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Are you the box?

News Analysis
Nov 18, 20025 mins
Data Center

IT executives discuss the importance of seeking outside input.

How do you think outside the box when essentially you and your peers are the box? The answer is to seek the input of people on your staff and even non-IS people throughout the organization.

At LoJack, field technicians do more than install stolen vehicle recovery systems. They also give input for developing IT migration plans.

Bob Lem, vice president of IT for the company in Westwood, Mass., says a technician’s comment recently led to the purchase of ViryaNet Service Hub portal software for mobile workforce access and management. The software will replace LoJack’s proprietary system, to eventually automate and optimize nearly 300 field-service schedules nationwide for delivering next-day and same-day service.

It’s feedback that’s educational, yet off-the-cuff, and it shaped a phased rollout to accommodate LoJack’s fourth consecutive quarter of sales growth. Scheduled for this month, the Service Hub launch will let LoJack scale operations, reduce travel time and boost the number of daily installations.

Like Lem, you’re probably also seeking innovation in your IT department. However, the challenge is, how do you think outside the box when essentially you and your peers are the box? The answer is to seek the input of people on your staff and even non-IS people throughout the organization.

Lem discovered hidden opportunity when folks let down their guard. In a 45-day information-gathering process, a 10-person core team consisting of sales, field operations, marketing, finance and an outside systems consultant shared views of how they’d scale the mobile workforce access and management system. The initial bias was that the order-entry system presented a bottleneck.

After taking a whiteboard to each department’s procedures, IT drilled down further with a five-member team, who sat in for a day on the job with department line managers. The routines revealed that the current 30-second order-taking system was simple, yet efficient as compared to industry best practices.

People were relaxed after spending time together and conversation flowed naturally, leading IT to an “aha moment” during a particular installation ride-along, Lem says.

A technician had finished one job and was driving with the team to the next dealership when he noticed a LoJack truck driving in the opposite direction. “The tech says, ‘That’s one of the things that I’ll never understand, if I was back here, and he was back there, then why am I driving to where he was and he’s driving to where I was?’ That was a good point,” Lem says. “In retrospect it sounds like a no-brainer when you think about the dynamic changes that happen every day. Optimizing drive time would be a big enhancement for us . . . something we should focus on first.”

The technician’s feedback revealed key frustration points, such as an inability to process dynamic orders and rescheduling based on cancellations and workers calling in sick, that would make the system difficult to scale and grow.

While LoJack isn’t disclosing how much it invested in the new system, pricing starts at $750,000 for ViryaNet Service Hub, Service Scheduler and eContract applications it also plans to use. In terms of return on investment, LoJack estimates that 25% efficiency savings will pay for the first phase of field service initiative in six months.

Tim Stanley, vice president of IT for Harrah’s Entertainment in Las Vegas, regularly bets on the likelihood that people will share useful insight when they gather to brainstorm. To that end, IT hosts breakfasts and luncheons, inviting local marketing, finance and other workers for informal chats. IT staffers mix at golf games, entertainment shows, parties, and work directly with employees during rollouts.

While formal project meetings also are held, IT finds that this relationship building fosters a networking environment where people are less guarded about sharing feedback. Comments such as “The interface is pretty clunky; it takes us some work; the data is stale” give IT the information it needs to improve systems, Stanley says.

When IT rolled out a wireless hotel check-in system last year, Stanley videotaped how the technology affected the “wow” experience for customers and equipped staffers with handheld devices to capture comments made about the process. “We had a checklist based on some scenarios such as if there wasn’t a credit card on file or if they were sharing a room and splitting the account. We were looking at how frequently we were hitting those scenarios and how many successful check-ins we had,” he says.

Using the feedback, IT added a new data-entry screen to its wireless hotel check-in system. The new screen ensured that when more than one customer shares a room, the different Total Rewards accounts that are needed for the check-in procedure could be captured and accounted for as part of the process.

Stanley has found that it’s not about the technology, it’s about the people using it. Often there’s a knowledge gap in which people don’t know that functions exist or that others need new functions added. It’s an interactive process that squishes the focus from the big issues to the more minute details. He says relationships get feedback going both ways.

The upside is that staffers buy into new technologies when they play a part in the implementation plan. “It’s one thing to build the whole thing and put it in front of them. Play off the idea with them, and sooner than later, because they’re going to tell you what you’re missing or what you’re not thinking about,” he says.

Responsibilities: To write in-depth feature stories about a variety of enterprise technologies and management strategies. Tasks include formulating story ideas, interviewing and writing stories. Past experience: Worked as Associate Features Editor at Network World compiling the technology Buyers Guides. How to reach: Best to reach early in the day, Monday through Friday.

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