

 “As we acquire these companies and establish our foothold, JTI works with the people on the ground to develop their capabilities and bring them to the required level to deliver to JTI’s global standards.”

When Japan Tobacco International (JTI) acquires a new company, it brings with it high level team leaders, operational leaders and international employees that have worked with the company globally to “spread the JTI culture”.

From an IT perspective, this brings with it its own unique challenges.

“IT in most local companies is often an afterthought, where there is no real one or two people responsible for the IT function,” says Donmez.

“What we do is we set up an IT technical project team in the first instance and running parallel alongside that is our HR team, where we work around the clock to find the best talent from the region.”

In this regard, the competency is one part, but for Donmez it’s of equal importance that the people JTI recruits and brings into the company have the right attitude – an attitude that is shared across JTI’s entire global footprint.

This is where Donmez is hugely confident on JTI’s synergy, communication, sharing successes and, more importantly, failures, in order to improve.

When building, growing and cementing any IT function, it is important to hit the ground running as fast as possible and this is something that Donmez actually considers a key success for JTI –  its approach to finding the right people, with the right attitude and developing their capabilities.

“As long as the team is good enough in its attitude and it is open to learning and to communicating and working together as one, we feel comfortable enough. Then it’s a matter of time to induct the JTI IT mind-set, our process and our way of working and then how to apply that to the projects we are working on,” he says.

Once the people component is under control, Donmez is more confident on delivering global and standard technologies, for which he adheres to global pillars that JTI lives and breathes by.

“JTI’s ‘in-source knowledge’ approach is immeasurable comfort for me such that our global IT Business Technology Services pillars – having deep business knowhow in all functional areas – and our global technical guru pillars in the IT kitchen, with all kinds of technology knowledge, are always providing endless support to modernise our operations in these new vicinities,” he says.

“So, to that end, the communication, the integration, the leadership and the project management is so important.”

But of course, as the company enters new markets, new geographies which bring with them new and perhaps limited capabilities from a technology standpoint, it tailors its approach to fit.

“Working over the years across so many geographies and locations, we have been able to stage our approach to different countries,” says Donmez.

“We have interim solutions and can offer different models to approach the different markets. Through these different solutions/models, we are still able to instrument global processes and support the business growth, ultimately reaching to JTI global technology standards for those JTI IT works with key partners worldwide.”

At JTI, one integrated global network, managed by two international partners - Orange Business Services (OBS) and British Telecom (BT) - guarantees seamless connectivity for all users.

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HP is a key partner providing client and backend data centre hardware systems across all corners of the globe. This ensures to streamline JTI’s technical operations (with fixed pricing, standard delivery/service conditions and JTI marked pre-images) and reduce total cost of ownership of IT operations.

“This global standard and integrated approach ensures significant workplace effectiveness in that, any JTI user can connect and work from anywhere in the world,” he says.

“They can also access JTI’s core business systems, like ERP – SAP technology, CRM applications and our Oracle based sales and analytics systems.”

In the world of technology and innovation, where technology is evolving faster and faster, it is important to stay on top of trends and keep up with this pace of change. This unified approach not only enables this, but encourages it also.

“In the end, JTI’s business model is simple all over the world – produce high quality products in a cost-effective way and sell. This strategy actually warrants us to follow and deploy the latest trends like movement to the cloud (MS Azure), mobility solutions, big data and analytics, use of Internet of Things (IoT) on production machines and new e-commerce channels,” says Donmez.

At this point, CIO of JT International, Diego De Coen, complements Donmez and shares his view about JTI’s technology strategy and people.

“One of the basics of my IT strategy is to insource knowledge and outsource commodity,” he says. “Over the years, we have really focused on that.

“When you enter a new market, it is only investment, there is no return – you do not make money on day one. But thanks to our CRM and ERP solutions, which we’ve created lighter versions of, we have a toolset that we can use immediately in new markets and start doing business at a very low cost.

“Then, we bring in our partners. JTI’s insistence on the best adoption of technology and its passion for people has cemented its relevance within a traditional industry, and will enable its already significant footprint to grow and grow.”

As JTI continues to grow, Donmez believes that growth is not simply increasing market share.

“The word growth has many different meanings to our business. Of course, we want to grow our sales volumes and market share,” he says. “Nevertheless, there is also underlying growth that supports this – investment in technology and expanding our team through recruitment and retention.”

For the future, JTI maintains its objective of expanding its geographic footprint, notably in emerging markets. Donmez will continue to support this growth and work with JTI to be able to deliver a flexible, efficient IT function that will enable it to deliver its global service offering into these new regions. But underlying this expansion is the investment in technology and more importantly, the people.

“Whenever we are in a new geography, the work we are doing, the people space and the technology space is crucial,” says Donmez. “With our speed, with our readiness, with our standard solutions for different areas, we are able to start operations as quickly as possible, and that is everything for JTI.”

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