CEMEX hones processes through “social with a business focus”
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CEMEX hones processes through “social with a business focus”

I-CIO editorial team – July 2012
How a global collaboration platform has transformed management processes at a $15bn building materials manufacturer.

In 2010, CEMEX, a $15 billion Mexican building materials company, introduced an online collaboration platform that has not only facilitated communication across the 50-plus countries in which it operates, but has also allowed the organization to fundamentally change the way its 44,000 employees work.

The platform, called Shift — which CEMEX describes as “a social network with a business focus” — was deployed at the instigation of CEO Lorenzo Zambrano, who was concerned that the challenging economic climate was forcing the organization to put too strong a focus on efficiency and standardization at the expense of what he believed was the most important requirement for competitive advantage: innovation.

The Shift project was led by Gilberto García, head of innovation at CEMEX, who has an extensive background in senior IT management at the business. His clearly stated aim was to make the company “more innovative, efficient and agile by letting employees or groups of employees with similar objectives share opinions, thoughts, information, experience, knowledge and best practices.”

“There has been a change in our management structures, from working for your boss or department to working for the global company.”

However, claims García, it is doing far more than that: “It is transforming the way we work.” He continues: “In the first place, the way senior management communicates and interacts with employees has changed dramatically.” In other words, Shift has narrowed the gap between executives and the rest of the business. “An example is our executive vice president for Mexico: his principal way of communicating is now a blog,” says García.

“He writes it every two or three weeks, and normally within hours there are over 100 comments. Now many other regional directors are using the same way to communicate.”

But Shift has precipitated something even more fundamental in the business. “There has been a change in our management structures,” says García. “Now there is a common sentiment that you don’t work for your department, or you don’t work for your boss. You work for the company — and, of course, it is a global company.”

One example of how this works is CEMEX’s “Construction for the 21st Century Community” which focuses on key strategic objectives for the future. The group has 400 members, mostly self-selected according to personal interest and expertise rather than having been appointed from above. Furthermore, it is not controlled by top executives; instead, leaders for each topic “were defined collectively, based on all members’ decisions and input, in a democratic, yet strategic, manner.”

The Shift project has not been without challenges, however. “For some executives, it was difficult,” admits García. “But for the most part our company was very open and eager for new technologies and ways of working. And once everyone discovered the value of this new channel, they came on board.”

García is full of praise for the way CEMEX’s IT department has enabled the rapid adoption of Shift by every employee. “IT worked very closely with us,” he says. “Our goal was to have the same level of performance that you have on Facebook, with a user interface as friendly as Facebook. The IT team did a great job in understanding these needs and — very, very quickly — integrating a comprehensive solution.”
First published July 2012
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