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Mike Rodgers (LinkedIn) is the chief strategy and information officer for Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in North America. Mike is responsible for the enterprise technology and digital transformation that is making the Pilot Flying J app one of the most useful on the market for customers. Whether it’s automating fuel payments or making shower reservations simple and quick, Pilot Flying J’s app has been making the lives of truck drivers more efficient than ever before. He talks about that and more on this special episode of IT Visionaries that was recorded live at MuleSoftCONNECT Atlanta with guest host Vidya Peters, the CMO of MuleSoft.
Best Advice: “Make sure you surround yourself with really good people. Early in your career, you think you can do it all and that you know everything. But the first thing I realized is, I don’t know enough. So I need to hire good people and let them do their job. Hire the right people and let them fail. Mentor them. Coach them. Set the strategy and then let them execute.”
Explaining Mike’s Title — (1:30)
As the Chief Strategy and Information Officer, Mike is responsible for a great deal of the company’s success. What Mike does is prioritizes the business strategies that will dictate the technology roadmap.
“IT is at the center pretty much all of our strategic initiatives.”
Challenges facing CIOs today — (2:30)
One of the biggest challenges Mike mentions is finding talent. Because the unemployment rate is so low in the United States right now, recruiting new talent is a struggle. As a CIO, Mike says the way to face that challenge is to figure out how to, first of all, require fewer people to run the company, and then how to pay your people more and retain the people you have with benefits and up-to-date technology. By doing that, it forces you to become more efficient.
“We can become more efficient, we can pay our people more, we can keep them with us, give them better benefits, that kind of thing, and provide the technology to allow them to do more value-added work.”
Digitizing the trucking business — (4:40)
Pilot Flying J is committed to helping drivers optimize their time on the road. Rather than having them deal with the elements of deciding when to stop, waiting for the services you need like a shower or a meal, or some fuel, Pilot Flying J offers an app to make those processes easier so that drivers can be more efficient.
“It’s really becoming a mobile experience for the truck driver….Time is money to a truck driver. That’s how they get paid. If they want to maximize their time on the road, what can we do to make that easier? So if I can take five minutes off of reserving a shower by putting it on the APP, we’re going to do that.”
The move from IT as a cost center to IT as a tool for strategic initiatives — (8:00)
Mike says that at Pilot Flying J there has been a significant increase in spending when it comes to IT. But even with increased spending, there is so much demand for IT services that it’s hard for the department to keep up. To handle the demand, an enterprise project management office was set up with someone in charge of looking at all the requests coming in, prioritizing them. There has also been an increased amount of discipline in deciding what gets budget and why based on the value it adds to the company.
“We have more demand than we can handle.”
“We’ve become very disciplined about saying, ‘We’re going to spend X amount of dollars on initiative X and it’s going to drive this much value.’ And we’re going to hold you accountable to hit those returns because we’re spending real money on it, you know? IT investment is not free.”
“If it’s really just a nice-to-have, we’re not going focus on that unless it dramatically improves the guest experience, helps our team members, or drives direct financial results.”
Measuring the impact of IT — (11:00)
The impact of IT can be measured by business enablement. And business enablement is achieved by a domino effect that starts with figuring out ways to deliver capabilities to your employees and your customers.
Before you can deliver anything, though, Mike says that you need to look at a few factors, the first being financials. If the spend does not match the return, it doesn’t make sense to pour resources into that project. There is also the change management aspect of projects. Because many of these new capabilities require adoption across the board, you have to make sure that the people you are bringing in to run the programs understand what you are trying to do and will be advocates for the new technology with your customers or employees.
“We’re working together to figure out how to deliver capabilities. Those capabilities will deliver a return. Those returns end up in our financial plan.”
“There’s going to be some people that just don’t want to change. They may have been doing their job for 20 years and now you’re upsetting the apple cart. So don’t underestimate that….If you do the change management right, you’ll get better adoption and over time you’ll get a hundred percent adoption. But it won’t happen day one.”
Some of the most important lessons — (16:00)
Mike explains that early on there is a desire to do too much too soon. That can lead to becoming overextended. Learning not to bite off more than you can chew is a big lesson all CIOs have to learn.
He also explains that sometimes you need to take a step back in order to see the whole picture. When you do that you may see that it’s time to move on from a certain project or completely start over. Those realizations are hard, but they are your responsibility. And when you don’t come to those conclusions soon enough, it can damage your entire team.
“When you’re sitting up at the top of the food chain, you have to make tough decisions, so you need to get yourself out of the details so you can be objective.”