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Crate & Barrel's Joan King explains how e-commerce can offer shoppers dream experiences—both in-store and online P10

Video games, VR, and robots: an inside look at the future of medical simulation P32 How CISO Martin Dinel protects the people of Alberta from cyberthreats P68

Your Partner In Business For editorial consideration, contact

This page & cover: Nolis Anderson

Be Where Your Customers Are

Crate and Barrel’s Joan King explains why it doesn’t matter what she thinks—only what customers will do. P10

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Upgrade Your Performance

Joan King helps Crate and Barrel deliver an ideal brand interaction to customers, no matter the platform


Chief technology officer Michael Kirschner makes Total Wine & More agile, engaging, and customer-focused both on- and offline


Chad Jackson may refer to 32 himself as “the geek in the garage,” but his experimental approach is delivering results to education and culture at the American College of Chest Physicians

Eric Bibelnieks explains how expanding data analysis leadership across multiple brands drives deep insights for retail


Courtney Graybill gives David’s Bridal shoppers their dream wedding experience


SLI Systems helps retailers like Crate and Barrel meet customers where they want to shop and let customers find what they need


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Priya Raman details productive data strategies from a successful career of innovation


The Wild West of the internet needed accountability, and Symcor’s Della Shea stepped up to the challenge


John O’Keefe’s versatility makes him one of Lafayette College’s most valuable assets


Haynes Furniture CIO Scott Downs transitioned from a passion for aviation into a career of soaring ahead of the curve


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48 Empower Your Peers



Move Ideas Into the World

The Government of Alberta’s cybersecurity chief, Martin Dinel, protects the province from digital threats


The many students, faculty, and staff of Houston Community College have all the resources they need thanks to William Carter and his team


How CIO Jon Sider guided Mattress Firm through a digital and physical transformation


Retired Pfizer vice president Marc Berger looks back at a career of data innovation


After being partially paralyzed in the Indian Army, Puneet Wahi found the determination to overcome any and all challenges


Jean Turgeon details how his childhood curiosity about how things work informs his innovative approach at Avaya


President and CEO Andrew Appel shares how 76 Information Resources Inc. helps companies grow their businesses and connect with customers


Central Freight Lines expands and drives success by dreaming up a technological transportation future


BAI CIO Carol Skarlat relies on her journalism background to update others on the complex technology challenges that her team faces CISO Sean Lowder and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana put the “care” in healthcare information security


Bosch has been a leader in the area of “things” for generations, so it’s only natural it leads the way in the rise of the Internet of Things


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people & companies index


People & Companies


American College of Chest Physicians, 32

VP of Creative Kathy Kantorski

Appel, Andrew, 76 Avaya, 60 BAI, 81 Berger, Marc, 54 Bibelnieks, Eric, 21 Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, 84 Bosch, 89 Carter, William, 72 Central Freight Lines, 63 Crate and Barrel, 10 David’s Bridal, 24 Dinel, Martin, 68 Downs, Scott, 45 dressbarn, 21 Government of Alberta, 68 Graybill, Courtney, 24 Haynes Furniture, 45 Houston Community College, 72 Information Resources Inc., 76 Jackson, Chad, 32 King, Joan, 10 Kirschner, Michael, 16 Lafayette College, 42 Lowder, Sean, 84 maurices, 21 O’Keefe, John, 42 Mattress Firm, 50

Editorial Director Cyndi Fecher Strategic Content Director Megan Bungeroth

Raman, Priya, 36 Shea, Della, 38 Sider, Jonathan, 50 Skarlat, Carol, 81 SLI Systems, 28 Symcor, 38 Total Wine & More, 16 TPC Group, 57 Turgeon, Jean, 60 Wahi, Puneet, 57

Executive Relationship Managers Josh Rosen Jenny Vetokhin


Senior Editor Adam Kivel

Guerrero Howe, LLC

Contributors Zach Baliva Galen Beebe Pamela DeLoatch Joe Dyton Peter Fabris Joseph Kay Russ Klettke Lior Phillips Jeff Silver Arianna Stern Rebecca Stoner

CEO Pedro Guerrero

Design & Photo Director Caleb Fox Designer Anna Jo Beck Photo Editor & Staff Photographer Gillian Fry

Executive Assistant Jaclyn Tumberger Content Marketing Director Sean Conner Recruitment Director Elyse Schultz Circulation & Reprints Director Stacy Kraft Events Director Vianni Busquets

Freelance Photo Editor Cassandra Davis

Client Services Director Cheyenne Eiswald


Senior Client Services Manager Rebekah Pappas

EVP of Sales Katie Else

Client Services Manager Katie Richards Skylar Garfield

Perez, Carter, 28 Pfizer, 54

Director, Executive Success Anna Jensen

VP of Sales Kyle Evangelista Director of Sales Operations Philip Taylor

VP of Business Operations Marc Jerbi Director of Finance Nichole Roiland

Managing Director David Watson Content & Advertising Managers Kelly Alexander Matt Chinnis Nathan Dunn Janet Geraghty Elise Gruneisen Brandon Havrilka Josh Rosen Subscriptions + Reprints For a free subscription, please visit Printed in China. Reprinting of articles is prohibited without permission of Guerrero Howe, LLC. For reprint information, contact Stacy Kraft at 312.256.8460 or Sync Magazine® is a registered trademark of Guerrero Howe, LLC.

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From the editor

Upon opening the front door to my apartment building every afternoon, I gingerly step between the stacks of brown cardboard boxes waiting for their owners.

Issue 014

Crate & Barrel's Joan King explains how e-commerce can offer shoppers dream experiences—both in-store and online P10

Each time, I’ll glance across them, knowing I hadn’t ordered anything, but wondering if any would bear my name—just in case. And whenever that twinge of disappointment crops up, I wonder why I even cared in the first place. The more I think about it, the more it seems to be tied to a sense of excitement that comes from being able to get exactly what you want. Whether it’s a rare jazz record from Ethiopia or a hand-milled bar of soap from Maine, the advent of e-commerce meant the possibility of having one’s wildest shopping dreams fulfilled. Clicking around on Etsy or Amazon, I’m suddenly filled with the possibility of possessions that I never knew I wanted, but suddenly needed. And yet I get an equally charged twinge of concern every time I pass the independent book shop on the way home. Surely, every time I order a novel from one of those big online retailers, I’m actively doing them harm? How long can stores like that survive in the face of free two-day shipping or one-stop online shopping? But the more I talked with the executives in this issue’s Focus section, the more I realized that e-commerce isn’t the natural enemy of the in-store retail experience. There’s plenty of room in town for both. In fact, these discussions forced me to reevaluate the way I think about technology as a whole. Each innovation isn’t a replacement for the experience that came before, but rather another option. Each has its own value, and the two can be combined in previously unexpected ways to deliver experiences we never thought possible. For our cover feature, Joan King describes how shoppers can use Crate and Barrel’s advanced tools to see how a new couch would look in their home with augmented reality. Of course, then, they’d want to visit a store to get an in-person look as well. To that same end, I have a phone in my pocket that allows me to get in touch with people via call, text, video, audio, and any number of social media outlets. But, often, I’m using those tools as a way to arrange a dinner or pick out a movie to see with friends. Every day, we interact with the world through advancements that we hadn’t had years—or sometimes even months—ago. Thanks to thoughtful executives such as the ones in this magazine, the world doesn’t just cover over its past with a new layer of technology. Instead, it evolves in ways that care about human experience. Adam Kivel, Senior Editor

Video games, VR, and robots: an inside look at the future of medical simulation P32 How CISO Martin Dinel protects the people of Alberta from cyberthreats P68

Caleb Fox

Joan King redefines what others might expect from the e-commerce office.

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t the onset of the e-commerce movement, the idea that shoppers would no longer need to enter stores and could shop for anything they wanted right from their homes was revolutionary. And the response has been equally encouraging. Internet sales accounted for an estimated 15 percent of consumer expenditure as a whole in 2016 according to Hargreaves Lansdown, a 500 percent increase in the last decade. Massive companies have risen on the back of e-commerce alone, while others have chased that success in addition to their physical presence. However, truly innovative technology executives are finding ways to better serve customers by tying the greatest strengths of the internet and advanced technology to the value of the in-store experience. At Crate and Barrel, Joan King is infusing innovations like


augmented reality to show how a sofa might fit in a customer’s home, but also driving them to the store to experience the furniture in person. Michael Kirschner helps Total Wine & More shoppers track their favorite wines and build a preferred flavor profile, but also encourages them to come to stores to take classes and learn even more. Eric Bibelnieks of maurices and dressbarn tracks countless amounts of data to help deliver better options to customers both in-store and online, while David’s Bridal exec Courtney Graybill helps brides achieve their dream experience by optimizing user experience on an app and helping shoppers take what they learned online into the store. E-commerce is no longer an alternative or a replacement for the in-store, but rather one way in which innovators help provide a comprehensive, fulfilling experience.

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Let the Customer Lead As the VP of eCommerce for Crate and Barrel, Joan King leads her team by following the customer’s brand experience, no matter the platform By Megan Bungeroth | Portraits by Nolis Anderson

oan King doesn’t think in terms of either/or questions. From her desk in a cozy, brand-inspired office at the Northbrook, Illinois, Crate and Barrel corporate headquarters, King gently steers a question about driving customers to the website or the mobile app where it belongs: centered on the customer. “It doesn’t matter what I want,” King says. “It only matters what customers will do.” As the vice president of eCommerce, King’s role is to guide her team in creating the optimal customer experience for Crate and Barrel shoppers in whatever digital realm they frequent. The team is platform-agnostic and completely guided, as King says, by what customers are


Joan King VP of eCommerce Crate and Barrel

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already doing. The team is constantly testing and tweaking, because rather than work to drive customers to where they think they should go, Crate and Barrel’s e-commerce team meets customers where they are and aims to make that experience as comfortable, seamless, and inspirational as the in-store shopping excursion. King has spent her whole career embracing new opportunities to stay close to customers and steps ahead of the curve. When she started at Crate and Barrel in 2001 as an information architect—a title, she explains, that was centered around customer experience at the time—the storied housewares company was just beginning to bring the majority of its website functions in-house. Crate and Barrel started by launching its popular wedding registry online, and followed over the years by adding a broader array of product options, starting with housewares. A few years later, around 2003, the company made the bold-at-the-time choice to sell furniture online, despite concerns that customers would prefer to touch and feel the product or, conversely, that online success could negatively affect in-store sales As the website grew and omnichannel retail emerged, King’s roles followed suit. “As jobs would evolve and new opportunities were presented, I’d take them. I dug into the analyst role where we first completed all the tagging on the site and then moved on to do all the related analytics,” King, who has always been fiercely motivated by the customer experience, says. “As new needs would pop up, I would always raise my hand. It was a beautiful marriage of, ‘Well, we have a need but we’re not clear on what the role is,’ and, ‘Joan can figure it out.’” And she did. King developed A/B testing for the site before A/B was a commonly used term. She studied the online behavior of customers before UX was ubiquitous. She looked beyond the then-popular tool for customer feedback—the focus group—to bring more frequent and reliable customer feedback to the forefront of her team’s work. King understood early on that adopting real-time feedback was instrumental in developing the site. “If you wanted to spend twenty grand and get one single test, you did a focus group,” she says. That becomes prohibitively expensive and only allows for customer insight a few times a year. Rather than waiting for customers to report back on their experiences,

King pushed her team to be constantly listening. “Everybody has to be ingrained in that mentality, understanding what the customer is struggling with,” King says. “Managing usability testing was the next role that I took on. That has enabled us to have a really strong customer experience: our team has always done that in-house.” During her time as senior customer experience analyst, King completed coursework for a PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has a BA in English and an MA in writing—having studied “the rhetoric of online spaces,” many of her courses and advisors were from the technology and communications departments. “At that time, Facebook was not yet started, and e-commerce was still in its first generation,” she says. “I was intrigued by how communication was evolving—or rather really needed to evolve—to truly take advantage of the medium that was user-driven, nonlinear, and changing every day.” That educational foundation in how people communicate online infuses everything she does now. King attributes her tenure at Crate and Barrel, in part, to the impactful leaders she has worked with. At one point, King made a pivot and scaled back some of her responsibilities when she had her three children. She then scaled back up once they were older and the need arose to organize the e-commerce department around product teams. King’s career passion has always brought her back to roles that best influence the customer experience. Her refusal to differentiate between an online customer and an in-store customer comes in part from the fact that customers are, more often than not, the same person in different circumstances. For that reason, she values a holistic approach to customer service that takes every interaction with the Crate and Barrel brand into account. King encourages an environment of constant testing and pivoting, of paying attention to what the customers are saying—either directly, through hundreds of comments daily on the site’s functionality and features, or indirectly, with information about how they behave. “We have great tools available to us, with data and usability testing and A/B testing, that enable us to make sure everybody on the team doesn’t fall in love with their own stuff. Customers will tell you immediately if it’s not working,” King says. “The comments are a gift

“There’s no excuse to not find out why customers don’t like something and to then prioritize making it better.”

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The Magic of Customization The Crate and Barrel e-commerce team uses technology to enhance the customer experience Augmented Reality: The Crate and Barrel app, which King says is geared toward their most loyal customers and those who use it to build a wedding registry, has a “View in Your Room” feature. It connects to a smartphone camera and allows the user to take a picture of the item wherever they imagine it going. Mood Board: Any item on the Crate and Barrel website can be saved to a mood board, letting customers put together their dream living room or collect ideas for table settings. The mood board can be created with the help of an associate in a store or online, and then can be accessed in both places. The mood board even keeps a running cost tally, so you can adjust the ideal décor based on budget. Sectional Planner: There are endless ways to customize Crate and Barrel sectional sofas, and so the e-commerce team built a feature into the website that allows customers to mix and match pieces, try different fabrics, and see what different configurations will look like. “A sectional is a big purchase, and if people can’t see exactly what that furniture is going to look like, they’re going to have a hard time committing,” King says.

“You have to be where your customers are or you’re going to miss the opportunity to interact with them in a modern way.”

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that our customers give to us every day. Our CEO reads them, I read them, and the other product managers and most of the team read them. It’s part of our routine: they just start the day with their coffee and their customer comments.” King’s driving philosophy is that when customers are interacting with Crate and Barrel digitally—whether through the app, the mobile site, or the desktop site—the driving force for sales is the customer experience, a job made more compelling by having beautiful products for customers to engage with. “There’s no excuse to not find out why customers don’t like something and to then prioritize making it better, because at the end of the day, our customer experience is what will drive sales online. Online, we don’t have associates. We don’t have the store with its gorgeous displays and the physical product,” King says.

