26 Feb CIO Leadership: Trek's Brent Leland cycles through business-IT alignment – Part 2
Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part CIO Leadership interview with Brent Leland, director of information technology for Trek Bicycle Corp. in Waterloo. Read part one here.
WTN: In terms of the value you’re trying to provide the company during this economy, is it pretty much wrapped up in the business alignment and process transformation?
Leland: If I look at how aligned we are, where we are in that process, we’re probably 80 percent of the way there. IT is now involved in a lot of the strategic decision-making in the company, and whereas historically IT was kind of a step removed from that. Now we’re very actively involved in that, so I think the business is now recognizing the value. IT is getting a lot more visibility. I think we’ve gotten more credibility. I think there is the realization that IT can help deliver things that can help you be more competitive in the market and help you to operate more efficiently.
We’re not just the systems people. We’re becoming much more the solution and business process people.
WTN: Has management come to IT and asked about how you can help get the company through this economic period?
Leland: Overall, as far as the economy, we’re pretty well poised. We’re taking a wait-and-see approach. We’re watching costs closely. With pretty much any maintenance contract that comes up, we go back and we’re now reviewing it. We use Gartner; they’ve been very helpful in finding savings and identifying things we don’t need, so there are the tactical things like that. The other one is any area we can help with just efficiencies, but we’re running lean. Trek’s always been a very lean company. So we’re just watching things closely, but we haven’t put everything on hold. We’re still moving forward. Once the economy picks up again, we definitely want to be ready to go.
WTN: Is there a technology out there that you would really like to introduce in your organization, one that could really make a difference in this economic environment?
Leland: It’s mostly business process first. We’ve got a couple of technologies we’re looking at this year. We’re looking at putting in more of a formal demand-planning system. We’re looking at doing some work in our PLM area, which I mentioned earlier. The other thing we’re looking at is we’re on an older version of J.D. Edwards for our ERP system, and we’re going through a process now of figuring out how to upgrade it because it’s been fairly heavily customized, so that’s one of the things now that we have been spending quite a bit of time on.
WTN: How is it different to be the CIO for a company with a product that consumers have an emotional connection to related to fitness, quality of life, and the need to compete?
Leland: It’s very refreshing. Trek does a lot for the community, for the environment, and there is a great focus on advocacy. The one area where it’s been really useful is even though we’re located in Waterloo, Wis., which is a little bit outside of big cities, we’re able to attract talent because people want to come work here. Turnover is extremely low. I’ve had very few people leave voluntarily since I’ve been here. We’ve hired quite a few.
A lot of what we look for when hiring is really the fit, the fit with the company, because Trek has a very unique culture. We’re very agile. You mentioned healthy lifestyles – I ride into work, at least when it’s not snowing. When it’s warmer, I ride into work two or three days a week and I live in Lake Mills. As you walked through the building, you probably saw bikes all over. Those are people’s bikes. Trek has 150 acres of mountain bike trails across the road, so there are a lot of things we find helpful from a recruiting perspective.
As long as you find people who don’t mind being 150 miles from Chicago or Minneapolis or another big city, there is a lot going for us. That’s where it helps me the most, from a recruiting perspective.
WTN: What is IT’s role in helping cyclists custom build their own bikes through Trek’s Project One program?
Leland: A lot of the Project One website was very information technology driven. We have the front-end work. We wrote a custom configurator with J.D. Edwards to basically handle all the permutations you could have for building a bike. Then we have the piece with our extranet, where our dealers can come in and configure a bike.
So as part of the process, a consumer can go on the web, custom configure the bike, it sends an e-mail to the dealer, and it shows up on our extranet, and they [dealers] will do the next step in the process where they actually sit down with the consumer and make sure it’s exactly like they want it, and then the order is sent to us. It then comes into the J.D. Edwards system here, and we’ve automated the process of building that bike, and manufacturing typically turns it around in a couple of days. So it’s really something that helps make U.S. manufacturing have a reason to be – having that ability to do that quick turnaround for customers.
