How Dole Reaps the Technology Harvest

How one new internal team is helping Dole Food Company become more effective and efficient in the marketplace

Instagram took just two months to build, and today, it has 700 million users. It all started when Kevin Systrom created a check-in prototype called Burbn. But Burbn was hard to use and too similar to competitors like Foursquare. When investors encouraged Systrom to find a business partner, he landed engineer Mike Krieger. Krieger helped Systrom focus exclusively on photos driven by the ubiquitous iPhone 4’s high-resolution camera. They rebranded as Instagram and launched. The team watched their download total climb until it crashed the system. That’s when the team grew again to include a community manager, an evangelist, and other investors. In just eighteen months, the small but mighty team overcame its obstacles. It also attracted Facebook and closed a billion-dollar deal.

The origin story illustrates the compelling power of teamwork. That same principle is lifting Dole Fresh Food’s IT function to new heights. Trever Scott is Dole’s senior director and IT leader for North America. Scott joined the company from Foster Farms and Monsanto in 2007. He spent his first five years at Dole working on an ERP system and stabilizing the company’s IT environment. During those years, Scott scored many important wins. He also reduced daily incidents and improved business users’ confidence in the IT department. His team could then focus on projects that contributed to Dole’s overall business strategy. Today, he’s focusing on those types of projects in partnership with one of Dole’s top minds.

Forming a New Team

Absalon Pavon has been with Dole for more than twenty years. He’s worked with leaders across all units and divisions. Pavon practices and spearheaded mobile applications and projects in supply chain, quality assurance, customs compliance, and customer projects. In fact, he implemented a vessel operation tracking system to lower Dole’s costs. He also managed Dole’s export documentation system implementation in Latin America. This move increased data integrity and delivered dramatic results.

Few people understand all aspects of Dole’s business like Pavon, and despite the fact that he started in business analyst and project management roles, executives asked him to transition to IT, where he provides insight into what the business really needs to thrive and stay efficient. By tapping into Pavon’s institutional knowledge, Scott is leading a series of IT transformations that will consolidate business processes and create efficiencies across the entire operation worldwide.

For Scott, the partnership is ideal and exciting. “We now have someone working directly with IT who can identify pain points in the business and help us leverage our IT expertise to provide the perfect solution,” Scott says. “He bridges the gap between IT and the business; we can now become a much more strategic partner.”

It’s all happening at an important time for Dole. In recent years, the once-segmented and soiled conglomerate has sold many divisions, including its holdings in fresh flowers and packaged foods. It’s gone from public to private and back again. Two new presidents have reorganized, and now, a more streamlined Dole is coalescing around the idea of “One Dole,” a united organization dedicated to focusing on what it produces best: fresh fruit and fresh vegetables.

Streamlining IT

Those changes have brought a reduced headcount to IT and required the organization with four IT leaders (Europe, Latin America, and Vegetables, along with Scott leading North America) to collaborate with a global footprint on global projects. The team now gets more direction and transparency from the business. Scott, who once reported to human resources, now has a direct line to a vice president of IT and, ultimately, to Dole’s president and CEO.

Scott is now using his newfound credibility to roll out projects Pavon created to improve overall business functionality. The duo first collaborated on a quality assurance application that addresses the marketing team’s need to ensure all food product quality remains consistently high. Before, Dole employees completed all quality checks via manual pen-and-paper systems. Tech services visited fruit warehouses and checked the quality of fruit against manuals with pictures and descriptions.

Then, the employee would log that information on paper before returning to the office to transfer the data to an Excel spreadsheet. Together, Pavon, Scott, and others built a custom app that allows users to log quality information in one cloud database. Inspectors use tablets and mobile devices to take pictures. The new system eliminates the frustrating data-transfer process and gets critical information to the corporate user faster than ever before.

The project was a huge success upon its 2013 launch. “The quality assurance app automates several steps in the process and allows our company to use inspectors’ expertise in better ways,” Pavon says. “We’ve transformed the experience and given Dole the whole picture of quality with speed and accuracy.” Scott and Pavon have used business intelligence tools such as Tableau to demonstrate the app’s effectiveness in detail and are working to expand the project to other regions and other routine tasks, such as warehouse inspections.

Leveraging a Proof of Concept

The proof of concept project served as their breakthrough, and they developed an agile management style on its heels. “We do sprints, show an idea to the business, get a critique, make changes, and move forward with revisions,” Scott says. “We interact more closely and regularly to do effective work, and that lets IT provide well-founded, actual solutions for actual problems.”

He and Pavon collaborated again on a commercial cargo app within the Salesforce environment, which stemmed from supply chain problems. After Dole ships its food products around the world, it rents empty container space to other parties who need to transport their materials. Dole transports raw paper products that go to a warehouse in Latin America for storage before they’re forwarded on to fill orders at box-making plants and other facilities.

But until recently, Dole’s corporate workers didn’t have a good inventory or tracking method. By the time workers manually counted inventory, their client needed updated totals. The business unit struggled to fill orders on time, which led to a drop in business. Now, workers use iPads and scanners to track incoming products. Customers use a new portal to check inventory and examine photographs for damage and accuracy. The cargo app—which put handheld devices into the hands of Dole field workers for the first time—helped the company retain customers and attract new business.

Almost simultaneously, Scott, Pavon, and their teams leveraged Salesforce to address customer complaints. Because of its sheer size, Dole was facing a backlog of complaints with no real tracking or management system in place. IT’s new solution, which came just three months after the initial concept, helps users enter complaints into Salesforce and then configure appropriate alerts and messaging for business lines.

Getting More Complex

Most recently, Scott and Pavon completed their most complex project to date: a prebooking app that automates several steps in a once-cumbersome supply chain process. Salespeople across North America once entered product requests into a massive Excel spreadsheet. One corporate manager received each separate request, united them into one document, made a calculation, and sent the data to Dole’s offices in Costa Rica where another employee split the spreadsheet back into separate files. Now, users enter their requests, a manager receives and approves an alert, and a corporate employee verifies and acts on the request.

Things are changing at Dole as Scott and Pavon pile up successes that improve the business. They’re exporting solutions to other regions and importing best practices from their counterparts. Meanwhile, the larger company is investing in IT security and cybersecurity. But the two aren’t content to rest. They’ve already started planning a major ERP upgrade that will replace many outdated legacy systems and give business users actionable information. The duo is changing the way Dole IT functions, not just in North America, but worldwide—and the company is reaping the rewards.