“The customer doesn’t differentiate between buying from the website and buying in-store. They just bought from the brand.” “You have to prioritize making the customer experience the most seamless, inspirational, frictionless thing. If you don’t, every piece that adds friction, every piece that doesn’t meet their expectation, you can lose sales. They can choose to go somewhere else or get distracted.” The Crate and Barrel website has infinitely more options than any brick-and-mortar store, when taking into account the nearly endless combinations of styles, fabrics, and features that customers can choose for custom furniture. A major challenge is how to show those options to the customers. One big-picture goal in the past year has been to enable custom upholstery ordering through the website. That involves not only showing customers what their sofa will look like in the selected turquoise fabric with walnut legs, but also gives them dimensions, shows a video of people sitting on the sofa, and enables customers to add the custom option to a personalized mood board. The mood boards are always connected to their account and can be accessed in stores as well. For those customers looking for more guidance on choices, there is a 3-D room designer and the inapp augmented reality feature. Much like how Crate

and Barrel pioneered how customers shop for home furnishings in stores, the retailer strives to bring the same experience online. Everything is designed to allow the customer to visualize the furniture in their home, whether they’re standing in front of a store display or sitting in front of their laptop. Another crucial focus for the e-commerce team is personalization. As King explains, retailers like Amazon are influencing what customers have come to expect online, and that includes a highly personalized experience. Customers want brands to understand who they are and deliver solutions for them. That expectation only increases when people make a big purchase and have invested in a brand. “You have to be where your customers are or you’re going to miss the opportunity to interact with them in a modern way,” King says. “As a customer, if I’ve come to your site and I’ve been looking at sofas, why don’t you know that? And then meet me back at Pinterest with some recommended sofas and follow me around with the things that you know that I like.” In addition, customers are moving to mobile in droves: mobile now accounts for nearly 40 percent of all online traffic to Crate and Barrel, a figure that continues to grow every year. But King and her team view the mobile experience as an extension of the in-store experience. “A lot of times, in the store, customers are pulling up their phone and reading reviews and doing comparison shopping,” King says. “You can’t look at it in terms of store sales and online sales. You have to consider brand sales, and digital plays a role in supporting brand sales. The customer doesn’t differentiate between buying from the website and buying in-store. They just bought from the brand.” This platform agnosticism is driven by a team that takes pride in working for Crate and Barrel, King says. Everyone is passionate about their role in supporting a brand with such high standards, she says, and so they are constantly raising the bar for themselves. That helps the team stay out of their silos, not get too attached to any one idea, and put the focus on the customer above all else. That focus and pride is evident as King shows off the latest online features from her office desktop. She is excited to know that another user is planning to try them out and see how they work—and how they don’t work. Praise is nice, but criticism means there’s a way to get better. “Tell me what you find,” she says. “And don’t just tell me the good stuff.” Sync / 15

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Thinking Through the Total Experience How Total Wine chief technology officer Michael Kirschner is making digital wine retail agile, customerfocused, and engaging

by Rebecca Stoner

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t Total Wine & More, Michael Kirschner is working to create a world-class retail experience— one that includes brick-andmortar stores and a digital presence. He speaks with pride about the retailer’s consumer value: each location packs in about 8,000 different varieties of wine, 2,500 beers, and 3,000 spirits, taken from every producing region of the world, and at every price point. Many are from smaller breweries and wineries, which means they’re difficult or impossible to find at other retailers. When he took on the role, Kirschner knew that replicating that experience online would be a difficult but essential next step for Total Wine to continue to reach new heights. Beyond accelerating both halves of that equation, they’d need to find a way to bridge the two and offer customers a truly cohesive experience. In stores, knowledgeable sales associates direct customers, advising on the best wine to pair with a meal or give as a gift. The stores also have classrooms in which customers learn how to taste and swirl wine, as well as educate themselves about everything from Spanish and Portuguese wines to single-malt scotch. Total Wine’s digital presence, meanwhile, supports and replicates the features of the physical stores. Just as a salesperson will know the right wine to delight a repeat customer, the Total Wine website builds a flavor profile of each customer, allowing for personalized recommendations and promotions. If a customer has participated in a wine tasting in the brick-and-mortar store, they can log their likes and dislikes, enabling them to find their favorite wines more quickly. On and off-line, Total Wine supports the curiosity of its customers. “Our best customers really have this passion to learn more about wine. They want to try new things, to be that person who brings a cool new bottle to a dinner, and to try to find something that’s different or better,” Kirschner explains. “They like hearing the stories behind the wineries, why they’re important, and the passion that goes into making wines.” Total Wine uses what they already know about a customer’s preferences to steer them to something similar, but further off the beaten track—usually something from a high-quality small- or mid-sized winery.


Michael Kirschner Chief Technology Officer Total Wine & More

Working with customers like these and replicating a dynamic retail space presents exciting challenges and opportunities for tech talent. “It’s not just a matter of throwing up a website that works,” Kirschner says. “We need people who think a little differently, people who consider how to create and craft experiences end to end.” With that, Total Wine is ramping up its website and optimizing it for mobile, where a growing number of customers now access it. They’re also building an app and implementing strategies that make buying wine more convenient, like allowing customers to pick up bottles they’ve purchased online in the store. To achieve the ultimate in customer experience, Kirschner works closely with teams such as SapientRazorfish. “We are excited to partner with Total Wine to enable their digital transformation journey,” says Kamalesh Loganathan, senior client partner at SapientRazorfish. “With customer centricity at our core, we are committed to enable an experience that emulates Michael’s vision for Total Wine’s digital presence and places the customer at the forefront.” Kirschner’s teams use agile methodology to get those important tasks done. He calls it a highly collaborative, Sync / 19

Michael Kirschner’s Advice for Leaders “Remember that you spend more time every day with the people you work with than with your spouse. It’s crucial to create a positive, collaborative work environment where team members work together to solve problems and celebrate successes.” “Be on the court with your team­—not in the stands. Don’t try to manage your team’s problems from a distance. Instead, get down into the muck with them to guide them out successfully.” “Give people the freedom to explore, while setting up clear, tangible metrics for success.” “Inspire, encourage, and empower—don’t micromanage.”

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fast-paced, and cross-functional methodology, in which teams work together to identify areas of customer need and design software around them. They vote on which projects to take on, ensuring a sense of investment in the task at hand. Everyone involved in the project works together face-to-face—software engineers, business analysts, and more. It’s a more flexible and responsive style of working than is usually found within traditional IT departments. “By having all the people necessary to solve a problem in one spot, you get it done faster,” Kirschner says. Teams check in with each other every day at stand-up meetings, where they describe their progress on current projects and where they feel stuck. That way, they can find support immediately from their colleagues. Every two weeks, the digital teams meet to present working versions of their software. It’s an occasion for Total Wine teams to come together to celebrate wins and learn about what others have been accomplishing. In an agile methodology, team members decide on their own projects and approaches and help one another solve problems. There’s no micromanagement in that process. Team members describe Kirschner as inspiring, encouraging, empowering, and caring. Because of that, morale is very high. Total Wine has invested in giving the teams the resources they need to make the agile methodology most effective by bringing in consultants to train employees in this style of work, and creating new open office space within the building. “The team really has a sense of ownership, collaboration, responsibility, and accountability,” Kirschner says. A hacker at heart, Kirschner never stops learning and is similarly dedicated to nurturing his employees’ growth. “I really care about the people, their careers, their happiness,” he says. To that end, Kirschner puts structures in place to make sure his employees are continuously learning and growing. Each receives training from top-tier consultants in skills and methodologies as diverse as test-driven development, technology architecture, and MOB programming, which emphasizes collaborative problem solving. The level of skill they achieve is evident in Kirschner’s descriptions of their work—they sound like expert craftsmen. “They pay attention to detail and good design matters to them,” he says. “There’s a piece of excellence in what they do, as well as pride and ownership.” Issue 014

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Insider Insights Eric Bibelnieks provided value in analytics for maurices, and now hopes to tie those lessons in as he works with sister organization dressbarn as well by Adam Kivel

n the era of Big Data, many organizations have more data than they know what to do with. But unlocking the narrative behind all of those numbers and making connections that others have yet to see can make all the difference when it comes to finding a competitive advantage in the ever-crowded marketplace. Eric Bibelnieks has made a career of delivering that potential value as the vice president of customer analytics at women’s clothing retailer maurices. But when parent company ascena retail group expanded his responsibilities to looking at dressbarn’s data in addition to maurices’ in 2017, Bibelnieks saw an opportunity to find even deeper seeded value in the endless mine of data. After delivering impressive insights to maurices in the evolving retail environment, Bibelnieks now eagerly


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faces the challenge of doing the same across multiple brands—and the volume of data he’s encountered is staggering. “I’m still drinking from the firehose, but my personal style is to learn and listen as much as I can before I start shaping and changing,” he says. “But then I always tell people, if the new job isn’t challenging enough or doesn’t scare you in some sense, it’s not the right job.” In his new role, Bibelnieks is able to take a customercentric view beyond the already vast online and in-store experience and capture what shoppers are

purchasing, how they respond to marketing, and what their activity in loyalty programs is across multiple brands. On top of adding a second retailer, Bibelnieks added customer insights to his purview in addition to customer analytics. “We use that data and bolt them together to inform marketing strategies, engagement strategies, and contact strategies,” he explains. When it comes to uniting databases and metrics across brands, Bibelnieks has found that the devil is in the details. Plus, his team needs to find the right way to consistently communicate the lessons learned from that data. In any boardroom, the CEO and chief marketing officer need to be speaking the same language, especially when it comes to something as complex as data. Add in a second set of leadership that needs to communicate with the first, and the importance of consistency grows exponentially. In this regard, he partners closely with IT partners, helping them to explain how the data is used and how to best structure technology in addition to helping to build new apps to meet the needs of the business. Together, they’re working to evolve customer experience management tools and offer more personalized experiences, whether in-store or online.

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Eric Bibelnieks Vice President of Customer Analytics and Insights maurices and dressbarn, subsidiaries of ascena retail group, inc.

In this new retail environment, the speed with which other teams need to access data is increasing rapidly, and Bibelnieks wants to ensure that his team doesn’t become a bottleneck of information. Rather than acting as gatekeepers for when requests come on, the team works better and provides more value by sharing information as much as possible and giving people access. But when other teams have access, Bibelnieks makes sure that they have the proper definitions and understanding to see the value of the data and use it properly. The team’s work has helped not only learn about each brand’s customers, but also to identify how they differ and how they are similar. While dressbarn originated on the East Coast, maurices grew out of the Midwest. Customers from dressbarn tend to be older and have a higher income range than maurices. As such, the two brands offer different styles and see different purchase cycles. “I will buy casual clothes more frequently than I will dressy clothes,” Bibelnieks says. “The biggest season for maurices tends to be in the fall as people gear up for the changing weather. However, dressbarn’s biggest season is spring, as people prepare for events like graduation, Mother’s Day, and Easter.” Those facts might be tied to the history of the brand rather than something inherent in the consumers, but Bibelnieks and his team are working to learn from that and derive knowledge they can use to further improve sales. But the insights don’t stop at those two brands either. Bibelnieks is able to share with his colleagues across ascena retail’s other five brands, sharing ideas and best practices. Collaborative meetings had taken place as early as five years ago, when Bibelnieks first joined maurices. The company is still working toward a single scalable set of metrics and approaches, along with common reporting, that will make that work much easier. Since taking over data responsibilities for dressbarn, Bibelnieks’s team has doubled in size to accommodate the increased workload. To keep all of those people on the same page, he has needed to prioritize a strategic direction and worthwhile opportunities. Things can get lost in the shuffle when adding a lot of new moving pieces, making consolidation and working nimbly keys to success. “We’re talking a lot about scale because we need to scale our insights and value to the marketing teams, the media teams, the executive-level management, and more,” Bibelnieks says. “As an analytics professional, you sit in this wonderful space between technology and business. I get to translate business needs and opportunities into an analytical problem that suddenly becomes solvable through data and technology.” Collaboration and communication have become as important as any dataset. And, in that sense, Bibelnieks’s new position and increased workload have presented an exciting opportunity because of the daunting challenge—the key, he says, to any new role.

FOCUS e-commerce

POWER UP CONNECTIONS between your brand and consumers

Epsilon is a global market leader in creating authentic, real-time conversations. We harness rich data and ground-breaking technologies. We help you reach consumers wherever they are, when they want to be reached. Visit or call 800 292 9220

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Walking Down The Digital Aisle Courtney Graybill helps David’s Bridal shoppers achieve their dream experience by Lior Phillips

very bride makes thousands and thousands of decisions before the moment she says “I do.” From the save-the-date card to the dress, she will want each and every option to be exactly right, to come together to make the perfect day. And as the vice president of customer experience and product management at David’s Bridal, Courtney Graybill wants to make all those decisions as painless and easy as possible. “We have such a wide assortment of offerings that we felt like we needed to make it easier for her to find what she was looking for,” she says. Graybill joined the organization in 2014, and was appointed the vice president of digital strategy and analytics two years later. In that position, she made major advancements in the way the company connected the dots between the way their customers behave and how they sell their products. A decade ago, an organization’s e-commerce approach could amount to dropping all of their products on a website. Today, Graybill and David’s Bridal need a more advanced strategy, one that ties the online and in-store experience together into one big picture. “The customer today doesn’t care if she’s talking to someone in the call center, coming into the store, or shopping online; the customer expects that the experience is the same everywhere she


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Courtney Graybill Vice President, Customer Experience and Product Management David’s Bridal

goes,” Graybill says. “Companies need to adapt and think differently about how they deliver through technology.” One major project that Graybill undertook at that time involved redesigning the website to better fit the needs and habits of the customers. The organization’s data showed that shoppers were becoming increasingly mobile, a trend that’s only continued. To that end, she and her team worked on optimizing navigation for the mobile browser, boosting zoom capabilities, offering more adaptive filtering, and making sharing to social media easier. “We also found they really want to see gowns on real people, so we’ve highlighted that more prominently throughout the site,” Graybill says. “We also added areas where when you see a gown, you’ll also see the veil and the undergarments that are going to round out the look.” In a sense, the redesign showed customers that David’s Bridal sees them as a person in need of a complete experience, rather than just someone who would buy a product. The editorial content on the site’s front page may not sell dresses, but it reinforces that vision. Shoppers turn to the David’s Bridal website for inspiration as frequently or perhaps more than they do to complete a transaction, while also engaging with the brand across the many social media touchpoints the organization offers. Brides rely heavily on Pinterest today much the way they did bridal magazines in eras past, arranging complete events on the site and engaging with Issue 014


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others. The teen shoppers that comprise the company’s prom market engage with others through Instagram and Snapchat. Graybill and her team look at how they can connect those dots and make sure that customers have the ability to share their experience with their community. “We see a lot of growth in customers looking for ratings, reviews, and user-generated content,” she says. “She wants human feedback, so how do we connect all these other off-property ways that she’s interacting, finding products, and getting inspiration to the strategic thinking that we’re working on?” Rather than wait and undertake a single massive launch on the redesign of the website, David’s Bridal chose to roll out features on an ongoing basis, providing new value to customers whenever possible. The development process has undergone similar changes, moving from a waterfall style to agile. “Now we can do quicker iterative changes versus waiting on big releases,” she explains. “That’s been successful in engaging with our development team and collaborating more.” Graybill’s new role as vice president of customer experience and product management means she can take that methodology and mindset to the enterprise 26 / Sync

level. “We can start to break down those silos,” she explains. “We don’t need to create a solution just for the website or just for the stores. We can think about all the touchpoints across a customer’s journey.” Key to that understanding is that the website, the app, and the brick-and-mortar stores are all parts of the same larger whole that fuel each other. To that end the website is often used as an inspiration source, a way to inspire customers to book an appointment in the store. Once they do, David’s Bridal is making it easier to connect her online dreaming to finding products instore because of clever changes Graybill and her team made to David’s Bridal product pages. “We sat behind the glass wall at a usability test and watched customers engaging with the product detail pages. We had thought Pinterest would be the way they would share favorite dresses, but many would just take a screenshot,” Graybill recalls. As such, she realized that they would need to make product names, description, and detail visible at first glance on a screenshot of a product page. That said, e-commerce continues to be a growing facet of the David’s Bridal strategy as well. “To drive e-commerce, we tested removing some of the editorial content from our navigation with the hypothesis that we would more quickly guide her into the product searching, and we would increase appointments in e-commerce conversions,” Graybill says. “What’s interesting about our customers is that when we hid that editorial content from being the first thing she saw on the navigational structure, we actually were reducing the conversions for appointments and purchasing.” It’s counterintuitive to offer pathways away from product pages, but proved that customers want guidance and ideas around what their special day looks like, which helps in the purchase decision. Innovative projects like the mobile app and the wedding dress finder tool will further make that dream a reality. “I think it’s so important to provide our excellent customer service, to take the great in-store experience we’ve developed and make it easier for her to do some of that on her own through the website and the app,” Graybill says. “We’re currently working on building a digital road map to cross-cut all the touchpoints of the brand, making every one of them more personalized and helping to guide her through that process.”