Consumers can go onto the configurator and select all the components on the bike, they can have it personalized, and put their name on it. On the Web, they go through and basically configure a bike to look just exactly like they want it. When they get to the dealer, that’s when they make sure it’s sized appropriately for them. So there are some additional selections that happen when they are at the dealer, but it’s basically detailed enough to spec out the whole bike.
WTN: What is the best lesson you’ve learned from large IT implementations – whether it was a failure or success?
Leland: The best lesson is about managing expectations. At a previous company, we did a lot of SAP implementations. I think early on in that process, when we were trying to get good at this because we were an acquiring company, we had the attitude that this is going to be seamless, and this is going off without a hitch. What we found was that the approach should really be to manage expectations, that this is going to be painful. There are going to be things that are going to happen, and we need to have the appropriate post go-live support available. It was really about having people aware that there is always something that does not go right, especially on large, complex implementations.
You just want to have everybody ready for it and have a support team in place to be able to address whatever issues happen.
WTN: At the end of the day, how do you know that what you’re doing in IT is providing the organization with business value?
Leland: It’s almost like a pull system. The more value we add, the more we get involved in business discussions, the more requests we have for what we deliver.
WTN: Is BI an example of that? Are the business units that don’t yet have it actually pining for it?
Leland: They are definitely pining for it. What’s interesting is that business priorities are constantly changing. When we first started putting it in place, the first area we were going to roll it into was finance. As it turned out, we were focusing a lot on putting tools in for our supply chain, so we rolled out a lot of tools on the supply chain side first.
So finance is still kind of waiting. They are running a lot of their stuff on the old system, so they are definitely ready to get the new tools. Pretty much anyone who is starting to use them is seeing the power in them.
We started in our supply chain around our product line and our build-to-order capabilities. Those were the areas at the time that were our biggest business priorities. We rolled out Project One really over the past year, and a lot of it over the last six months so we ended up focusing a lot of our time on that piece of it.
WTN: Any advice for other CIOs in this economic climate?
Leland: I’ve spent more time in my career working on the business side than I have in IT. Most of my conversations with the business and a lot of my conversations with IT are all about the business. They are all about business process. From other CIOs that I have talked to and from what I read in the press, it’s changing because a lot of historical IT focus was on the infrastructure. Today, infrastructure is much more like electricity and should just work. That really makes it so that a CIO has to be really focused on the business. I worked for four public companies prior to coming here, and it’s a little bit company-dependent, depending on where business process originates. My experience is that some people are just wired for business process and you’ll typically find those people in business management. You’ll find somebody where everything they do is focused on making the process better.
If you don’t have that person in the business, that’s an area where IT can fill in because one of the things I look for in anybody that I hire, especially people who are going to be in a management role, a business interface role, they need to be focused on business process. Some areas of the business have that as a focus; others are more focused on running the business. So we need to acknowledge that and figure out where the gaps are.
Brent Leland bio
- Director of information technology for Trek Bicycle Corp. since April 2007.
- Previous career stops include Spectrum Brands (formerly Rayovac Corp.), Hewlett-Packard Inkjet Business Unit, Space Systems/Loral, and General Dynamics.
- Master of Business Administration, June 1995, Stanford Graduate School of Business, focus in business strategy, entrepreneurial studies, and technology management; Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, May 1990, University of Florida.
About Trek Bicycles
- Waterloo-based global bicycle designer and manufacturer whose products have been used in victories in the world’s premier cycling events, including the Tour de France (Lance Armstrong) and Ironman world competitions (Tim DeBoom).
- Products range from its original hand-built steel touring frames and more technologically advanced OCLV Carbon, used in competitions worldwide. Products also include bikes for use off-road use, including mountain terrain, road and triathlon events, plus bikes designed for women and children, and bikes custom designed by consumers through the company website.
- 2007 annual sales of $600 million (Hoover’s); 1,189 employees, including 75 in information technology.