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Tyson Foods tech chief: How to take control of the emerging enterprise to sharpen your company's edge

Scott Spradley, Tyson Foods executive v.p. and chief technology officer, and a member of the CNBC Technology Executive Council
Key Points
  • Tyson Foods sees use for the blockchain in food safety and logistics.
  • The food giant also sees many uses for drones from the factory floor to herd management.
  • But best practices must be implemented to get the most, and avoid mistakes, from new technologies.
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It's no secret that innovative technologies are at the fingertips of business leaders across industries as disruptors redefine the possible, making enterprises more efficient while creating value in previously unimaginable ways. We've heard this narrative from earnings calls, start-ups making pitches to investors, and academics studying the future of work. But there is no blanket solution for all enterprise problems, and it can be challenging to make the business case to invest in emerging technologies.

For IT leaders to gain commitment from business partners, they need to follow three rules:

1. Adopt technologies that meet a business imperative, not necessarily those that drive the headlines.

2. Deliver and demonstrate value at costs that are associated with the right outcome and scale.

3. Build a "maker mentality" throughout the business to increase interest and awareness of emerging technologies from the C-suite to the back office.

In order to influence corporate leadership to prioritize technology to the extent required in today's competitive landscape, companies need to show "the art of the possible" and demonstrate clearly to affected stakeholders how technology will achieve a desired outcome by improving business processes or functions. That means tuning out the "hype cycle" and focusing on technologies with proven capabilities and clear use cases to meet business goals.

The blockchain

Blockchain, for example, dominates headlines and has created an entire cottage industry of press, start-ups, consulting firms, and venture investing solely to support its various use cases. For many businesses, blockchain offers a real opportunity for positive disruption to long-standing business processes that are costly and lack agility or speed. This can include import/export tracking, trade management, supply chain and goods tracking, which is particularly beneficial to food safety and integrity for businesses like ours.

Yet in many cases, businesses have attempted to go for the home run on blockchain versus pursuing those fit-for-purpose capabilities that blockchain can offer. As a result, time and money is spent going for something that is too big to land, not built with integrated business partnership and consequently fails at implementation or delivering the value required for large-scale adoption. Taking the time to build out that solid business partnership and ownership ensures a richer use case; a use case that can be more easily implemented into go-forward processes that deliver measured results.


Technology such as AI-enabled drones, on the other hand, while feeling futuristic can streamline operations and cut costs. For example, manufacturers can monitor activity on the factory floor, collect data on the performance of equipment and machinery and determine if the performance of that equipment or machinery is acceptable or trending poorly. This can help plan maintenance and mitigate downtime costs for machines that may need repairs.

At Tyson Foods, we're exploring the use of drones to safely inspect our buildings and keep our facilities secure. Eventually, if the pilot is successful, the idea is we'd even use drones to help us with animal tracking, herd management, identify animal safety issues or animal health concerns. We're also investigating some advanced, low power, yet accurate sensing technologies that can transmit data to monitor our properties, recognize events that require immediate attention or that can otherwise impact our animals. The business value for us holds many layers — we're able to ensure the safety and well-being of our animals, people, and property, while deploying a relatively low cost solution to a costly problem.

When it comes to emerging technology, following the crowd may not always be in an organization's best interest. It is far more effective to start by identifying a practical business problem to solve in order to drive success.

Scott Spradley, Executive Vice President & Chief Technology Officer Tyson Foods.
Tyson Foods
When it comes to emerging technology, following the crowd may not always be in an organization's best interest.

It's equally important to gather early data through small pilots. With a "proof of value" business leaders can rationalize and prioritize technology investments. Tech leaders often need to bridge a tech fluency gap with corporate leadership to articulate the value of these investments and secure funding. By demonstrating that technologies can solve specific business problems, IT leadership and technology experts can help the C-suite and board see a 360-degree view on how business as a whole prioritize investments.

Having groups that are engaged in solving business problems, aligned on short- and long-term business goals and are positioned to learn, explore and incubate emerging technologies is a best practice. These groups can quickly identify a problem, see a solution, implement new technology as a step in the process, measure results and ultimately enable the business to believe in the solution which drives support for implementation at scale.

Once tech leaders demonstrate value and show corporate leadership why to invest in a given tool, it is much easier for tech and business leadership to align on adoption at scale and partner to solve larger problems.

Prioritize "smart" innovation

IT leaders should communicate outside of IT and across business functions to build a "maker mentality" and empower all employees to feel as if they have a stake in technology innovation. Simply put, driving visibility to what is possible, available, affordable and valuable will drive acceptance and ultimately adoption.

Just as corporate boards and the C-suite need to understand technology priorities, IT leadership and tech-savvy staff must have a firm finger on the pulse of the business as a whole. By engaging with business partners, extended members of staff and clients, technology experts can ensure that their innovations are useful and earn a seat at the table. A strong foundation of technology literacy and communication will help businesses prioritize mass adoption and succeed in their efforts.

There is no one right way for a business to integrate technology; different businesses have different needs and priorities. But by following these steps, business and technology leaders can partner to leapfrog ahead of their competitors.

By Scott Spradley, executive vice president and chief technology officer, Tyson Foods. Spradley is among the members of the CNBC Technology Executive Council.