PMX Agency is an award-winning, full-service performance marketing agency. Leading with an insight-driven, consumer-centric approach to marketing, PMX Agency combines an intuitive knowledge of the customer experience with customized, scalable strategies across: research, customer analytics, SEM, display, affiliates, SEO, content, social, email, direct mail, creative, website design, and performance management. As a proud partner of Courtney Graybill and David’s Bridal, as well as many other leading global brands, PMX Agency is committed to not only uncovering the data or interpreting insights from trends, but to diving deeper in order to discover the unique combination of solutions to our clients’ most significant business challenges. PMX Agency is a member of the Stagwell Group, a collaborative group of agencies who are out to “reinvent the holding company,” according to The Wall Street Journal. The Stagwell Group portfolio includes more than a dozen best-in-class, digital-first agencies who are focused on what modern CMOs need. 

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Evolving the Customer Journey Customers want to find products online as efficiently as possible, and retailers like Crate and Barrel want to meet customers where they shop. SLI Systems sets a table where everyone gets what they want. By Russ Klettke

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FOCUS e-commerce

call an appetizer tray, luncheon plate, dessert tray, or ot long ago, specialty retailers acrylic plate; the synonyms are identified by humans, like Crate and Barrel depended then tested within the system. Knowing to tag a product entirely on people who worked with such terms directs consumers to that product more in their brick-and-mortar stores quickly, before they lose interest. Called “tuned searchto connect with customers. The es,” the company found that in three months they could in-store sales associate—let’s increase sales $30,000 by tuning two dozen terms on a call her Michelle—was and handful of products. remains someone who knows Helping the consumer more quickly find the what her customers are looking for and are most likely to buy. Because after years of working with customers product they want to buy increases the conversion in one of the chain’s ninety-two outlets, she has an rate. But the SLI solution can also increase the instinctive feel for what is on the mind of the shopper. revenue per visit (RPV) by suggesting similar or complementary products. But with the explosive growth of online shopping, But what about the disconnect between actually there needs to be a digital Michelle to help guide and inspire the shopper. That’s the goal of SLI Systems, holding or touching a product, examining it from all sides, and truly experiencing it before buying? an e-commerce accelerator that partners with Crate Perez emphasizes that SLI offers a complementary and Barrel to anticipate what digital shoppers might function to Crate and Barrel’s in-house e-commerce be looking for, and then insure they can find it. As team. “Crate and Barrel is known for product developSLI vice president of sales Carter Perez explains, the ment, selection, and exceptional merchandising,” Perez company’s e-commerce solutions basically crowdsays. “What we do is help turn source information from ontheir online shoppers into buyline shoppers to expedite and “Crate and Barrel is known ers, and then sell more to buymagnify the shopping experiers.” Beyond Crate and Barrel, ence—and to maximize profitfor product development, ability to the retailer. the firm’s predictive product selection, and exceptional That’s more than digital discovery solutions are emmerchandising. What we ployed across more than eight marketing-speak. In the second month of its program hundred websites with customdo is help turn their online ers on five continents speaking with the iconic housewares shoppers into buyers, and in twenty languages. and furniture retailer, the Driving the outsourcing conversion rate (site visitors sell more to buyers.” of this function is the fact that who conducted a search and just as tastes change, so too do purchased something) went methods and means of shopup 5.4 percent. For a mature online retailer, that’s no small ping. The migration of online dish. “That kind of growth is shopping to mobile smarthard to achieve in a traditional phones is already complete. store,” Perez says. The trend emerging now is SLI employs “machine visual search. “Consumers are beginning to point their cell learning” to accomplish this. phone at an object, for example a chair, and search for A subset of artificial intelligence, machine learning evolves product ranking according to an algorithm that other chairs like it,” Perez says. looks at site visitor search terms. With each subsequent The nature of all of this is a continuous tweaking, search and visitor, the ranking is fine-tuned. In other as Perez describes it, of the solution configuration for words, as the crowd (cumulative site visitors) gets bigger Crate and Barrel and all other clients. or on-site activity increases, the data becomes better at Michelle is still needed on the store floor; a significant market segment still loves to shop in person. But if predicting what new shoppers will find interesting. Where this reaches back into the analog world is that same shopper turns to the web, SLI is there to help enhance the customer journey and show that shopper how good old-fashioned synonyms play a role. What exactly what they want to see. one person calls a dessert plate another person may



5.4% In the second month of its program, Crate and Barrel’s conversion rate (site visitors who conducted a search and purchased something) went up 5.4 percent


The company found that in three months they could increase sales $30,000 by tuning two dozen terms on a handful of products

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THINK Upgrade Your Performance

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Chad Jackson leads the way for innovation at one of the most hightech simulation centers in the world By Adam Kivel

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Chad Jackson Vice President, Innovation & Development American College of Chest Physicians

The geek in the garage, the nutty professor, the mad scientist: Chad Jackson gets a lot of gentle ribbing around the office. But looking at the mockups, prototypes, and plans spread around his office, another comparison comes to mind. The space feels like a medical Disneyland, making Chad Jackson its lead Imagineer. That’s only reinforced by the time he begins to show off the cutting-edge technology and seriously fun learning tools that he and his team at the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST) have developed in their simulation center. “I’m a huge Disney fan,” Jackson says. “I have a sign in my office with a Walt Disney quote: ‘If you dream it, then you can do it.’ In another life, I’d love to have been an Imagineer. But if you think about it, that’s what I’m doing here.” For the medicine world, that means implementing everything from learning games to virtual and augmented reality. A tablet computer mounted on a remote-control car frame sits on one end of his desk, along with a prototype Whac-A-Mole-style game he’s designed in which doctors can answer multiple-choice questions by bopping a bust of a doctor on the head. Pictures of other interactive learning games are tacked up to the wall, and a massive whiteboard on one end of the room is covered with sketches of theoretical new projects at the simulation center; CHEST is the only society accredited through the Society for Simulation Healthcare, and is also accredited through the Acreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. While those projects are all exciting, one short walk around the sizable facility will reinforce the Disneyland comparisons. As Jackson describes the flexibility of their state-of-the-art conference rooms (complete with HDMI capture kits and cameras to share the lecturers’ lessons), a groaning sound bounces down the halls. “That brings us to the patients,” Jackson says, as he walks into one of six rooms in the space built to look like a hospital room, complete with all of the requisite machinery and technology—and an incredibly lifelike robot patient. The simulated patients can moan and cough. Their chests rise and fall as if they were breathing and their heart rate responds when drugs are administered. They have simulated pores and tear ducts so they can sweat and cry. They can even urinate, an important indicator in the ICU. The robots were designed to leave as few artifacts of simulation as possible; the more real the patient, the more likely the doctors will take the simulation seriously and not break the scenario. The CHEST team even continues to modify the robots beyond their manufactured capabilities, always looking for ways to make the simulation more real. The center’s wet and dry labs are constantly buzzing with 3-D printers, robotics, and other projects.

Chad Jackson developed Whack-a-Doc as a way to gamify lessons about COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In the game, doctors are given a set amount of time to answer questions about COPD diagnosis and management by whacking a rubber doctor on the head. Sync / 33

While educators across the world look for new ways to teach complex subjects and help students learn, Chad Jackson and the team at the American College of Chest Physicians have found that the hands-on approach can deliver real results. Offering learners the ability to practice bronchoscopy and pulmonary procedures and interact with highly advanced robotic patients has made a massive difference in the continued education of thousands of doctors, nurses, and other professionals.

In fact, that type of modification is what led to Jackson being invited to join CHEST in the first place. While working out of the Florida State University Clinical Learning Center, Jackson presented at a conference on modifying simulators for mechanical ventilation, a real breakthrough at the time. One of the leaders at CHEST was so impressed that she came up to him afterward with a bold proclamation: “She just said, “I don’t care who you are or who you work for, but you’re going to be working for me in a few weeks,” Jackson recalls. “And to her credit, I was.” He has since spent nine years validating that decision, manifesting an innovative approach and willingness to dig in and redesign things himself.

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That push for complexity is important, as doctors need to be prepared for just about anything at a moment’s notice. One example Jackson details is the EBUS, or endobronchial ultrasound, a technique that uses ultrasound technology in a special bronchoscope to allow medical professionals to visualize airways and adjacent structures in order to rapidly diagnose and treat lung cancer. Taking a sample with the specialized needle is a fifteen-step process, and yet doctors hadn’t been able to practice the procedure because one slip of the needle could cause $6,000 of damage to the real bronchoscope. “Because of that potential risk, hospital systems don’t like the doctors to practice, but to just do the procedure on the patient, which is crazy,” Jackson says. “We’ve developed products to allow doctors to practice procedures such as EBUS-TBNA—this fifteen-step Issue 014




process—and intubation with incredible accuracy and realism.” As a step to change that mind-set, Jackson has begun to develop products that could be produced at a lower cost and shared so that more doctors can practice their work. In collaboration with Dr. Eric Edell, Jackson produced a prototype EBUS practice device he called the EFS: Eric’s Fruit Stand. The device allows the doctor to put a grape at one end of the simulated bronchoscope, position the needle properly, and stick the grape to simulate the process of testing for small-cell lung cancer, with no risk of damaging equipment or needing to test on a human patient. In addition to offering devices like the EFS to other hospitals and medical systems and at CHEST’s massive simulation center, Jackson and his team bring some of their innovations to medical conferences around the world. One particular draw is a set of educational games built into foldable arcade cabinets, which Jackson designed himself in order to be easily transported. With each game—such as the Indiana Jones-themed Pulmonary Adventures in the Temple of Gloom—Jackson partners with subject matter experts like Dr. William Kelly to ensure that the important information is communicated. “We can take our guidelines, a phone book-like document of about 1,300 pages, and turn it into something that physicians can absorb and then pay attention to the critical changes in these guidelines,” he says. “They’re playing games, working together, and learning. If it’s engaging for the physicians, it’s going to impact their practice.” Jackson’s innovations don’t stop at the technology level; he was recently appointed vice president of innovation and development, bringing that approach to the entire college. In addition to simulation, Jackson now brings his innovative mind-set to everything from livelearning, e-learning, and pharmaceutical representative training to marketing and publications. One of the most important factors that he wants to bring to CHEST is the power of collaboration. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I want to do without the partnerships I’ve forged with other teams in the organization, our vendors and partners, and other medical leaders,” Jackson says. “I’m only a successful geek because I’m surrounded by incredibly passionate clinicians who just want to better educate other clinicians.” Pinnacle Biologics, Inc. delivers photodynamic therapy (PDT) to patients through its proprietary line of products. By administering a unique FDA-approved biopharmaceutical drug that is selectively retained in tumors and activated by a specific FDA-approved laser light, PDT can eradicate tumor cells. The two primary uses for Pinnacle’s drug include the treatment of esophageal cancer and the treatment of non-small cell cancer (NSCLC). Both indications are supported by national treatment guidelines. Pinnacle Biologics is based in Chicago, Illinois, and currently supports PDT treatment at over sixty hospitals in the United States, including world-renowned research and teaching institutions.


