Managing Change at a Manufacturing Firm

Arthur Blank is the largest producer of private label plastic cards in North America. Founded in 1934, the Boston-based company printed and manufactured 550 million plastic cards in 2003. Its products include private label loyalty, gift, phone, credit, debit, membership, access, security I.D., Smart Cards.

Goldstein joined the company in 1999 as vice president of IT, where he heads up the IT department and works on technology-related special projects.

What is the main IT project currently occupying the bulk of your time?

We’ve recently implemented a new enterprise-wide CRM system, which went smoothly. It’s a suite of applications that are all tightly integrated with the front office … which will include prospecting, marketing campaign management, as well as a complete suite of email and task management tools that integrate with Microsoft Outlook and customer quoting.

We had an old legacy system that is UNIX-based that did its job — however, it doesn’t have a lot of the updated nuances that a new system would have. It wasn’t user-friendly with a GUI environment and doesn’t really accommodate a dot-com world where we’re emailing and tracking everything we send to customers.

This whole front-end CRM system handshakes with the back-end office system so once a quote is won, our sales folks can literally push a button and turn a quote into an order. Everything we make is made to order and no order is the same.

We went live with the CRM piece last November after about seven to eight months and then went live with the manufacturing piece of the software in January. Ongoing refinement of the system is next and better mining of the data so we can get meaningful information relative our operations.

Generally speaking, how open to system changes are your employees?

It’s a hard question because we’re a manufacturing facility. Anyone in the front office is very open, but in the back office, they are not system savvy. My staff is very receptive to change and I think it’s a function of what they do on a daily basis — even with an older system. They always have to respond to customer demands and there’s always changing requirements so they’re always flexible and prepared for change. That’s inherent in what their job responsibilities are anyway.

Do you have any formal training mechanisms in place to train the rank and file staffers on how to use new software?

In this particular instance is we have assigned employees from functional areas as lead people and gotten them involved in the implementation — they are involved in all aspects.

For example, when we went live with the CRM system we had a person from the sales group involved in the implementation. That included loading data, learning the system, and troubleshooting during pilots to make sure that anything that needed to be in place was and working properly.

She was effectively the sales liaison to the IT department, helping us to understand when we do an update or implementation that it was doing what the sales department needed it to do. She then literally helped with training classes for the entire sales department, so if there was any problem they were able to go straight to her.

A key component of gaining acceptance when you’re looking at business process change is to make the people who are undergoing the change part of the process so they don’t feel something is being forced on them. It’s something they are part of.

Always gain as much input from the users as you can and involve them in the process so they’re part of the change rather than the receiver of it.

How large is your IT staff and what skills are you in need of?

We have four people plus myself. The way we do this is we have people who wear many hats and have overlapping roles so we get a lot of product with limited number of people. No skill sets are presently needed because I have a fairly well-rounded group, so if someone is lacking a skill there’s nice overlap. Virtually everyone in my department is cross-trained with someone else so if we hit an extremely demanding period we can have someone else jump in and someone else can help with that role.

Which of your skills has served you best in managing IT?

Understanding business because there has to be an underlying reason we do the things we do from a technology perspective and it has to make good business sense. That’s what I look at — the technology initiatives that will have a positive impact will be the ones we pursue.

What keeps you awake at night?

That the systems we implement continually evolve and are tested to ensure that the personalized product we deliver to our customers is perfect in every respect. A failure in that system would in fact (keep me awake) so we’re always testing our internal systems to ensure that they’re operating properly and what would worry me is a hole that passes surreptitiously through our testing protocol.