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2015 Lessons Learned and 2016 Key Technology Plans

Summary of the Keynote Panel of the Technology Executives Club Leaders Circle Luncheon 12/17/15
By Alex Jarett

What lessons did you learn last year, and what are your plans for the coming year?

On December 17th, 38 CIOs and Senior Executives discussed both their past year’s projects and their key plans for the coming year at The Technology Executives Club annual year end luncheon and forecast meeting.

After a great keynote presentation by Todd Kimble, Executive Partner at Gartner, (See my summary of his talk here.) the keynote panel took the stage to discuss their recent accomplishments, lessons learned and plans for the coming year. The panel was moderated by Jim Vaselopulos, Vice President of PSC Group. Panelists were:

  • Jim Krueger is CIO and 26 year veteran of Hydrite Chemical. Hydrite Chemical is a provider of chemicals, chemical distribution, food and dairy sanitation, and related services.
  • Neil Goodrich, CIO, M Holland Company, a 65 year old Plastic Resin Distributor.
  • Trae Howell, Executive Director, Trustmark. Trustmark is a wellness and insurance company headquartered in Lake Forest, Illinois. Trae is the CIO of the Voluntary Benefit Solutions, the company’s largest division.
  • Todd Kimble, Executive Partner at Gartner and former CIO of Ryan Specialty Group and Arthur J.Gallagher.

After each panelist introduced himself and provided a brief background on their role they engaged in a great conversation. Here are some highlights, formatted with Jim’s question and then their answers. (Note, for the purposes of providing an easy to read summary, I’ve paraphrased many of the questions and answers.).

Jim Vaselopulos: For this past year – what were some of the key projects you would like to share? Tell us about both projects you are proud of and projects with lessons learned.

Jim Krueger, Hydrite Chemical:

Last year we had a few big projects:

  • In the Customer Acquisition area, we implemented Salesforce.
  • We also started a mobility project. I want to get away from servers and get more mobile. We decided to try a desktop service called dinCloud, where I can get the full desktop on the iPad. The Goal is to have everything on the iPad, with the ability to log in with a regular pc for more complicated spreadsheets. This is a long term project. There is no immediate ROI on this, but we believe it will be a huge upside.
  • A new project for 2016 is a new Transportation Management System. Since we do a lot of chemical freight, it’s more complicated than a regular freight system.

Neil Goodrich – M Holland Company

When I joined the company in 2014, we were given the charter to put in a CRM to help the sales team differentiate our company. When we spent time with the sales force, we decided that the sales team needed a lot of information that the company had, but it was always difficult for the sales reps to get. We decided to build a more extensive CRM that mirrored the sales representatives’ job, to help them get the information when they needed it in the sales process.

As an example of the impact of the new system – prior to the new system, it wasn’t uncommon for a sales rep to make a sale, and then the credit department would stop the deal because the client wouldn’t have proper credit.

We had the customer’s credit limit in our database, so we put that information on the new CRM we built. As a result, the sales people now know there is a potential issue ahead of time, and their behavior changed to call the credit department to get help, PRIOR to talking to the customer. This was a huge success for the company, as it eliminated friction between the two departments (sales and credit) and they started working together.

What we realized was what seemed to be a CRM project became a relationship technology project. So we now are continually looking for areas like that credit rating situation, where we can reduce the friction between departments, using data we already have. As a result of this approach, we helped free the company from some its constraints and sales jumped 10% percent! Now we are looking for new platforms to help manage the additional volume!

Trae Howell – Trustmark.

My comments today will relate to our business unit.

When I came to the unit, I always thought of the customer first and the customer experience. When I arrived at Trustmark I found that much of the focus was on the insurance agent, so we implemented a Customer CRM to help bring the customer perspective to the business. We took data that we already had and we were able to bring the customer data to the business. This brought more excitement to the company overall and we were able to see what types of customers are more profitable than others. This was done more in a Mode 2 fashion.

In a second project, the business had developed a new policy that would create a significant amount of new revenue, but previous IT processes had slowed down the development of the necessary policy administration system that we needed to be able to sell and service the policy. I took the project and applied an agile/mode 2 approach and we got it done in less than six months. The result was 17 new policies written by the end of 2015.

For 2016 – we are finishing up the new Policy System and building out the client database. Then the new project we are focused on is the new customer experience on the front end with our client portal. We also have a payment system we are rebuilding to create a better customer experience. In some areas we are moving into a mobile platform as well.