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Answering Big Questions with Big Data When businesses have questions about consumers’ spending habits, Priya Raman answers them with sophisticated analysis By Arianna Stern

Priya Raman has always loved data. “The numbers love me and I love numbers,” she says. As she prepares to transition into a role with a Seattle-based tech company, Raman frequently reflects on her personal passion for data analysis, which she cultivated by getting a master’s degree in economics. “It was always the data, the statistical part of the economics that really excited me and interested me,” she says. “Any organization that I joined, I tried to gauge whether they also looked at data as front and center, and then only joined organizations that saw data that way.” Raman began her career as a data expert doing market research for Nestlé and other companies. Her work helped consumer brands answer two questions about their customers: Why do people buy what they buy? And 36 / Sync

based on those motives, what decisions are customers likely to make? “They always wanted to know why consumers weren’t responding to their advertising and how they were doing in the consumer’s mind vis à vis their competition,” Raman says. “It was really cool to help bridge the gap between what the consumer was thinking and how they were behaving, put data around it, and help marketers make decisions.” That market research experience helped Raman transition to in-house data roles at companies such as General Electric and HUB International, the insurance firm where she worked most recently. As an inhouse data and analytics expert, Raman had a richer understanding of how her work applied to the business. Issue 014


In turn, Raman works hard to deliver actionable information for the businesses that put their faith in data. Rather than working in isolation and experimenting for its own sake, she provides value by making sure the data can contribute to the revenue or cost directly. To be able to achieve that, she argues that analysts should understand myriad sources of data. “If you want to do true advanced analytics, you can’t just look at one or two sources of data as being your bible truth,” Raman says. “Whether it’s internal or external data, understand it, document it, play with it. See how you can start using it.” At HUB International, data lakes (repositories that accommodate various formats and sources) rather than data warehouses beSOOTHING ART came Raman’s go-to platform—a common trend in the industry. By Priya Raman started painting as doing so, teams are able to bring a way to relax. Her interest in the in all kinds of structured and art form started at a young age, but she never devoted much time unstructured information, put it to it—until she found herself in a on the cloud, and take elements out high-stress position at Nielsen. if they’re not relevant anymore. “The first thing I thought in those Data lakes, Raman explains, stressful times was that I needed to get back to painting,” Raman allow businesses to analyze a says. She says she particularly wider variety of sources than was enjoys abstract forms. “It made previously possible. “That breadth a huge difference in the way I of information allows companies approached the people that I to understand the customer and worked with—and myself. Since then, I’ll paint whenever I get the behaviors much better than an opportunity.” we would have done with our own internal data,” she says. By integrating multiple sources of information into a data lake, Raman can generate advanced analytics that go beyond simple measurements. Data has three tiers: the “what” (measurements of a business’s activities in a specific area, like sales), the “why” (the reason that the business is thriving or struggling in that area), and the “so what” (the alternatives that the business might explore for changing outcomes). Advanced analytics involve the latter two tiers of data. Raman’s talent for data analysis not only sheds light on consumer habits, but also helps to define strategy. At HUB International, Raman’s team innovated by developing propensity models, which predicted what certain sets of customers would likely buy. For example, a customer who buys home insurance might be likelier to buy flood insurance—and, knowing that, salespeople could improve their results. Helping her peers stay profitable is part and parcel with Raman’s passion for numbers. “I’ve always looked at my function as being a strategic function,” Raman says. “I need to understand how can I improve the top line or the bottom line for the company.”

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The Data Sheriff of the Wild West Della Shea saw the lawlessness of the early days of the internet and knew she could make an important impact on society by championing accountability By Galen Beebe

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Della Shea Vice President, Data Governance, Chief Privacy Officer Symcor

social norms, which often change more quickly than regulations. “Just because the laws and regulations don’t keep up, it doesn’t mean that the principles go away,” Shea says. “The goal is understanding the principles of what the laws are trying to accomplish and creating those as part of the foundation for your values.” Shea humanizes the information that Symcor processes in part by changing the language she uses. Instead of data she uses the word information, and she personalizes that information by asking colleagues to think about the human aspect of their work. “I’m trying to get people to think about the volumes of data flowing through our organization as something other than bits and bytes,” she explains. Humanizing information changes the conversation from what can be achieved to what should be achieved, which sets the stage for operationalizing Symcor’s values. Issue 014


In the early 2000s, the internet was still a Wild West. Jurisdiction—previously a question of geography— had to be redetermined as retail operations moved online. Consumer activity could be tracked in ways that were previously impossible. Companies were building capabilities faster than regulations or social norms could adapt. But some boldly stepped up to that challenge. “It was the lawlessness of the internet that attracted me to privacy,” says Della Shea, vice president, data governance and chief privacy officer at Symcor, a provider of payment processing and client communications services. As social norms, political landscapes, and globalization have evolved, data security and accountability have become vital components of an individual’s digital welfare. In 2000, users were concerned about cookies that tracked when they visited a website. Now, organizations have troves of information about individuals, not only collected directly from them, but created about them through their digital activity. “It’s the same landscape, but the issues have gone deeper in terms of potential impacts,” Shea says. At Symcor, Shea deepens a culture of accountability by evolving the way the organization handles the information that flows through its system by incubating the idea of a privileged custodian of data. “Organizations have to understand the criticality of the role that accountability plays as their businesses become more digital. Similar to corporate social responsibility, we are borrowing from this mandate,” she says. “What are the values you want to set for your organization, and how do those values translate into data values?” For Symcor, those values are confidentiality, privacy, and security. Shea and her team apply these values to Symcor’s data practices through four pillars: compliance, privacy by design, operations, and industry leadership. First, Shea and her team develop the necessary structures to ensure the company adheres to required regulations, contractual obligations, and industry standards. Along with legal requirements, they monitor


“Companies that collect and store data don’t operate in a vacuum. The information they collect comes from real people living their lives and trusting that their privacy is protected.”

BRINGING BUSINESS AND REGULATION FULL-CIRCLE Before joining Symcor, Della Shea worked as the director of privacy and information risk at Royal Bank of Canada, where she helped launch many of the bank’s early digital products and initiatives. She received a joint MBA from Northwestern University and York University, and holds numerous security, privacy, and product management designations. This background gives her insight into both the business opportunities and the regulations that restrict them. “Having experience in policy, business, and technology has really helped bring the ideal type of background to connect that digital transformation,” she says. “You have to have that fullcircle view.”

Under the principle of privacy by design, Shea and her team incorporate privacy solutions into product design at the beginning of the process. They work closely with Symcor’s product development teams to build systems that comply with both laws and client expectations. “We are a part of the entire product development process from ideation stage to launch,” Shea says. She and her team apply the policies and values that they establish at the executive level throughout the day-to-day activities of the staff through a model they call data stewardship. In order to make the high-level vision functional on an operational level, she identifies specific requirements and ties them to individual roles and performance

metrics. She and her team implement privacy, security, and compliance requirements into performance metrics at every level and work cross-functionally to ensure every department is on board. “We have strong buyin from the CEO and downwards that this is a major priority for us,” Shea says. She also leverages opportunities to engage with the industry beyond Symcor by participating in industry initiatives and studies sponsored by regulatory authorities. “Companies that collect and store data don’t operate in a vacuum,” she says. “The information they collect comes from real people living their lives and trusting that their privacy is protected.” Although Shea’s role operates in the background, it has a significant impact on society. User information, after all, is more than just statistics. “I didn’t expect to have an entire career built on a curiosity that was sparked in the early 2000s around the lawlessness of the internet,” she says. “But it’s a great privilege to be able to process very important, very sensitive information belonging to Canadians.” She takes this work seriously, from a legal perspective, a business perspective, a technological perspective, and, most importantly, an ethical perspective. Sync / 41

By Joe Dyton


Right Man for the Jobs

John O’Keefe’s versatility has made him one of Lafayette College’s most valuable assets

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John O’Keefe VP of IT Services, CIO Lafayette College

Since John O’Keefe started working at Lafayette College almost seventeen years ago, he has held many positions before landing in his current spot as vice president of IT services and CIO. In his tenure at the Easton, Pennsylvania college, O’Keefe has worked on numerous projects, many IT-related (data management and developing strategic metrics), but others ranging far outside the traditional IT scope—such as working with the city of Easton or leading Lafayette’s New York City Initiative. “Because I’ve been here a while and have developed a relationship with faculty, staff, trustees, and so on, I tend to get other projects as they come along,” O’Keefe says. “So, in addition to the traditional IT portfolio, I find more and more that I’ve been reaching beyond that, as someone who has been at the college for a while, someone on the president’s team, and someone who has a little bit more range into some of those areas.” O’Keefe’s versatility and vast knowledge of Lafayette College’s inner workings made him the perfect choice to lead the school’s latest initiative: refreshing the IT division’s master planning process. The last reboot came in 2012, when the IT division worked with a consultant on a successful plan that created a focal point for prioritizing IT projects. The plan also informed a rubric that the governance committee used in order to help think about the best way to spend IT’s resources and time. After six years, however, O’Keefe believed it was time for a change. “I’ve been calling it a refresh because, in 2012, we didn’t have any prior in-depth comprehensive strategic plan for IT,” he says. “The division and my role as chief information officer were new, so it was the first time NEW YORK STATE OF MIND we had intensive IT strategic planning at that level.” Along with his various IT duties at Lafayette This time, O’Keefe is looking College, John O’Keefe helped form the at more of an adjustment of the IT school’s current partnership with New York Law School (NYLS) as part of its New York planning process. Instead of a topCity Initiative. Lafayette partnered with a down, consultant-driven strategic firm called U3 Advisors, which introduced process as in 2012, he is meeting it to NYLS. Rather than build something with campus constituencies and from scratch, Lafayette now has access to a pair of classrooms on the NYLS campus, working with his leadership team which its faculty members can use as home to consider what has changed in base when they have field trips or different the past few years, what parts of programs in New York. the 2012 plan they feel good about, and what needs to be adjusted, “It’s become a little spot for us where we can begin to deliver a more New York among other topics. City-centric program and get support for “There is a new college strategic people who want to either bring classes plan in place now, and ensuring that there or look for jobs or recruit for students the IT plan was firmly anchored there,” O’Keefe says. “It’s been an exciting project and it’s been a real pleasure to be in service to the college’s is really part of that.” important to that,” O’Keefe says. “We wanted to start the refresh Sync / 43

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of the IT plan a bit sooner, but we wanted to make sure that the college’s strategic plan had been affirmed, put in place, and approved before we did that.” The college’s strategic plan was approved in February 2016. Once it was, O’Keefe and his team had the space to think not only to about strategic IT components, but also how technology could be used to help advance the strategic goals of the college. “We are wrapping our thinking around that, preparing some documents and content that I plan to take around to the campus community in the fall to get a final round of input and discussion around those ideas,” O’Keefe explains. After the school’s strategic direction was approved, the executive leadership of the college wanted to be able to demonstrate progress on the plan for its entire eight- to ten-year duration. So, O’Keefe worked with his cabinet colleagues on thinking about what metrics within each division they felt would most strongly represent progress along the path for each leg of the strategic direction of the college. O’Keefe met with each cabinet officer over the course of several days and came away with several hundred metrics. Then the group went through those metrics over the space of a year to shape and refine them so that they were focused on the most important indicators of success or challenges relative to the implementation of a plan. After consulting with faculty, trustees, and others in the campus community, that long list got narrowed down to just fifty metrics. O’Keefe and his team have now moved on to the second stage of the process, which includes building out a supporting data infrastructure for the metrics in the college’s business intelligence and data warehouse systems. “We want to operationalize and automate the gathering and presentations of statistics so that we can do that in a much more systematic way from now on,” he says. “Now we are taking those fifty metrics and building in that infrastructure so we can replicate that easily and quickly and automate it for subsequent reports.” In addition, Lafayette College’s strategic direction has three main components that it hopes the IT division can assist with. One component is to maintain affordability for families struggling to meet the increasing cost of higher education. Another is to increase the school’s enrollment from 2,500 to 2,900 students during the course of the plan, while also expanding the faculty to help keep the student-to-professor ratio low. It’ll be up to O’Keefe and his division to foster ways that technology can create affordability, control costs on the administrative side, and support growth in the faculty. “Each piece of the IT plan has to be exactly connected to one or multiple parts of the college strategic plan,” he says. “Otherwise, there’s no point to us doing it. Ultimately, we’ll have three or four main strategic themes within the IT plan and each of them will be explicitly connected to the affordability and distinction through the strategic growth direction for the college overall.” Issue 014


Ground Game How Haynes Furniture CIO Scott Downs turned a childhood passion into a second career By Joseph Kay

Scott Downs was certain that he would be a pilot for life. His father was a design engineer in the aviation industry, and throughout his youth, Downs developed his skill and love for flight. And while he still maintains that passion today, the massive changes to the flight industry would eventually force him to find success in a new field. At age ten, Downs was competing in radiocontrolled aircraft contests. At age fourteen, he took his first solo glider flight, and by age sixteen his first solo powered fixed-wing flight, both at the legal minimum ages. Downs also attended the only high school in Georgia’s Cobb County with a computing program. A teacher walked the students through the fundamentals of punch-card programming, which utterly bored young Scott; thankfully, the teacher recognized his potential and began assigning him projects to develop on the classroom’s only desktop computer. The skills and memories he developed in the lab, not the cockpit, would lead him to a vibrant and varied second career. At eighteen, Downs joined the Army, where he served as a pilot for eight years. “Flying medevac, every time we went out we were going to get someone who was

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Scott Downs CIO Haynes Furniture

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in a world of hurt, bringing them back where they could get the medical attention they needed,” he says. “That was always exciting and rewarding.” Downs expected to transition smoothly from the military into the private sector, where a pilot for an offshore drilling operation might earn eighty thousand dollars annually. But politics and budget machinations in Washington, DC, during the 1990s forced him and many of his colleagues into early and semivoluntary retirement. The sudden flood of available pilots caused wages to sink dramatically; seeing offers under twenty thousand dollars, Downs realized that he needed to cross over to a new career path. Recalling how satisfying it had been to code in that high school classroom, Downs picked through the newspaper for a tech job. He found one attending the printer room at an incentive company in Atlanta. “When I was sitting in the printer room, I always thought it was just a job until I could find something better,” Downs says. That room was a hall in which line printers devoured reams of accordion-folded greenbar paper. Amidst the hungry and tireless machinery, his primary task was to pause the jobs and reload the printers as they depleted their trays. He remembers the day that opened his IT path out of the printer room and upward. “They were running a program and it wasn’t calculating correctly, but the guy who wrote it was on vacation. I said, ‘Let me take a look at it,’ and two hours later everything was running fine,” Downs explains. Soon, he was moving up in the programming department, and before long he knew this was his new career path. Downs moved on to the consulting industry, taking his first IT management position at Jackson and Coker. Downs had completed officer training in the Army, and thus was more than comfortable leading teams toward distant and challenging objectives. He realized he needed to practice some new tactics to lead effectively in a civilian tech organization. “You can’t run a group like that like you would in the military,” he says, with a laugh. “That was the beginning of learning how to handle people and personalities the way they want to be handled. You motivate them to want to do their jobs, to want to come to work.” Since leaving consulting, the furniture industry has been Downs’s favored bailiwick, starting with twelve years at Storehouse Furniture and an additional ten at American Furniture Warehouse. The sector is rather close-knit, and recruiters noticed quickly when he became available. In 2016, Downs took on his current

THE ART OF AVIATION In Scott Downs’s Georgia hometown, a few of the elementary students participated in radio-controlled aviation contests. But of those, few pursued the art and science of flight into their later school years; by high school, he was alone in spending his free time in the sky. “They’re all out chasing girls and playing football, and I’m flying airplanes,” he says. “I thought that was pretty cool.” After pursuing that feeling in a unique, highadrenaline military career, it’s hard for Downs to head to the civilian airport and pay to putter in the skies over Virginia Beach. “After you’ve been paid to fly some really nice equipment, it can be difficult to pay to fly this grossly-underpowered aircraft,” he says.

