I once had the CEO of a company tell me that I helped bring the company he led out of the stone ages. The sales manager thought less of my work. The experience was one of my first understanding of the importance of identifying my customer.
I spent 3-years as the Network Manager at Quixote Corp – a mid-sized publicly-traded company at the time. Over two years, my team took Quixote from a collection of 7-business units with separate collaboration platforms, networks, and IT operations to a company with shared messaging and advanced file services.
The Business Challenge
Quixote Corp. was the holding company of several highway information and safety companies. The business ranged from the largest company Energy Absorption Systems, a provider of road safety barriers, to Surface Systems, a provider of high information systems. Energy Absorption is the original creator of those yellow trashcan looking barriers on the highway. A little trivia, in movies, the barriers are always filled with water to make a dramatic effect when struck. In reality, they are filled with sand because of water freezes!
On paper, each of the subsidiaries complimented each other. Surface Systems could leverage the IP of Energy Absorption to create sensors placed inside of barriers. In practice, the company’s engineers rarely if ever collaborated. In Rocklin, California, an Energy Absorption engineering team couldn’t effectively collaborate on a set CAD files with an engineering team in St. Louis, Missouri. The business units were connected via a legacy Frame Relay network and maintained completely separate IT file-sharing systems. I was brought on board to change all of this.
I got to present to the various presidents of each company in the corporate boardroom, my first boardroom experience. I made the pitch for the CapEx and OpEx investment. I also asked for control of their IT teams as we deployed the technical solution. It was the first time I had to justify a technical answer to a set of business leaders.
After a couple of months of presentations, I received the budget, access to the extended team, and the green light to execute my plan. We deployed a then-modern MPLS network, a companywide messaging platform, and a shared identity management platform for sharing data across business units. We increased capabilities while reducing operational costs.
The Sales Manager
I inherited a continuous relationship with the sales manager. For reasons I never uncovered, he didn’t like IT. He let his thought known in the first user satisfaction survey I issued at the start of my employment. At the end of the project, I was sure I had won him over. His sales team loved the ability to receive email on their mobile devices and access to collaboration tools via VPN. However, he remained unimpressed.
None of his answers changed on the user satisfaction survey. He still rated IT low. I’m big on the importance of perception vs. pointing out data. If the customer doesn’t perceive value, there’s very little hope in changing their minds by showing data. It’s critical to manage the perception of sponsors during each phase of the project. I had successfully managed the perceptions of the CEO and CFO. The sales director and I rarely communicated during the upgrade process. At least we rarely spoke about the value IT delivered. I guess he never read my email updates.
I was fortunate. The sales manager wasn’t my primary stakeholder. It would have been a feather in our caps to have won him over. Fortunately for us, he wasn’t a primary influencer. I think that was more luck than by design.