12 Nov CIO Leadership Series: Mobility keeps Runzheimer's Todd Oberg on the run
Rochester, Wis. – At Runzheimer International, information technology has become a trigger mechanism for growth, and the people pulling the trigger are Todd Oberg and his information technology staff.
Oberg, vice president of information technology for Runzheimer, holds an enviable position. He leads an IT staff that has been empowered to use IT to create multiple value propositions for the management consulting firm, especially those related to client mobility.
They welcome the challenge because the privately held company’s total employee mobility concept – the driving force in its strategy – can only be achieved with information technology. Where IT is particularly involved is in its ability to package and integrate these services under one Runzheimer umbrella.
“IT is lining up the business with where we are going with technology,” Oberg said. “Where is the technology now? Where is it going in the short term and longer term? And where does it align with total employee mobility?”
With total employee mobility, Runzheimer is determined to maintain a cohesive technology platform with new and existing business units and clients. Technology ties into that by making sure user interfaces create seamless interoperability of applications so that data can be shared in real time and in batch modes.
That’s always challenging when it involves partners and partner alliances. It’s part of Oberg’s job to package and integrate and link diverse technologies into a seamless offering to clients. “A lot of our services involve partnerships with other organizations,” he said. “We want to provide cohesion and value that is synchronized.”
Runzheimer, now approaching its 75th anniversary, grew up as a consultative company, using knowledge centered on business vehicle services and the federal government’s cents-per-mile rate, which Runzheimer itself defined. Sixty percent of the Fortune 500 are Runzheimer clients, as are many small and mid-sized organizations. “Anyone who has to monitor their miles and expenses,” Oberg said.
Setting the government mileage standard was a feather in Runzheimer’s cap, but modern business is all about “what have you done for me lately?” The exciting development from a technology standpoint is that Runzheimer is evolving into technology services, and the transition is in line with its push toward total employee mobility and bundling its services to help manage employee mobility spend.
In this and future eras, IT departments will be judged not by the basics of “generic IT,” but what they do to create business value and enable growth. That might come in the form of creating competitive advantage, optimizing business processes, enabling growth, or improving customer relationships.
Since Runzheimer grew up as a data repository, a lot of its services were developed around that data, and now it can package and present that information in various ways.
For example, Runzheimer just finished rebranding its website and, in conjunction with that, the company is changing its entire user interface to improve customer relationships and site usability and to generate more client feedback. This includes a portal that is used by administrative teams and accessed by drivers that log in on a regular basis.
In another technology-enabled service, Runzheimer has a mileage entry log that provides feedback on how to optimize routes for drivers or sales people. They can enter mileage on daily or weekly basis, and through a new service can generate custom reporting on a nationwide basis.
“They can mine our system for reports on what their drivers are doing,” Oberg said. “It puts the ownership of creating that information or report in the hands of our clients, and it’s definitely an improvement from our legacy system.”
To make these services part of its mobility strategy, Runzheimer had to challenge its core beliefs on sharing internal data. Oberg said the organization is not necessarily ready for a complete immersion in “Web 2.0,” which would require a great degree of externalization, but it must continue to evolve its technology toward those concepts because its user community will demand them.
Pulling the plug
To avoid failure on large IT implementations, Oberg follows a controlled methodology that he refers to as a “gate process.” Each project stage has a different set of requirements that are established and assessed by gatekeepers who typically are senior leaders throughout the organization, including a project sponsor or a business sponsor. They comprise a committee that digests deadlines and deliverables to ensure that Runzheimer is applying resources to the projects that have the most value going forward.
Pulling the plug is a decision that may not involve project failure; it often comes down to the application of available resources. The selected projects typically have the highest return on investment and value proposition, but there is a method to the decision-making.
“We’ve done it through milestones,” Oberg explained. “The initial stage is where we ask if we want to devote more time, but the next stage is the money stage where we ask more definitively about resources and decide where we are willing to commit the dollars. Business modeling and cost modeling has to happen before that phase, but then decisions are discussed by the organization.”
The best lesson Oberg has learned from an IT implementation is to never underestimate the dynamic of change within an organization, especially one that has been around for 75 years. As VP of information technology, he must make sure the company is managing change properly, within the organization and with clients.
“For us, internally, we’ve got some gaps in our conceptual understanding of technology and where it can take us, so for us it’s about consistency of the message, training, and asking questions going forward,” Oberg said. “It’s about communicating change and its value to the clients, and threading it to the entire organization – end to end.”
To advance innovative ideas, Runzheimer has set up Blue Sky Groups consisting of small cross-sectional teams that visit other organizations to learn how they do things at different levels of the organization.
Internally, the company has an idea database that employees can contribute to, and it has a dedicated new product development group. “The culture is such that we try to get everyone involved to share client feedback,” Oberg said. “The goal is to generate new ideas on a monthly basis that are screened and filtered.”
For Runzheimer, attracting IT talent is admittedly a struggle, even though it is situated 30 minutes from Milwaukee, an hour from Madison, and 90 minutes from Chicago. Runzheimer recruits at colleges like the nearby University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, it is visible at job fairs, and its human resource professionals are plugged into a number of sources.
The company has tried to remain competitive with wages, but the big lure is that it has an opportunity to pioneer an industry through technology transformation. “We’ve been an old-school information technology organization, but now we are taking the lead in defining how this is built and how we will strategically link this to total employee mobility,” Oberg said. “We’re having a lot of fun with it.”