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role at Haynes Furniture Company in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Haynes has done a lot of things extremely well, but IT is one place that has needed attention,” he says. “They grew the company well; a lot of times IT is an expense that you don’t concentrate on until it gets big. Then you say, ‘Oh my, we need to get this figured out.’ That’s where I come in: identifying and prioritizing what we need to do to move forward.” In this moment of rapid evolution, Downs is particularly excited about ongoing tech initiatives that both guide and respond to evolving preferences in the furniture-shopping experience. The organization and the industry are learning new approaches to a segmented market, tailoring their message and optimizing through social media and omnichannel. Effective collaboration between marketing and IT is key, since the organization’s goal is to leverage all of the systems and data for that omnichannel experience. For his part, Downs continues to develop his approach to working through the changes with end users, which he says is one of a CIO’s most conspicuous challenges. “The word ‘change’ throws everybody into a frenzy,” Downs says. “But if you do it right, work with the end users, get them to buy in, and keep them involved, they look forward to the process. We continue to grow.” STORIS is the leading provider of retail software solutions to the home furnishings industry. Our platform for unified commerce creates operational efficiencies through in-store, e-commerce, and mobile solutions. STORIS has proudly partnered with Scott Downs for over two decades. “Scott has the keen ability to analyze changes in the dynamic world of retail technology and execute on strategy,” says CEO Don Surdoval. “He has successfully led the technology initiatives of Top 100 furniture retailers throughout his notable career.”

Unified Commerce for Home Furnishings Retailers

Proud Partner of Scott Downs 1.888.4.STORIS Sync / 47

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LEAD Empower Your Peers

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Leading the Way to A Good Night’s Sleep How CIO Jon Sider guided Mattress Firm through a digital— and physical—transformation By Pamela DeLoatch

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Working at Mattress Giant early in his career, Jon Sider was a terrible salesperson; he won’t deny it. When a customer couldn’t afford a mattress at the store in which Sider worked, Sider’s first inclination was to problem solve, not sell. He offered excessive discounts just to ensure the customer could buy the mattress. “I didn’t make a lot of money,” he says. Although Sider may not have had a killer instinct, his keen ability to solve problems and create transitions has served him and the companies he’s worked with well. Now, as chief information officer of Mattress Firm, the country’s largest specialty mattress retailer, Sider uses those skills to guide the company through a digital transformation in the wake of its rapid growth. Beyond solving problems, Sider has become very comfortable with transformations. He started his career as a Microsoft-certified systems engineer, bypassing

Jon Sider CIO Mattress Firm

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college to dive into a blossoming industry. But when the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, Sider was out of a job, with few companies wanting to hire IT workers with only three years of experience. Eventually, he found the mattress sales job. Though struggling in the sales environment, he got a lead for a sales job with Sleep Experts. It was another mattress company, but this one was a small startup, which appealed to Sider’s entrepreneurial spirit. This time, however, Sider didn’t stay in sales for long. With his background working with Microsoft and other technology companies, he realized that he had unique skills to offer the company. “Within the first month, I quickly made my play to become their head of technology,” Sider says. “I sat the CEO down and pointed out a bunch of problems that he had with his network. He had no security and I basically showed him I could hack into his network from home.” Sider convinced the CEO to stop outsourcing tech support, and Sider took over the function. Not long later, real estate and operations fell under his purview. And as Sider’s responsibilities grew, so did the company. “Over the next eleven years, we grew to a sixty-store, $70-million mattress company,” he recalls. While Sleep Experts expanded, Mattress Firm was undergoing its own acquisition streak. In 2014, Mattress Firm acquired Sleep Experts, and just over a year and a half later Sider became the company’s CIO. By 2016, Mattress Firm had acquired fourteen companies within five years—resulting in 3,500 locations, essentially doubling in size. As the CIO of the rapidly growing organization, Sider faced the challenge of creating one digital system for the recently acquired companies to learn and implement. Web and digital properties needed updating. Four of the acquired companies used different ERP and HR systems. “I had to make a lot of decisions to figure out how to get us through this,” Sider says. “It really became about integrating and finding synergies, quickly making decisions, and figuring out what our digital road map would be.” Integrating technologies was vital to the operations of the company, and it was also important for developing the culture and retaining employees of the new, bigger organization, Sider says. When determining the technology to use, perfection wasn’t always the goal, Sider says. Instead, it was vital to get a system in place that employees could use immediately, whether it was a single internet server, email system, or conferencing system. “The time we went through the most pain was when decisions were not made and we continued to operate on multiple systems,” Sider says. Systems drive the language, and when people are on different systems, 52 / Sync

they speak different languages. “This makes it very hard to move the company ahead,” he explains. Even as Sider made the tough decision to quickly move to single ERP and HR systems, he also knew it was essential to keep improving the process. “We didn’t pick the best system for all areas, but at least it’s working and we can improve it,” he says. As an example, employees from one of the acquired companies were switched to a new company-wide HR system, only to find out that the system didn’t meet their needs. Realizing the original system was superior, the company returned to using it. “Sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward,” he says. Despite the changes, the big picture was positive because the data was always in one place and employees could communicate within the same system. Although Mattress Firm completed its five-year expansion plan in March 2017, the LEARNING TO LEAD company isn’t slowing its progress. With continued competiSleep Experts CEO Chris Cook tion from traditional mattress gave Sider a critical piece of retailers, as well as from online advice: “You never want to have a door closed to you because you retailers like Amazon and beddon’t have a degree.” To make in-a-box startups, Sider says himself more marketable, Sider Mattress Firm is always working attended college while working to maintain its advantage. full-time. Sider says Mattress Firm’s Because of his experience, next step is to develop its online Sider understood the practical presence to provide customers applications of the lessons, so an omnichannel experience. classes came easy. Aware of the opportunity provided, he “We’ll finally be able to reap took the classes more seriously some of the benefits of our than younger students. While growth,” Sider says. In October Sider enjoyed learning about 2017, Mattress Firm launched history and improved his time management and writing skills, Tulo, its online bed-in-a-box his on-the-job experience was offering. With the benefit of invaluable. “There’s so much you Mattress Firm’s retail locations can’t learn in a textbook,” he says. and distribution channels, customers will have more choices in how they can shop. In another change for the company, Mattress Firm went from publicly held to privately held, purchased last year by South African retailer Steinhoff. Sider says this change will allow Mattress Firm more flexibility in developing longrange plans. By establishing a foundation for growth and incorporating the technology to ensure that all the parts connect, Sider believes Mattress Firm is well-positioned to continue to lead the retail mattress industry, regardless of what competitors may offer. “We’ll have the full gamut of experiences,” he says. “We’re letting customers buy products on their terms.” Issue 014


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Data Mining for Pharmaceutical Gold Marc Berger looks back on a career that helped revolutionize how information is used to develop new medicines, improve health outcomes, and accelerate the creation of a “learning healthcare system� By Jeffrey Silver

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Marc Berger began focusing on the well-being of patients around the world during the early 1990s—a period marked by the Clinton administration’s efforts to expand access to healthcare and the rise of health maintenance organizations (HMOs). Both developments brought new urgency to measuring the outcomes and costs associated with delivering care. Berger recently retired from his role at Pfizer as vice president, real world data and analytics, after spending more than two decades developing data analytics for the pharmaceutical industry. Through numerous key roles, Berger’s work has helped the industry innovate its use of care delivery data to positively impact the health of millions. During President Clinton’s healthcare initiative, Berger was part of Merck’s newly formed outcomes research and management group. “We worked primarily with information from medical claims databases,” Berger explains. “They weren’t designed for research, so there were inconsistencies and problems with coding that required specialized expertise to address. Analyses took weeks to complete and full studies typically required four to six months.” Merck licensed the two largest commercially available claims datasets and accessed databases from the National Center for Health Statistics to create an internal datamart. This enabled Berger’s department to iteratively interrogate the data in order to refine queries of Merck clinicians and scientists. The resulting insights supported business decisions, clinical investigations, and informed the value stories of Merck products. “Each query produced answers that led to better, more targeted questions,” Berger explains. “Most colleagues didn’t initially know what to ask, so we provided more and more findings that would prompt them to ask something truly interesting and meaningful.” Much of the work during this period revolved around demonstrating the economic burden of illness. Berger’s department showed that migraine headaches were costing employers approximately $13 billion annually in missed workdays and reduced productivity,

Marc Berger Retired Vice President, Real World Data and Analytics Pfizer

A datamart is the layer of a data warehouse in which users can access data. These tools are typically oriented to a specific team or business line, and are frequently owned by those teams.

and created up to $1 billion in direct medical costs. It also collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control to determine that the cost of managing and treating osteoporosisrelated fractures was nearly $14 billion and growing. Over time, these findings helped dramatically change how the medical establishment and insurance companies approached both conditions. After Merck, Berger went to Eli Lilly and Company, where he became global head of health outcomes research. He worked with epidemiologists in the drug safety group to create what he refers to as DataMart 2.0 . By developing a systematic data curation process and clear governance rules, researchers across the enterprise could access the available datasets. In 2012, Berger joined Pfizer. By then, the intuitive capabilities of new technologies eliminated the need for highly specialized coding skills and analyses could be completed in a fraction of the time required in the 1990s. Answers to simple questions could be obtained in hours or days, and complex studies could be completed in as little as two months. At the same time, widespread use of electronic health records (EHRs) was evolving as a result of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act of 2009. “The adoption of EHRs made much richer clinical data readily available that could be linked Sync / 55

to medical claims,” Berger says. “It opened tremendous new vistas for outcomes research that could be completed more rapidly and efficiently.” RETIREMENT: This made it possible to create a deLIFE AFTER PFIZER tailed picture of how a patient’s treatment regimen changed over time. Now that he’s retired from his role at Pfizer, Marc Berger will During this period, Berger be devoting more time to his created the RWDnA group, a play on four grandchildren and has the acronym RWD&A, which stands plans to visit Antarctica and Asia. for real-world data and analytics. He However, that doesn’t mean he’ll be giving up on innovative appointed Analytic Science Leads, science. Over the years, Berger who acted as liaisons between the has led several task forces department and Pfizer stakeholders, for the International Society providing insights for drug discovery, for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research (ISPOR), development, and commercialization. the most recent focused on RWDnA also developed numerous Good Practices for Real-World use cases that provided internal Data Studies of Treatment and training, outreach, and education Comparative Effectiveness. In by demonstrating the benefits retirement, he will continue promoting integrity in and the that the department could deliver. best uses of real-world data. Because long lead times had been He is already slated to be a eliminated, results could be used to part-time senior advisor for inform ongoing business decisions— SHYFT Analytics, which delivers enterprise cloud analytics for everything from potential investments life sciences. and licensing opportunities to assessing the effectiveness of current treatments. Such data-driven insights were particularly important when little experience or literature was available to support the development of new therapies. As a result, data use tripled in five years. “Use cases educated stakeholders on what was possible and inspired them to use data in more innovative ways,” Berger says. “We were careful not to create any sense of competition and purposely demonstrated that we were eager to make stakeholders successful. Our reward was that everyone was becoming more successful.” Berger sees real-world data providing even more benefit to healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry in the future. Natural language processing able to mine free text in EHRs and machine learning that uncovers hidden associations in big data are just two innovations on the horizon. “Current predictive models are fairly robust on a population basis,” Berger says. “Linking real-world data with sources like genomics, socioeconomic information, social networks, and wearable sensors holds the promise of a ‘learning healthcare system’ that can personalize treatment recommendations for each individual.” 56 / Sync

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Nothing is Impossible Puneet Wahi overcame partial paralysis, and has turned that determination into a key aspect of his successful IT career By Jeffrey Silver

Puneet Wahi has had a unique life journey. An alumnus of the prestigious Indian Military Academy, he graduated in 1990 as a commissioned officer in the Indian Army. At age twenty-two, Wahi was wounded in combat, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He made a remarkable recovery to regain normal overall function, with the exception of one arm. During his recovery and rehabilitation, Wahi was determined to do more than just recover. As part of that process, he enrolled in a computer course to learn system analysis and design—a decision that changed the course of Wahi’s life. When he returned to active duty in early 1992, Wahi leveraged his newly acquired skills by working on the desktop computer in the office, a machine that no one else in his army unit knew how to use. Wahi began by automating basic office tasks and then moved on to creating software for training and databases to manage the inventory of spare parts. He later automated entire procurement processes, leading to exponentially faster bids and a vendor assessment process which was previously not possible. Sync / 57

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“Including everyone in the process helps give them ownership in the resulting solutions.”

Puneet Wahi Senior Director of IT TPC Group


“Realizing what I could accomplish through computers was truly a liberating and empowering experience,” he says. “My background and training has taught me to be agile and to have situational awareness. This, along with the logical thought process of a computer programmer, has helped me more than anything along my journey.” Now senior director of information technology at TPC Group, Wahi has carried those lessons throughout his career. He retired from the military and immigrated to the United States to attend graduate school, obtaining a masters of science in computer engineering. After the professor for whom he was supposed to work as a lab assistant encountered an unforeseen emergency, Wahi took over his classes and was made an adjunct faculty member the following semester. After graduation, he took roles in application development, risk, audit, IT management, and a four-year stint at Accenture consulting in technology strategy. “Most people gravitate toward what they’re familiar with,” Wahi says. “However, my background helped me recognize and be open to new opportunities in unfamiliar territory. Nothing is impossible.” Over the course of his career, Wahi has faced several disparate, overlapping challenges: poor business processes, underutilized technology, aging infrastructure, unaware users, and siloed IT support organizations, to name a few. To succeed in the face of these challenges, Wahi has a mantra: understand and align to the business; create the appropriate operating model; and ensure that the organizational structure addresses the foundational elements, such as architecture, security, and the support model. Inventorying all available technology, educating and aligning IT staff on business and operational needs, and inviting the other technology organizations and users to the table to discuss integration and optimization are a natural progression once these are in place. “Including everyone in the process helps give them ownership in the resulting solutions,” Wahi says. “It also reduces defensiveness and helps create relationships for moving forward.” This approach has led to a hybrid infrastructure that now blends public and internal clouds with onsite architecture for specific plant operations at TPC Group. Successfully addressing these challenges cleared the way for Wahi to focus on eliminating gaps between TPC

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Group’s advanced manufacturing technology and new capabilities in analytics, artificial intelligence, and Big Data. That has meant emphasizing data aggregators to organize the massive amount of data related to details such as time and location, identifying what products are being processed, and manufacturing data like pressure, volume, and temperature. “Real-time data, intelligent devices, and analytics enable us to generate insights into operational reliability and to develop predictions for preventive maintenance,” Wahi explains. “In a business that depends on volume and capacity, those are critically important capabilities.” Perhaps because he has always worked closely with end users, unlike many technologists, Wahi is always keenly aware of the human component in the success or failure of his IT projects and initiatives. “If an accounts payable clerk’s assignment is to process a certain number of invoices in a certain amount of time, it doesn’t matter that they have the best artificial intelligence at their fingertips or the most powerful computer available,” he says. “Your solution needs to be simple, reliable, and available quickly for users to create value and achieve their goals while addressing all TECHNOLOGY security aspects.” GIVING BACK Looking forward, Wahi is For more than three years, focused on building on TPC Group’s Puneet Wahi has been volunteerexisting safety culture to increase ing with the Northwest Austin user awareness and engagement Universal Health Clinic (NAUHC), on cybersecurity. This includes which provides healthcare for uninsured families and the employing game theory, monthly underinsured. He has developed newsletters, and ongoing training, as NAUHC’s entire technology infrawell as emphasizing the importance structure, including web design of harnessing existing data in order and user analytics. to boost the company’s business Wahi’s volunteer work has intelligence capabilities. helped him take a much “If we can demonstrate how data broader view than the traditional provides insights that we did not have linear approach used in typical before, the company will be well on IT projects. “At first, my efforts were only technology-specific,” its way to harnessing an existing he says. “I was encouraged to resource and converting it into a expand my participation in the value-added commodity,” Wahi says. mission, and that has made Once again, he is seeking opportunity me feel good in ways that go far beyond the results of my in unfamiliar territory to take specific contributions.” advantage of what some might think is impossible.

