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Purolator Courier's CIO: Why We Shuffled Execs

Purolator Courier's CIO: Why We Shuffled Execs

When it came to a major overhaul of its business operations, the company allowed leadership of the initiative to migrate from one executive to another as the project moved to different phases. In the midst of it all, Jim McDade found himself in the role of prime contractor.

Again, Purolator responded by putting the right person in a key role. The Director of Customer Administration, Sandra MacLennan, was a very detail-oriented person who knew the company's systems intimately from end to end. "As part of the 'getting the company ready to accept the changes', the customer administration team had a head start from the beginning as the project team members came directly out of the Customer Administration department," said MacLennan.

"We made the decision at the beginning of the project to use as many subject matter experts as we could justify. This included management as well as front line employees," she added. "This made the ongoing day-to-day running a bit more difficult, however we believe it was the right decision.

We required a bit more overtime for the project duration, as we did not replace the individuals we assigned and management had to take on added responsibilities. But we were more than adequately represented from a front line and management complement on the project, and who better to represent the business than the people that do the job every day?"

Changing the Game

There are many roll-outs associated with the new systems and McDade is happy with the way they have been going, although he admits to the belief that there is more value inherent in the new system than has so far been realized.

There have also been a couple of glitches in the proceedings. Unluckily, the company's Montreal data center had a fire on go-live weekend last September -- an extremely rare occurrence -- and rather than risk a breach in service capabilities, the rollout was put back a week. As well, with a fragile economy and fluctuating fuel prices, it's not the best of times to be talking to customers about new pricing.

But on the plus side of the ledger, the technology's working fine and the sales force is happy with the new things that can now be brought to market.

The new system has also enabled the company to enter into new agreements to better serve the needs of customers and partners.

"When I talk about the business case for what we've done, I point to these agreements. We can make the changes needed to enter these agreements in a couple of months because we have this new platform. We couldn't even envision doing that in the past," said McDade. "Now that we've got all these new capabilities, we need to spend more time thinking about how we're going to exploit them and plans are underway to do just that this fall."

The Role of 'Trust' in Systems Projects

According to Jim McDade, building systems is all about trust. You've got to get the people around you to trust you, and you've got to trust them.

There's nothing worse than a surprise," he said. "And if you want to avoid surprises you've got to get people comfortable that they're not going to get beaten up if they have a problem."

If an error is found before you start coding it, then it takes a day to fix; if it is found when you code it, it takes fifty days to fix; and if it is found at integration testing it takes a thousand days to fix, he noted. Therefore you must create an environment where errors are corrected early.

"You need to know where the hidden problems are. What aren't we doing?" said McDade. "So you must create an environment where people want to make it clear where they see the risks." In order to create that level of trust, McDade spent a lot of time with the team during the build phase. And he had a couple of people on the project -- Mike Scotten from Innovapost and Dave Miller from Accenture -- who didn't have a defined role on the project, but were trusted people who "knew the real insides" of how to build big systems.

Scotten and Miller were an important piece of the puzzle because there was a lot of simultaneous design and build that had to be kept track of, especially when the team was working on a big piece of custom code in SAP, which formed the basis of Purolator's service directory.

"They moved around and made sure things were going smoothly," said McDade. "Everyone was comfortable with them because of the environment that had been created. No project lead was affronted by the fact that one of them was in their area."

Because of the trust factor, Scotten and Miller were able to do their jobs effectively.

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