Todd Kimble – Gartner

For my clients, there is more going on with the Internet of Things than you might expect. All of my manufacturing and distribution clients are doing something with the Internet of Things. Examples include devices on the floor. Sensors in the manufactured devices they are selling. As an example, look at Best Buy and you’ll see a whole section of Internet of Things devices.

The second point is that cloud is continuing to be a big conversation. One note of caution is don’t sell cloud as a cost play. Cost will go down over time, but when you move your first app to the cloud, you’ll still have your data center. Eventually you’ll save money. Immediately you’ll get the flexibility, robustness and more.

Jim Vaselopulos: There are technologies that are pushing the business to do things, and the business may force a look at technologies to help the business. How does it work at your business?

Jim Krueger – Hydrite Chemical
We are very close to the executive team. It’s a little of both. They are very good at coming to us with ideas. As an example, with the mobile app, the VP of Sales had an idea of doing a survey to find out what we should do with our mobile app, and we worked closely with them to get that done. At this company we get together and solve the problems together. It’s very refreshing.

We use our internal teams for the internal business processes where knowledge of the company is critical. For some of the Mode 2 type projects, we’ve learned to partner with outside companies to help get those projects done.

Neil Goodrich – M Holland Company

The last generation of the IT Team (prior to Neil arriving) did a lot of reactive work. There was a three ring binder and it was up to the business to document what they wanted and if it didn’t work out it was the business’s fault. We changed that. IT is now very active in the company and we listen. We’ll show up in meetings and people will say, “What is IT doing here?” and we are just there to listen. So what happens now is we’ve become the aggregator of information. We now actually have a much better feel for the business and we can then come back to the business and say things like, “Remember that problem you brought up in the meeting? Here’s a way to fix that.” The mode we are in now is a virtuous circle. It’s a great place to be.

Trae Howell – Trustmark

The CIO of the overall company made it a directive within the last few years to create a closer partnership. It’s becoming more of a partnership as they trust us. BA’s used to be under the business side now are in the IT side. The more we are in the meetings, like the weekly ops meeting, the more we learn. As an example, I was involved in our regular enrollment meetings. It’s more of a partnership. When we have a solution that our division has adopted, we then present it to the other divisions. You have to get it working in one division, and then show it to the other divisions for adoption.

I think the other question is you have to be careful to know what you shouldn’t be working on. As an example, in our fitness division we started on an Internet of Things fitness project. We spent three years on that and we shouldn’t have done that. So we learned from that and now we’ve partnered with Welltok. They are a technology company that helps make those connections with devices. This was a conversation on both sides. Everyone worked together to decide what we should be doing

Todd Kimble- Gartner

I would also like to add an important related comment about having an innovation process. A lot of companies say they are “Innovative.” Then I ask them, “What is your innovation process?” Innovation needs a process. As example, if someone in your group has an idea, what is the process for that idea? In most companies, the idea goes somewhere and dies. You need a process to harvest innovation. Another thing is we looked at the key characteristics that make a company innovative. The attribute that impacts the innovation the most is whether the employee was empowered to have an idea. Anyone in the company should be able to innovate. People should know there is an innovation process and there should be a feedback loop and it should be real.


Conclusion and Parting Thoughts

As I reflect on the conversation, I find it fascinating that there are common themes of success from executives from three completely different companies on the panel, plus Gartner:

  • Get closer to the customer view. Thinking of the customer experience and helping the business get closer to the customer can pay dividends.
  • Listen to the business. Don’t just think of it as requirements gathering with a clipboard. Be involved with the business. Go to the staff meetings. Attend the sales meetings, help out on the floor, shadow different executives and just listen. By being involved and listening you’ll be much better able to come to the business with ideas that solve their problems and you won’t just be pushing a technology.
  • Help the business get to data you already have. In Neil’s example, the credit score actually brought two different departments closer together and the result was more sales.
  • Create an innovation process that is real and encourage everyone in the company to contribute their ideas.
  • Know the difference between a Mode 1 type of process and a Mode 2 type of project. Get good at delivering quick, targeted successes in a Mode 2 style while your Mode 1 team works on your core business processes.

What do you think? For feedback on this panel or to add to the conversation post your comment here.

Members can listen to the entire panel here.

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Updated: April 5, 2016 — 5:04 pm

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