Over 25 years of innovation

INDIGO BEAM 10375 Richmond Ave Suite 850 Houston, TX 77042 O 713-335-1555 F 713-456-2801


Solving Business problems through Technology

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PARDON THE DIS Jean Turgeon shares how his lifelong passion for innovation has helped him drive meaningful change at Avaya By Joe Dyton

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Jean Turgeon Vice President, Chief Technologist Avaya

From the time Jean Turgeon was seven years old, he was curious about how things worked. When he was a child, his mother worked at a store that gave her access to electronics and toys. Much to her chagrin, when she’d bring home a new toy for Turgeon, he’d start to disassemble it before he’d turn it on. “I was always intrigued by how things worked,” Turgeon says. “From those early, rudimentary remotecontrolled cars to radios, tape players, and TVs—I took them all apart.” Turgeon’s technical curiosity served him well, as he is now the vice president and chief technologist at Avaya. There, Turgeon and his team are tasked with using technology to help guide the organization’s customers through their digital transformations in internet telephony, wireless data communications, and customer relationship management software.

RUPTION “I am an old die-hard technologist. I aim to drive innovation, not invention,” Turgeon says. “We want to focus on innovating and bringing technology to market that people will value, consume, and be willing to purchase to help transform their organizations.” Over the course of his career, Turgeon utilized his interest in the way technology works across a variety of roles within enterprise organizations and also worked in technical marketing and sales. He eventually moved into leadership roles, where he added a new perspective to pair with his technological passion. “Throughout my career, I made sure I gained experience and understood the entire ecosystem. That’s allowed me to bring stronger credibility to the market,” Turgeon says. That understanding allowed him to build strong relationships both internally and externally.

Turgeon also made travel and international experience in his field part of his strategy of constant learning. As his travels led him to Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and South Africa, Turgeon learned valuable lessons about the adoption rates of technology globally, as well as the variety of challenges that businesses face around the world. “I made sure I spent time with the service providers in various regions to understand how they look at things and how they build things,” he says. That quest for education and training helped him achieve one of his biggest personal accomplishments while working as general manager of Nortel. At the time, there was a great deal of price pressure, as one of Nortel’s competitors was trying to commoditize ethernet switching and convince customers that any ethernet switch was as good as any other. Turgeon was in a position to either continue to build speed into the technology at a lower cost or attempt to disrupt the market. He chose the latter, and formed a small group to brainstorm what they could do differently. The group eventually decided to invest heavily in automating networking and building something transformative; they executed on that idea and, in 2009, Avaya acquired the technology that Turgeon’s Nortel team had created. Turgeon transitioned to general manager for networking at Avaya, and his drive to disrupt helped him and his team score a victory for the technology company. In 2011, his new team launched the first product in the marketplace that leveraged the technological innovation they had developed. The technology was known as SPB (Shortest Path Bridging, also standardized under IEEE and known as IEEE 802.1aq, as well as by IETF under RFC 6329). Although the adoption rate wasn’t initially as fast as Turgeon had predicted, it picked up dramatically three years later and was sold to Extreme Networks as part of Avaya’s sale of its networking business in July. “I’m proud of that team and of having been part of that bold decision to disrupt this market,” Turgeon says. Since then, Turgeon has built a team of sales and technical specialists who are tasked with studying trends and disruptors in the marketplace. While the Sync / 61

Experience is Everything Team Engagement Customer Engagement Services Cloud

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team has previously made some investments in the cloud, they’ve most recently started to study the Internet of Things (IoT). “At Avaya, we know ‘things.’ We are experts in endpoints and enabling workflows, and that’s where we will actively participate in the IoT market,” Turgeon says. “We may not have the IoT analytics and platforms, but these will generate output and events which we can then integrate to start triggering some very sophisticated business intelligence workflows. This will allow us to customize and personalize outcomes we want to drive for our customers.” Along with delving into the IoT, Avaya also has put a great deal of intellectual capital towards automation, the evolution of machine learning, and the rapidly evolving capabilities of artificial intelligence. “We’ve been driving disruption around the AI market internally, and it’s been gaining a lot of attention and a lot of momentum,” Turgeon explains. “You’re going to see that more throughout the coming years. Our messaging around AI and automation is going to start changing substantially.” Turgeon wants to make sure automation isn’t seen in a negative light. Although he agrees that AI is a market disrupter, Turgeon believes that it is not going to eliminate as many jobs as some have claimed. “There’s a lot of noise in the market where people are saying, ‘Resist automation because it’s cutting jobs,’” he says. “The reality is, automation is good at simulating, hence it is going to reduce jobs—but it does not eliminate jobs. It’s simply going to start replacing a lot of the repetitive tasks that are being performed by human beings today that can be performed by machines.” Rather than see automation as a potential threat, Turgeon hopes that people can view it as a positive opportunity for the industry to continue to push innovation and creativity. In fact, he hopes that they can eventually apply AI to their everyday life. One example that he gives is how a visually impaired person could leverage automated technology by using a wearable camera that connects to cloudbased services and has an audio input that can guide them in real time. Another example that interests Turgeon is a self-driving car that, when connected to its owner’s calendar, could pick them up and get them to their appointments on time. “Those are the kinds of opportunities we need to start looking at: better experiences for customers consuming those services,” Turgeon explains. “We are going to continue to invest in and achieve what may have been seen as almost impossible. We’re going to make sure Avaya’s brand is no longer just associated with a legacy voice and a legacy content vendor; Avaya is helping our customers through their digital transformation journeys.” Issue 014


Driven by Data Central Freight Lines’ sophisticated cost analysis provides indispensable information for managing and growing the business By Peter Fabris

The freight trucking industry operates with a perhaps surprising level of complexity and reliance on technology and data analysis in order to be profitable. There is much more to the business than picking up shrink-wrapped pallets at Point A and delivering them to Point B. Less than truckload (LTL) carriers such as Central Freight Lines have hub and spoke operations. Small, local terminals are the spokes at the end of the line, and larger, more central terminals are the hubs. Spoke terminals collect local freight from various shippers and consolidate goods onto trailers to be delivered to the hub terminal, where freight is sorted and consolidated for transporting to the closest spoke to the end destination. Central Freight, based in Waco, Texas, operates eighty-two terminals in twenty-four states using 1,600 tractors and 8,000 trailers. Like other LTL companies, Sync / 63

Central Freight specializes in shipping orders from 150 pounds to just under a typical full truckload of about 20,000 pounds—or more than fourteen pallets. LTL carriers accept loose (non-palletized) cargo, intermingling items from different sources in a single trailer. Variables such as weight, pieces, density, origin and destination, susceptibility to loss and damage, and handling requirements all influence the cost of distribution. Such shipment cost variances must be properly accounted for in order for carriers to make valid pricing, marketing, financial, and operational decisions. To succeed in this competitive business, companies need to delve deeply into the details of every cost parameter. Central Freight CIO and vice president of IT Gregory Kocek has overseen the development of an LTL cost information system (LTL/CIS) that crunches cost numbers and is critical to profitability and competitiveness. The LTL/CIS receives information from handheld devices that track the flow of cargo, including the amount of time spent at delivery and pickup locations. That allows the company to assign tasks with a much higher degree of accuracy than was possible in the past. Central Freight has used this information to shave costs in several operational areas including how it deploys trucks, which cuts fuel use. Obtaining accurate cost information is complicated. For example, a vehicle mile in the direction of light traffic has a different value than one into heavy traffic. Also, consider that it takes longer to load a truck containing, say, a dozen pallets of two different items than six items of two pallets each. Efficiency at each terminal also depends quite a bit on local conditions. Variations can be attributed to things like the nature of the freight handled at the terminal, local traffic conditions, and weather. Having efficient operations and robust IT systems to support them were essential for Central Freight to make a deal to acquire Wilson Trucking in 2017. Central Freight acquired Wilson’s network of twenty-six terminals in the Southeast to complement its operations in western and southwestern states. The transaction increased the size of Central Freight’s network by about 50 percent, and stretched its geographic reach into a new region of the country. Such a significant jump in size would challenge any organization. An earlier significant investment in a state-of-the-art digital dispatch management system was also indispensable to helping the company quickly absorb Wilson’s trucking and distribution facility assets. 64 / Sync

Central Freight has also invested heavily in fueling technology. It was one of the first LTL carriers to invest in and use compressed natural gas (CNG) tractors on a daily basis. “On average, the carbon footprint for a CNGfueled vehicle will be 25–28 percent less than its dieselpowered equivalent,” said Don Orr, president and CEO of Central Freight, in a recent release. “As we reduce our dependence on imported oil and increase our energy security by utilizing our own natural resources, it continues to make good business sense for Central Freight Lines to utilize natural gas for the benefit of the company and the communities we service.” In addition, CNG fuel helps the company save money on tractor maintenance. Natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline or diesel, so CNG-fueled vehicles can go longer between oil changes and engine tune-ups. Central Freight has also begun adding sophisticated safety technology on new vehicle purchases. The OnGuard ACTIVE system provides audible, visual, and haptic warnings when a tractor gets too close to another vehicle. It also applies active braking to avoid collisions. This technology has reduced rear-end collisions by 87 percent for at least one LTL carrier, according to the vendor. In another effort to keep drivers safe, Central Freight has tested on-board technology that detects dangerous driving maneuvers such as harsh cornering, rapid acceleration, and hard braking, warning drivers so they can self-correct in real time. In addition to promoting safety in real time, the system helps conserve fuel, reduces vehicle wear, and provides intelligence for both the driver and supervisor to promote better driving habits. Drivers get a daily score to measure how well they are doing. Technology is pervading every corner of the trucking business, including the driver’s cab, the goods in the trailer, the dispatch depot, and the company headquarters. While many advances may be coming, there seems to be plenty of technological innovation in this industry, with those who implement well having the ability to grow and lead of the industry.

Cheetah is a global logistics technology leader in doing more with less on time. Cheetah is a premier provider of a dynamic, adaptive Logistics Operations Optimization Platform (LOOP) for retailers and carrier for hire companies in the logistics space, with a passion for the consumer. Cheetah’s LOOP and our experts address the logistics needs of healthcare, retail, and carriers that operate courier, less than truckload, truckload, and private fleets. Cheetah’s LOOP plans, dynamically manages, adapts, and optimizes fleets and drivers, resulting in companies using less trucks, driving fewer miles, and making more on-time deliveries. 

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Congratulations to Greg and Central Freight on the acquisition of Wilson Trucking! With your help, we integrated the 25 newly acquired terminals into your existing infrastructure in a little over 30 days. As a key technology partner and member of your core team, Cheetah’s team thanks you for the opportunity to be an integral part of this transition. WWW.CHEETAH.COM 1.888.CHEETAH (243.3824) X 205

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Protecting the Province Martin Dinel has to make sure 32,000 employees don’t open the digital door to Alberta’s confidential and private information. Fortunately, he has all the necessary tools. By Russ Klettke

Martin Dinel, chief information security officer for the Government of Alberta, has a lot to worry about. The personal data of the Canadian province’s citizens is a big part of that. So too are Alberta industries, which includes the considerable energy, agriculture, and forestry sectors. But as with any modern provincial and national government, Alberta has public safety issues associated with pipes, power grids, dams, and streetlights. Each of these connected components of modern civilizations has cybersecurity vulnerabilities, the implications of which are mind-boggling. No fewer than twenty dams and reservoirs dot the huge province (660,000 square kilometers, or 250,000 square miles). Threat actors could potentially open actual floodgates remotely if they found a way to penetrate a system’s security controls— in some cases endangering both lives and property on a massive scale. That’s exactly what Dinel and his team are there to prevent. “From a government perspective, the first priority is to keep our citizens safe,” he says. There are other aspects of infrastructure that could also be targets of cybercriminals: traffic light systems, pipeline controls, sewage and drainage systems, facilities security, and environmental controls. “Such systems might be altered to impact services to citizens and can

even cause loss of life,” Dinel says. “This is a critical aspect of cybersecurity services.” The enemy isn’t one type of criminal but many, and the hackers fall into four broad categories: those in it for the money, such as in ransomware cases; cyberterrorists who wish to disrupt critical infrastructure with intentionally deadly consequences; spies sponsored by nation-states looking to understand functions such as Alberta’s energy systems; and hacktivists, such as those opposed to Alberta’s considerable oil and gas extraction operations. It’s heady stuff and increasingly the subject of public handwringing. That’s not wasted worry, Dinel says. The vulnerabilities are great, and much of it depends on thousands of employees not making a mistake. It seems that the bulk of risks boils down to the keystrokes of the province’s 32,000 employees. By Dinel’s analysis, of the 860 million incoming emails to those employees last year, 93.4 percent are either spam or have detectable malicious content. That’s what the system’s filters catch—but they don’t catch everything. Dinel and his team don’t allow that to be the end of the protective measures; to do so would put so much at risk. “The biggest threat to all organizations is actually their own employees, who have authorized access to systems,” he says. “Criminals know this, and they use

Martin Dinel CISO Government of Alberta

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From the capital city of Edmonton, CISO Martin Dinel and his team protect the information of the people of Alberta, a Canadian province with a population over four million.

