As CIO, Tammy Barr leads the IT strategy for Continental Mills, a privately held food manufacturer in the Seattle area which produces several well-known products including Krusteaz Baking mixes, Ghirardelli Brownies, Wild Roots Trail mix, Alpine Cider and Kretschmer Wheat germ.  During the 22 years Barr has been with Continental Mills, she has been responsible for the successful implementation of many major systems, including the company’s first ERP application and several large scale manufacturing automation systems.  She has also participated in growing the company from a regional manufacturer servicing the Pacific Northwest to a national company with an international presence and multiple manufacturing sites across the U.S. 

We caught up with Barr, a member of the Midsize Enterprise Strategies Advisory Board, to discuss the changing role of the CIO and some of the most pressing issues she is facing in her role as CIO.

Midsize Enterprise Strategies: What’s the biggest challenge you are facing in your role as an IT leader in a midmarket organization?

Barr: I believe the biggest challenge right now for IT leaders in any organization is ensuring that we keep pace with the changing business and technology landscape and are proactively finding ways to provide value, as effective use of technology has become integral to the success of the overall business. This is even more of a challenge for the midmarket organization as we try to navigate this change with limited staff and budgets, while dealing with the same issues the big companies do, such as increased security threats, agility, cloud technology.

MES: Hybrid cloud has been such a hot topic lately. What is your company’s approach to hybrid, private and public cloud?

Barr: Internally, we operate with a highly virtualized environment. Our current approach to hybrid and public cloud is to address opportunities as they arise, assessing such factors as functionality, business risk, security and cost effectiveness. We will take advantage of cloud solutions where there is an overall benefit, but don’t have a plan for an overall move to cloud infrastructure or application environment. As cloud technologies continue to become more mainstream, and sometimes the only solution, we will be seeking out more opportunities and developing a more comprehensive strategy.

MES: Can you discuss some of the key projects and initiatives you are current working on?

Barr: We are working on wide array of initiatives which focus on maintaining and improving our infrastructure and security as well as projects which help drive company growth and impact the bottom line.  Some priority initiatives this year include:

  • Business intelligence/advanced analytics. We have continued initiatives around advanced reporting, analytics, providing business insights.
  • Azure AD and Microsoft Federation in preparation for Exchange Online, EOP, Office 365 and SharePoint Online roll outs.
  • Hyper-converged data center--data center in a box--upgrading our current ESX / SAN-based infrastructure to a Nutanix all-in-one solution.
  • Enhanced security – threat detection and remediation, increasing education for the organization, security assessments.
  • Product data management -- enterprise system implementation to improve the effectiveness of our new product development process.
  • Improving our project prioritization and governance process so that we are aligned with business priorities.

MES:  What key technologies are you keeping an eye on for future consideration?

Barr: Cloud-based application hosting, the Internet of Things, smart machines advanced analytics and visualization tools.

MES: What advice would you share with other midmarket CIOs and IT leaders?

Barr: Technical skills are no longer sufficient for an IT department to be successful. Today, effective communication is key, as is understanding and being able to communicate solutions in business language to company leadership, our business peers and the IT staff.  We must be able to work on an equal level with our peers when addressing business challenges, bringing our unique understanding of how technology can be used in developing solutions for the business. As IT leaders, we also must continue to develop these skills in or staff, complementing their technical knowledge with more.