Coca-Cola has long made supplier diversity a pillar of its business, but saying the words and translating them into action can be very different efforts. Case in point: the information technology world (IT), where the community of potential suppliers isn't always connected with the possibilities at Coke, and the process of meeting companies one by one can be slow.

"We've always had a large footprint of diverse suppliers," says Chief Information Officer Barry Simpson, "but it seemed to me that there was an opportunity to do something bigger within IT—and do it in a much more effective way."

Global IT Supplier Diversity Day
To that end, Coca-Cola's IT Supplier Services and Supplier Diversity teams collaborated to host the first-ever Global IT Supplier Diversity Day, inviting a group of 32 diverse suppliers to its Atlanta headquarters. Featuring breakout sessions with key Coke leadership and a networking reception, the event last August was an opportunity for prospective suppliers to understand the company's IT strategy in areas such as security, application software, and infrastructure.

"It's hard for smaller companies to get access to us and understand what we're trying to do so they have a real sense of how they could help us," Simpson says.

The IT effort is part of a larger movement within Coca-Cola to ensure that minority-owned businesses have access to opportunities throughout its global supply chain. Coca-Cola has an ambitious goal to hit $1 billion in annual spending.

Suppliers told Simpson and others at the event that they appreciated the chance to hear more about what Coke is looking for in the IT space. And for Coke, it was a chance not only to learn about potential new suppliers but to see how the company could make the approach easier. That included feedback on the contracts process and also more clarity on which services are (and are not) of interest.

"Every time we enter into a trusted, long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship with a diverse supplier, we are basically investing in our own competitive advantage," says Edgardo Almeida, Coke's director of procurement. "Diverse suppliers have the ability to develop disruptive technologies or business models."

Global IT Supplier Diversity Day
Simpson echoes this, noting that suppliers with different backgrounds tend to depart from the same old ways of approaching technology solutions: "They're faster, they're more nimble, and they're able to tailor their services more to us."

Attendees at the event were asked to submit a one-page document pitching how their solutions could help Coca-Cola's IT business. After close reviews of those documents, executives at Coke selected those who would move forward in the process, initiating master agreements with new suppliers.

"This was a one-of-a-kind initiative from Barry, who truly understands how diversity is essential to Coca-Cola’s overall strategy," says Terrez Thompson, vice president of global supplier diversity. "Diverse suppliers bring agility and innovation to IT, and they also represent the consumers and communities that we reach."