BIG ALBERTA, BIG TARGET The 32,000 employees of the Government of Alberta face a daily onslaught of hacking attempts. In 2016 alone, the government’s defensive technology identified:


attempts to infect with malware, detected by security tools


cybersecurity incidents


of those incidents were due to user errors


of the incidents were due to malicious threat actors

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social engineering techniques to trick employees into providing information to gain access to data.” Dinel’s department educates every employee and tests them on what they learn. In 2015, a phishing test found that 30 percent of employees would be fooled by hacker emails. That number dropped to 16 percent a year later and to just 4.6 percent in 2017. The drop is due to mandatory annual training. Success in this regard is part of the accountabilities placed on middle managers and executives, all the way up to the Alberta deputy minister, a position akin to a lieutenant governor in the United States. Preventing these intrusions isn’t getting any easier. Phishing attempts (emails that try to induce recipients to either download or open a document, or to provide a password or other confidential information to the sender) are up exponentially in just the past couple of years due to the advent of bots designed to do what was previously done manually. Fortunately, cyberdefenses aren’t entirely dependent on employees. Dinel says that they also engage technologies and processes that include visible security measures that discourage hackers from even trying. “Protection controls will counter most attacks,” he says. “Detection controls will detect both unsuccessful and successful attacks.” He adds that they’ve established response plans with processes Issue 014




and tools for when an attack is detected, recovery plans for postattack phases, and forensic investigative tools and processes to identify what went wrong and can be prevented in the future. The importance of partners in cybersecurity is a critical success factor. The Government of Alberta contracts with CGI, a managed security service provider, to monitor and protect the province’s network periphery on a 24/7 basis. The firm is a first responder in case of a breach. Another partner is FireEye, which provides tools and expertise to monitor and detect security events. Alberta is primarily associated with oil sands resources, and major projects related to oil and gas extraction, pipelines, and related industrial projects are valued at more than $175 billion (CAD). Protecting this industry ensures energy flow beyond the provincial boundaries, even into the United States, a major processor-manufacturer with Canadian crude. But other targets of cybercriminals include financial services; manufacturing; tourism; education; commercial activity such as government procurement services, citizen identities, and tax records; and government functions such as voting, tax collection, and law enforcement. It’s no exaggeration to say a cyberwar is entirely possible were the province to let its guard down. Dinel makes it his job to see that doesn’t happen. Public and private sector organizations of all size and type are now considering Managed Security Services (MSS) as an essential element of their modern cybersecurity program. The shift from “do it ourself” security management to MSS has been driven by a critical need to quickly elevate levels of protection while overcoming significant constraints of budget, skilled resources, and access to advanced technology. In today’s IT-enabled enterprise the consequence of not getting security right has become too great. For more than twenty years, CGI has been assisting public and private sector organizations effectively manage cybersecurity. We help organizations quickly elevate their levels of protection in the most appropriate and cost-effective way and allow them to operate with much needed agility.

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Three-Step Leadership As the Houston Community College IT department transforms and expands its services on campus, vice chancellor William Carter leads his team with a unique approach that encourages and empowers By Joe Dyton

While Dr. William Carter carries an important title and more than a decade’s worth of tenure at Houston Community College (HCC), he’s more concerned with helping his team bring the best possible service to the school than he is his own status. Since 2006, Carter has been the vice chancellor of information technology at HCC. Among his many responsibilities, Carter leads the strategic planning and budgeting for information technology and technology initiatives in his district. If there’s a project involving technology in terms of software or systems, Carter and his IT team have their eye on it and are involved. Carter oversees multiple departments, including core information services (application development, systems support, project and change management); cybersecurity; network services; telecommunications; campus technology support services (call center, districtwide regional technology support centers); and IT business services (budget administration, procurement, talent engagement support, IT contract, 72 / Sync

William Carter Vice Chancellor of Information Technology Houston Community College

and asset management). But he doesn’t lead this sphere of influence alone. That’s why he has developed a unique three-step leadership style: understand user needs, integrate and involve the right cross-section of staff into the solution, and let go so that innovation and change can occur. This process includes facilitating an employee’s smooth transition into the program; identifying pain points in the problem definition and resolution processes; developing tools to help the IT team and end users be more efficient and effective; and then getting out of the way to let the experts in IT do their jobs. “My goal has always been to empower my staff to make the best decisions they can based on resources and planning,” Carter says. “I don’t believe in micromanagement. I think being supportive has to do with allowing people to succeed, but also allowing them to fail. In this context, ‘failure’ becomes a shared learning experience and allows staff to reset and retry with impunity so we are able to improve as an organization moving forward.” Issue 014


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“I don’t believe in micromanagement. Being supportive has to do with allowing people to succeed, but also allowing them to fail.”

Carter’s approach appears to be working well. By giving his team freedom to make their own decisions, Carter sees the unit as more entrepreneurial, working together to solve problems, asking challenging questions, and breaking down silos. Carter’s ability to let go will continue to be tested as HCC endures one of its bigger initiatives: transforming the IT department. While the size of the department may not increase in terms of personnel, the influence and number of services it can offer the campus will. Part of the transformation included having less people report directly to Carter. Additionally, he brought services such as IT cybersecurity and network departments together in an effort to leverage both teams’ needs and resources to secure the perimeter networks and internal data. “The move got these people talking about how to utilize each other’s services to protect our missioncritical resource, which is our data,” Carter says. “What it allowed us to do is take advantage of once separately managed systems, applications, and services, view them as one ecosystem, and develop an integrated environment that brings all users onto one consistent, secure, redundant platform.” The IT team is also working closely with the technology services area. Carter’s team will now be involved with the tech support on all campuses, which had previously been managed separately by each college. Previously, technicians would report an issue to whoever reported to the head of a particular college. Now, issues and the responses will be centralized. Carter and his leadership team now have the authority 74 / Sync

to reallocate resources based on measured needs and can staff larger projects more effectively. “Now what we’re looking at is trying to work at scale, so if there is a huge project on campus that needs to be taken care of, like replacing six hundred computers, we can gang up on it, get it done quicker, and serve our students better,” he says. “That’s going to help expand and improve all services that the technicians provide.” Under Carter’s leadership, the IT department is not just having a positive impact on the college’s technology procedures. It’s also playing a key role in helping HCC reduce costs. The department often looks at new technologies that can help the college reduce contract costs while, at the same time, improve user services. Many times, it’s a matter of looking at how HCC can invest in new technologies in order to decrease costs over time rather than in the short term. For example, a recent overhaul of the college’s phone infrastructure and system cost $175,000 to implement, but saved HCC over $300,000 annually in long-distance call costs. Additionally, the department implemented other cost-saving measures by moving servers and services offsite to hosting and out-of-region managed cloud providers. Moves such as these have resulted in reduced capital and server administration costs, allowing HCC to take advantage of provider scale and to free up staff to focus on other more imperative, strategic initiatives. “Our data center is 90 percent virtualized and we have a ‘hosted first’ mind-set when new projects arise. This has resulted in a 60 percent reduction in the footprint of our data center over the last six years, and improved our ability to expand services on demand so that we can respond quickly to our users’ needs,” Carter says. As Carter continues to look at technologies that can help HCC in the long run or take steps to move forward technologically, whether that’s playing a bigger role in the college’s investment strategy or implementing his “cloud-first” mentality, he finds himself in the fortunate position of having a competent, confident team to put those ideas into motion. “I probably have one of the most exciting jobs at the college because I serve in a role and in an environment that is ever-changing,” Carter says. “My staff gets to experiment with new technology that is changing the lives of more than 115,000 academic and workforce students in the fourth largest city in the United States. When initiatives go live, IT can see it and say, ‘I did that.’ What’s not to love about this job?” Issue 014

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The Hub of the Data Ecosystem President and CEO Andrew Appel shares how IRI can help companies grow their businesses and connect with consumers By Adam Kivel | Portraits by Gillian Fry

As media changes and the retail landscape evolves, so too does consumer behavior—and right now, all are changing at a breakneck pace. That makes it more important for manufacturers and retailers to know their customers and their needs. Years ago, IRI (Information Resources Inc.) caught onto that trend and made a major bet on its ability to collect and harness the best consumer data. “Our job is to use information, data, and technology to help companies grow their businesses and connect with consumers,” says Andrew Appel, IRI president and CEO. “And we thought that bringing the two halves together—tracking what people view and what people

Andrew Appel President, CEO IRI (Information Resources Inc.)

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buy—could double return on ad spend.” And IRI’s bet paid off. “We correctly caught the future of data-driven personalization,” Appel says. IRI is now leading the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry toward more efficient and effective personalized marketing. Founded in 1979, IRI made its name tracking what customers purchase. But as audiences moved away from traditional mediums—such as television—to social media and web streaming, the beginning of shoppers’ paths-to-purchase shifted as well. Organizations found themselves with copious sales data, but without clear insight into what advertising was driving those sales and what wasn’t. IRI has the know-how and capabilities to connect those dots. “In many cases, we’re pushing companies to think they can do better,” Appel explains. Targeted marketing is a critical capability for manufacturers and retailers as consumers increasingly expect messages that are highly tailored to their interests and needs, and marketers seek effective insights to power efficient campaigns that generate sales growth with scarce marketing resources. IRI offers layers of macro trend and shopper loyalty data, powerful algorithms, and visualization platforms to its customers. Organizations in low-margin, highly competitive industries can use these tools to run impactful campaigns critical to driving sales, while also staying focused on innovation rather than data mining . “We’re enabling the era of personalization by providing the largest, richest dataset, predictive analytics, and integrated technology platform for figuring out which consumers want which products,” Appel says. “We’re able to find the right people and target them in the right way, and then measure consistently and continuously whether those marketing messages are actually delivering a higher-quality consumer experience and increasing sales.” The importance of this category of Big Data analysis has become more mainstream, but IRI is able to offer its clients and partners unique solutions. One such example is IRI ProScores, a purchase-based propensity model that can be customized for audiences across the United States. The result is that IRI can measure ad spend impact at a granular level much more accurately than competitors: by publisher, demographic, geography, time of day, and frequency, as well as a dozen-plus other metrics. Another tool is the recently 78 / Sync

Data mining is the process of computing patterns in large datasets through tools like database systems and machine learning. For organizations with massive amounts of data, advanced statistical analyses like these can help teams derive valuable information that otherwise might not come to light.

launched IRI Personalization Suite, which combines three key platforms—insight, audience-targeting, and measurement—all of which are designed to help marketers activate one shopper at a time. “The Personalization Suite is unique because it’s the most broad-based capability of targeting the type of consumers that fit a profile that a company wants,” Appel says. The suite allows companies to better understand which people are most interested in their messaging and most likely to buy their products, measure the success of a marketing campaign in real time, and even course-correct the channel or messaging mix based upon early results. “The suite is built on a foundation of hundreds of millions of shopper loyalty cards, partnerships with dozens of retailers, and all sorts of proprietary data,” Appel explains. The data assets come from IRI’s partnerships with several of the world’s top retailers—such as Ahold USA, Delhaize America, BevMo!, BJ’s, The Kroger Co., Rite Aid, Southeastern Grocers, and Walgreens Boots Alliance— through data and analytics partnerships and supplier Issue 014


“Our job is to use information, data, and technology to help companies grow their businesses and connect with consumers. And we thought that bringing the two halves together— tracking what people view and what people buy— could double return on ad spend.”

collaboration, along with IRI’s vast data assets, including point-of-sale, consumer panel, credit card, and mobile location data assets. The result is unprecedented access to real-time analysis against granular retailer data at scale, which gives marketers a new level of precision and accuracy in advertising. The breadth and scale of these data assets are unparalleled. By tracking the usage of an anonymized shopper loyalty card, IRI can develop highly specific, usable information that allows companies to significantly increase their return on ad spend. “We approach organizations with an end-toend solution,” Appel explains. “We can accelerate a company’s Big Data and analytics skills by five years.” IRI’s tools offer a rapid, sophisticated, and automated way to understand what’s driving sales and loyalty, all while streamlining the process for speed and resources. Throughout all of this work, IRI excels as the hub of an ecosystem of partners. In fact, collaboration is one of the organization’s core values, hitting home the importance of sharing information and helping others succeed. “Thanks to the growth of the internet and mobile connectivity, the explosion of access to information has flattened our world. Individuals now have access to literally thousands of times more information than we all had when we were kids, and it’s only getting bigger,” Appel says. Because of that change, he explains, companies sharing that information in effective ways will help each make decisions about their products and processes faster and deliver their customers exactly what they want. “Collaboration builds connective tissue to create efficiency and effectiveness,” Appel says—which is why he is focused on building a culture of collaboration between IRI employees and business partners. Those efforts have led to partnerships with other companies who in turn collaborate with partners and customers, expanding IRI’s network and capabilities even wider through the principle of shared information. In fact, IRI has established relationships that average more than fifteen years with ninety-five of the top one hundred CPG companies, delivering growth in all cases. “We’re constantly innovating the ways in which we add value,” Appel says. “That comes from a great culture and great people. People don’t partner with you for decades because of what you bring, they partner because of who you are.” Sync / 79

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The Storyteller’s Guide to IT Leadership BAI CIO Carol Skarlat uses her journalism background to explain complex topics to business leaders and win support By Peter Fabris

Shortly after accepting the position of executive vice president and CTO for Stuller Inc., Carol Skarlat realized that the global jewelry supplier badly needed a wholesale IT makeover. Upper management didn’t argue, as everyone in the organization understood that the antiquated technology needed to be upgraded. Skarlat soon realized, however, that they didn’t grasp how difficult the task would be. That’s where her history in journalism came into play.

Replacing the systems that ran the company would make operations vulnerable to outages. Everything would have to be carefully tested, scheduled, and coordinated in order to prevent business disruptions. The leadership team didn’t quite grasp the gravity of the situation, but Skarlat needed to get through to them so that they could prepare for it and motivate the rank and file for the huge undertaking. Tapping into a storytelling ability that she developed Sync / 81

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Carol Skarlat CIO BAI

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in high school and college as a journalism student, Skarlat created an analogy that drove the point home. “I described it as a heart transplant,” she recalls. “It was going to be that delicate and complicated, and was going to require precise timing.” Skarlat has used her communications skills time and again during her IT management career. She attributes a good part of her success to that ability and points out how important it is for IT managers to find ways to translate “technospeak” into terms that have impact for their business manager colleagues. “As I progressed in my career, I noticed a gap between the business world and the tech world,” she says. Those with a knack for bridging that gap have a real advantage in rising up the ranks, she adds.

Today, Skarlat is CIO for BAI (Bank Administration Institute), a nonprofit research and training organization. She not only oversees internal operational systems, but she is also focused on helping to develop services for the organization’s clients and members, including a new web-based training system. In fact, outward-facing systems and programs take up about 75 percent of her time. The biggest project so far in her two-year stint was a revamping of the organization’s learning management system (LMS) that delivers compliance training over the web. Compliance training has become increasingly important in recent years, as banks strive to ensure all employees understand and meet important financial industry regulations. The original LMS was developed from an off-the-shelf system, but over the years, BAI had made so many modifications that it could no longer incorporate the vendor’s upgrades. The only option was to develop a new system—but Skarlat’s small IT staff of fifteen couldn’t handle the task by itself. The answer was a partnership with Latitude CG, with BAI converting off of Saba Software and building on Latitude’s back end. BAI IT staff and a third party IT consulting firm designed and implemented the front end, which was constructed to be easier to modify and more user-friendly. Working within a small nonprofit organization requires that kind of resourcefulness to amplify the labor of a small staff. Skarlat also sees the opportunity to improve how her staff works with other BAI groups as a way to make IT work more effectively.


