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CIO Leadership: Goodwill's Jim Andreoni merges social concern with information technology

Jim Andreoni
Milwaukee, Wis. - Jim Andreoni may work for a nonprofit organization, but he has to concern himself with business processes almost as much as much as his counterparts at major manufacturing companies.

Andreoni, who took mostly a non-technology path to becoming chief information officer and vice president of information technology for Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin, is in charge of IT for an organization whose mission is to put disabled and disadvantaged people to work. It does so with 4,100 employees serving 16,000 participants in environments ranging from manufacturing sites to its own retail stores.

When Goodwill bids jobs with customers - existing clients include S.C. Johnson, Briggs & Stratton, and Ocean Spray - it must be as competitive as the for-profit marketplace to ensure its bids have the right price points. That's why his primary focus is saturating Goodwill's processes with value-added activities, with a little help from Kaizen and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) processes.

One of his worst nightmares is having a competitor underbid Goodwill because it has done a better job of “taking the air” out of its processes, which would allow it to remove some inflation from its price quote.

“When those jobs go out to bid, our competitors come in and put those RFPs together as well,” he said. “If we're not doing the same thing, if we're allowing the process to get out of hand or keeping wasteful steps, then we need to get with our operations and logistics people and say, `how can we work with you?'”
Strategic thrusts

Andreoni's job is as mutli-faceted as the organization he works for, but he's looking to add more technology capability. As he looks ahead to 2009 and beyond, Andreoni is eager to begin deployment of social computing and business intelligence tools, and his shopping list includes the Microsoft SharePoint server to handle the former, and the Microsoft PerformancePoint server for business reporting.

Andreoni reasons that social computing capabilities will come in handy in a “far-flung” organization that is spread out across 45 sites in 23 Wisconsin and Illinois counties. He plans to start SharePoint with three pilot departments to demonstrate how it can get people to communicate, and he believes that subscribing to someone's feeds or project widgets will be much more effective than getting lucky and catching the right e-mail thread.

The goal is to demonstrate the business use of this social tool. “One of the biggest things we want to do this year is bring the benefits of collaboration that the social networks seem to have,” Andreoni said. “I try to tell my folks there are Facebook and MySpace, and you think of those as very non-business types of things. But when we talk about what Linked In does for people, we think SharePoint is going to get cross-communication going in an organization of our size.”

On top of that, PerformancePoint would bring business intelligence and reporting capability to Goodwill. Andreoni believes PerformancePoint can be placed on top of several SQL databases - accounting, manufacturing, retail, and client SQLs - to conduct the requisite data mining.

After an interview process with other businesses that have begun to deploy BI, a process from which Andreoni hopes to learn some dos and don'ts, his goal is to get something rudimentary running by the end of 2009. By rudimentary, he means key performance indicators and simple drill downs.

“The idea is to tease them with the start, and then we'll get a richer environment running in 2010 and 2011,” he explained.

The level of data democratization remains to be seen, but Andreoni wants the data to be available to more than just business analysts. “I hope that's how the VPs feel,” he said. “We haven't really talked about what this means to their worlds right now, but I would think this would go down to any manager who can take data and make a report from multiple database sources.”

Human Resources

While squeezing non customer-centric activities out of manufacturing processes is a key aspect of Andreoni's job, the best example of where process improvement was married with technology did not involve streamlining the manufacturing process for Briggs & Stratton's spare parts kits or Ocean Spray's value packs.

The best example was the implementation of an online Human Resources Information System (HRIS), which has been placed on top of Goodwill's eRecruitment Web. Goodwill eventually implemented Ultimate Software's UltiPro system, which required a lot of backend IT work to ensure that the final product made the HR process run from beginning to end.

The system has helped the company run the eRecruitment web page on the front end, where people can apply for jobs, and it enables the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to provide Goodwill with real-time employment data. With the system, online job applications are batched and delivered to every manager who has asked that a job position be filled or that a brand new job position be established. The application process has been streamlined so that Goodwill can deliver these forms electronically and put them in different categories: must calls, maybe calls, and not qualified.

“All of that can be done nearly paperless,” Andreoni said. “Not everybody applies that way, but for those who do apply electronically we've streamlined what was a long process, and IT helped get those systems up and running.”

Social skills

While it's not the core of Andreoni's job, there is ample opportunity for public interface with Goodwill's retail operation, its largest fiscal engine. Thanks to retail systems like Club Goodwill, the organization knows how often a club member shops, their exact dollar buy, and how to reach them via e-mail promotion (a service provided by ExactTarget, with opt out) if they haven't shopped at Goodwill in a couple of months.

But it's the community service function that is perfectly aligned with Andreoni's background. Before becoming a CIO, the Marquette University graduate and Philadelphia native had earned a Master's degree in social work; he brought that degree to Goodwill, where he started as director of business development.

It was a job he would have for little more than one year. The organization was looking for a CIO and was not having much luck finding the right match. Not only did Andreoni have a background in social work, he had done a fair amount of back-end IT work as an administrator in social work jobs at three other career stops. A self-described “hobbyist computer guy,” especially when it could introduce innovation into his employer organizations, computers had become part of what he studied on the side.

Andreoni reshaped his resume to place more emphasis on his technology skills, interviewed for the job for about an hour, and Goodwill gave him a chance. Nine years later, he still directs IT for the organization, and in a period where the employment picture looks grim, he has opportunities to offer input on Goodwill's attempts to upgrade the computer skills, and therefore job skills, of disabled and disadvantaged populations. That comes into play with Goodwill's Internet Cafes and other skill-building initiatives.

As Goodwill's top technology manager, Andreoni manages a staff of 18 that serves 1,200 employee e-mail accounts and 900 workstations combined at Goodwill's Milwaukee and Chicago offices.

He occasionally has a hand in more basic technology projects, especially if they have both strategic and social components. Case in point: In support of the Chicago job placement program, he's reviewing the architecture for a new job-matching website that Goodwill plans to launch early next year. Goodwill clients will be able to post their resumes for partner employers like Walgreen's, who then will have an opportunity to consider a very loyal class of employees.

“It's going to give us a strategic advantage to work with our partner employers, plus bring in new employers to say, `before you go to the general marketplace, before you go to or anywhere else, do you have a predisposition to work with the disabled?'” he noted. “They can be very loyal employees because it's more of a challenge for a disabled person to get into the workforce, so if we can give you that preferred selection, you might have an employee for a much longer time than the average employee.”

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