“When I first came here, we were very projectfocused,” she says. “Now we’re moving toward more of a true partnership with business units.” Now that BAI owns the LMS front end, this will be more critical. “We have to have regular meetings and interactions as we build the product road map with the businesspeople,” she adds. This will make for a better product and allow her to properly allocate resources. Skarlat’s move to BAI was a departure from previous positions where she had to devote much attention to manufacturing systems. In GUIDING A NEW addition to Stuller, Skarlat had GENERATION OF stints at Motorola and consulting TECH LEADERS engagements with several While serving on the advisory other manufacturers. She had board of Northwestern no experience in the financial University’s Master of Science in services industry, but an innate Information Technology program curiosity led her to take the job for the past fifteen years, Carol with BAI. She was confident Skarlat has helped influence training of a new generation of IT that her skills honed in other executives. industries would translate well. “My niche is to distill the big “I noticed that the program was picture into components and heavy on technology and light help explain the impact of IT on on business,” Skarlat recalls. She and other board members the business,” she says. thought the curriculum needed That ability took root when to be rebalanced. “A CIO needs journalism instructors noted to have business acumen—an her promise in that field, and understanding of financials, project management, and how to encouraged her to pursue it. But manage staff,” she says. Skarlat didn’t have a passion for the news business, and found Northwestern has taken the her calling when she took a data board’s recommendations to processing course in college. “I heart, and the program has been fairly nimble in adopting new fell in love with IT,” she says. concepts such as new project Still, lessons learned as an development methods, social amateur journalist have provmedia, and the latest security en essential to leading IT, and options. “The program keeps Skarlat has found storytelling evolving because the board has a strong influence,” Skarlat says. essential to promote understanding between IT and business leaders.



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Innovation, Collaboration, and Social Responsibility Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana chief information security officer Sean Lowder and his team put the “care” in healthcare information security by Rebecca Stoner

Chief information security officer Sean Lowder knows exactly what he’s proudest of from his fifteen years at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBSLA): his team. The group is more than sixty people strong, and each is deeply dedicated to protecting the healthcare data of Louisianans. “They care about what we’re doing here; they care about our mission,” Lowder says. “I got lucky in that respect.” But it seems like more than luck. Lowder’s evident passion for this critical work and his unique managerial style make his team a highly attractive one for anyone who wants to combine an intellectually demanding

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Sean Lowder VP, CISO Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana

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Forcepoint’s intelligent systems protect information at the point where it’s most valuable and vulnerable—the human point.


environment with a communityminded mission. Insurers like BCBSLA have access to their customers’ entire medical history. They’re charged with safeguarding patients’ addresses, the names of their children, their test results, and the details of every procedure they’ve had performed. Data this valuable isn’t ignored by BCBSLA BY THE NUMBERS the world’s hackers, who are keen to try and use it to file false insurance claims, open false lines of credit, or compile a compromising dossier The organization was founded in 1934, in the about a government official or depths of the Great Depression, with just two public figure. employees in a one-room office. There’s also the ongoing threat posed by ransomware. Just last year, in fact, a Hollywood hospital Eighty years later, it has eight regional offices was forced to fork over $17,000 in across the state, serving 1.6 million Louisianans. ransom money after hackers installed malware that crippled its operating system and drove some hospital operations to a halt. In a It is the oldest and largest health insurer in Louisiana and has more than 1,600 employees; globalized, highly interconnected it’s also mutually held, owned entirely by the world, healthcare data is constantpolicyholders. ly under attack. Lowder describes the state of affairs as “a worldwide crisis in cybersecurity.” Most detection products on the The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation has a twenty-five-year tradition of market today lack context, which corporate social responsibility, including grants to could lead to a large number of Louisiana-based nonprofits and annual dispersal false positives and low value. “This of ten $20,000 Angel Awards, which are given to leads to redundant tools and lots ordinary Louisianans doing extraordinary good of complexity, making it difficult for the state’s children. to identify the signals through all the noise,” says Brandon Swafford, CTO of data protection and insider threat security at Forcepoint, a partner of BCBSLA. “Intelligent systems like Forcepoint’s that understand how people rapid evolution of technology and utilize cutting-edge are interacting with information are able to identify methods in data security,” he says. One of the first normal, anomalous, and malicious usage of data and employees on the information security team, Lowder is committed to helping his employees expand their skill systems and take action in real-time. This allows for sets and grow with the company, just as he did. an understanding of when attacks are malicious or Lowder brings his team first-hand knowledge identities have been compromised, helping mitigate data theft incidents.” of how to successfully innovate within the rapidly By its nature, the work of protecting such sensitive changing world of data security. When he began data demands top-tier talent. It’s not that mastery working at BCBSLA fifteen years ago, technology was much simpler. Most of the insurer’s systems were on of the latest technologies is the lone essential; those competencies can be taught. What sets Lowder’s team a mainframe, and internet usage was limited. Today, apart, he says, is a drive to learn more, the thirst to information is more cloud-based and dispersed. On the smaller scale, Lowder says that one of the primary know everything. “It enables us to keep pace with the

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initial promise of SIEM.

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technologies his team uses today, User and Entity Behavior Analytics, didn’t even exist a few years ago— and now it’s one of their most frequently used tools for catching bad guys doing bad things. To make the most of his talented team, Lowder encourages constant collaboration. That way, team members are always pushing each other toward smarter solutions. One of the most challenging aspects of the job is learning to see problems from the point of view of a hacker and designing defenses around the vulnerabilities they would see. These difficult design challenges seem to demand the collective brainpower of a group of brilliant people who bring to the task a range of competencies. “We’re always challenging one another,” Lowder says. There’s an open-door policy at the office and a strong emphasis on transparency and knowledgesharing between management and team members. That’s crucial for compliance with regulation around healthcare data, as well as intelligent risk assessment. “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack or, sometimes, finding a needle in a bunch of needles,” Lowder says. Top technology talent might not think of Baton Rouge as a natural destination. Although it’s not a tech hub on the scale of San Francisco or New York, it has amenities that larger cities might be hard-pressed to match. Lowder cites the excellent food and culture as reasons no one can stand to leave Louisiana once they settle in. More importantly, it’s a community with strong social solidarity. When Baton Rouge suffered devastating flooding in 2016, BCBSLA immediately pitched in. The organization converted conference rooms to daycares, donated blankets and old clothes, and helped strip and gut water-damaged homes. “Our mission is to improve the health and lives of Louisianans, and we truly live that,” Lowder explains. His team, too, has a strong sense of responsibility towards the people they serve and are determined to prevent all security breaches. “It’s just too important,” Lowder says. “One screw-up can cause a lot of people a lot of bad days.” They’re conscious of the context in which their work takes place. Louisiana’s population suffers from high rates of obesity, cancer, and opioid addiction. No wonder, then, that Lowder’s team approaches its work with determination and passion. “We’ve accomplished a thousand projects, a thousand widgets have been pushed through, and a thousand risks have been addressed,” Lowder says. “But, truly, my proudest accomplishment is that I’ve assembled a really terrific team here.” Driven by that team—and that spirit of collaboration and constant innovation—Lowder and BCBSLA are making strides toward better health for Louisianans. Issue 014


21st Century Tool Maker Bosch is a manufacturer rooted in old-economy things: tools, auto parts, appliances, and a host of commercial and industrial products. But it has advanced considerably as a global brand, with all its “things” now connecting to the internet. By Russ Klettke

Robert Bosch GmbH (“Bosch”) is a company most know through its branded consumer products—automotive parts and accessories, dishwashers and refrigerators, power tools, garden tools, and water heaters, among many others. It’s also a company that makes commercial and industrial products such as energy and building solutions, security cameras, and large thermal plants that are quite familiar to people who work with those kinds of things. Those “things” are what produce an annual revenue stream of €73 billion for the Gerlingen, Germany-based company. And the fact that their products function within larger, physical operating systems explain why this company is very involved in the increasingly ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT).

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“We offer all the ace cards for the connected world from a single source,” Bosch CEO Volkmar Denner told Bosch ConnectedWorld conference attendees in 2016. “The Bosch IoT Cloud is the final piece of the puzzle that completes our software expertise.” That cloud is comprised of technical infrastructure as well as platform and software offerings. Around the same time as ConnectedWorld, Bosch announced a partnership with the huge software firm SAP in a powerful play for connected vehicles, manufacturing machinery, and tools. This connection will make those industrial and consumer products smarter, more efficient, faster, easier to monitor, and almost always less costly to operate. Lest anyone think these are merely novelties of limited applications, consider the IoT’s hockey-stick growth curve: from five billion devices already under the IoT umbrella in 2015 to 21 billion projected for 2020. For cost savings, the company predicts its own use of IoT devices will save them €1 billion and generate an additional €1 billion in sales within two years. It’s exciting to consider what that IoT connectivity will—and in some cases already does—look like. For example, among the approximately 250 IoT projects from the company’s Software Innovations division are automotive-based air filter testing devices that can address particulate pollution that plagues many 90 / Sync

cities, especially those in Asia. Feedback from filters mounted on cars in field-testing will help optimize cleaning performance and reduce automotive failures. Buildings, both commercial and residential, are another IoT hotbed. The intelligent networking of heating systems, controlled remotely from computers, tablets, and smartphones, leads to energy efficiency and greater occupant comfort. Expanding on that for smart homes, Bosch-created central gateways connect multiple devices and appliances with multiple users to produce home automation, better security, and tighter energy management. There’s even an Australian oyster farm where “the Internet of Oysters” is being tested to inform the aquaculture farmers on optimal times for harvest. But all is not a bed of roses—or of oysters—when it comes to IoT. There’s a lot of potential for things to go wrong, particularly as a result of bad actors who wish to cause damage and dysfunction. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported in 2016 that certain weaknesses in IoT systems pose serious risks. The federal agency specifically looked at consumer wearables, home security devices, connected cars, household appliances, and other applications. Each is subject to hacking, malware, and Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS), the last of these occurring when a large group of botnets flood a network with fake requests that effectively block access by legitimate user-devices. What makes IoT devices particularly vulnerable is that they operate on low power, which then limits builtin security. And of what’s there, many system operators fail to set up useful passwords. Further, there is a tremendous amount—terabytes— of data being transmitted from devices that might be useful to hackers, competitors, hostile state actors, or thieves. Geolocations of shipments and vehicles, for example, might be useful in war and defense. Bosch has devoted considerable resources to address these security problems. The company explained the precautions it is taking in a white paper published in 2017: “The pace of change must not blind us to the fact that customer trust must be continually earned and that making cyberphysical systems truly trustworthy is a Issue 014



complex endeavor.” The solutions include an open-source approach with an open IoT ecosystem, and establishing a secure foundation for IoT solutions that are “invented for life,” say the white paper authors. The solutions also include baking security into the design of a system, rather than tacking it on as an afterthought. This is a subset of a broader, holistic IoT security approach that looks at the whole life cycle of solutions and products. It has to consider processes, organizational requirements (such as a security governance structure), and all applied technologies. Though IoT offers serious potential, dishwashing, weekend carpentry projects, and even commercial heating systems and oyster farming were once simpler and, perhaps, easier to protect. Bosch knows that, as it’s been in business since the late nineteenth century. That said, the IoT is making those things better in a host of ways. As a classic “thing”-maker, it would seem advantageous that Bosch act as a leader in working at these essential cybersecurity issues. The organization’s decades of understanding of how homemakers, carpenters, farmers, and building operators have historically used those products should mean a safer future for the increasingly connected world. Spotlight by Whereoware turns sales reps into superstars with real-time customer behavior and product information. Everything reps need is at their fingertips— from interactive digital catalogs and automatic ordertaking to customer purchase history, website activity, and analytics-driven recommendations.

Take control over the path to purchase Only PriceSpider is plugged into real-time data allowing you to make real-time decisions.




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inner circle


Fortunately, I have had enough history now with my organization that they expect a fair amount of ideation and development to come from our office. Many still refer to me personally as the “mad scientist,” but I take that as a term of endearment. Not all innovation in our organization comes out of our office by any means, but we still tend to push the envelope for what people have come to expect. The best value we can bring is to show the outcomes that our innovations have and how we have commercialized some of these opportunities—not only for our existing partners at our own meetings, but how we can bring innovations we have developed to other partners meetings and have an impact for them.

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inner circle


There’s no better way than by showcasing results. Have a logical plan, build a compelling story of value realized, risk mitigated, or cost averted, and ensure that it gets communicated and understood by all the key stakeholders. Focus on what was achieved by your organization and not on what others could or can do better.

Short, face-to-face presentations using pictures and infographics to tell a story can be essential. The “keep it simple” principle applies: What truly impacts these executives and what do they care about? For corporations, peers, and other stakeholders, easily accessible and regular (monthly) online operations reports illustrating service performance as well as risks and issues can be very beneficial.

CHAD JACKSON P. 32 Vice President, Innovation & Development American College of Chest Physicians

PUNEET WAHI P. 57 Senior Director of IT TPC Group

MARTIN DINEL P. 68 CISO Government of Alberta

Chad Jackson admires the work of Disney Imagineers—and hopes to emulate their innovative approach in the healthcare world. He joined the American College of Chest Physicians in 2008 and continues to develop innovative solutions.

Puneet Wahi spent ten years in the Indian Army, retiring as a major and having earned the equivalent of a Purple Heart. After earning a masters degree in computer engineering, he has proceeded to develop an impressive résumé in technology leadership.

Over his decades of technology leadership experience, Martin Dinel has developed specialties in team building, IT security, strategic planning, and more. He has worked on behalf of the people of Canada in roles in the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton.

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DATA ACQUIRED Facts and figures we learned from the tech leaders in this issue

S 250

Bosch is currently undertaking approximately 250 different Internet of Things projects.

P. 89


By developing a tool that allows doctors to practice endobronchial ultrasounds, Chad Jackson and Dr. Eric Edell save hospitals up to $6,000 in potential damages to tools.

P. 32

$13 billion

A study from Marc Berger’s team at Pfizer found that migraine headaches were costing employers approximately $13 billion each year in missed workdays and reduced productivity.

P. 54

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660,000 km²

Martin Dinel protects the information of citizens and industries across the province of Alberta’s 660,000 square kilometers.

P. 68


Over the course of five years, Mattress Firm acquired twenty-nine companies and added 2,300 stores to their footprint.

P. 50


Courtney Graybill helps optimize customer experience in part for David’s Bridal’s 207,000 Instagram followers.

P. 24

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Sync is a magazine for and about technology leaders. We share compelling stories from tech executives about how they’re harnessing the power and potential of the digital revolution to grow their teams, their companies, and their careers.



Sync #14  
Sync #14