Creative IT solutions keep databases running smoothly

Don't fall in love with any one technology, and you'll always be employable in IT, says this leadership award winner from a crafting supplies company.

Award winner: Jim Mulholland, vice president of IT, Creativity Inc.

Award-winning project: Introduced radio-frequency technology in the warehouse as part of Creativity's ERP application. This improved product packing and shipping methods and reduced errors.

Hear from our award winner
Jim MulhollandListen in as Jim Mulholland talks with associate editor Rachel Lebeaux about his work at Creativity.
Industry: Wholesaler and designer of crafting supplies (scrapbooking, beads, basics, paper).

Number of employees: 300

Time in job: Four years

Educational background: Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.; MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J.

First job: Help desk associate at Nabisco Brands. That was when PCs first came out, and we rolled them out for the first time in the company in any large scale. It was a whole new world there, and a whole different scale of levels and expectations -- since they were new, no one knew what they could do.

Best advice you've ever received: "Measure twice, cut once." My father said that to me. He was working at a woodshop, and you can't make mistakes with an expensive piece of wood. It's applicable to all of the things you do, [such as] specifications for a program. It's an art form, in a lot of ways, much like painting or even writing, when everyone has creative input into process. With artwork, you maybe have more open-ended results, but, with programming, there are many ways to do things. So it's important to measure twice, write the code once, rather than have to redo the code later.

Award-winning IT
Why this project worked: There were several key reasons, the first being senior management's support for the project. Funding was allocated and priority was assigned to ensure success. Our second key to success was the inclusion of line management in the project design and implementation from the onset. Our intention was to avoid the IT "skunk-works" trap that many projects fall into, and we did this by making the department leads key members of the design team. We actually brought them in and asked them, "What are the metrics and reports you need, and what are your pain points? Then we designed around their needs. Finally, the dedication and vision of the IT team that ran the project was unrelenting. They made sure that the project stayed on course, that they were not sacrificing quality in the name of expediency, and that the focus stayed on business goals, rather than technology.

How you sold it to management: In the end, you've got to sell it with a ROI, whether that's hard dollars or efficiencies. Customer service was the important driver of this project. There are certain service-level metrics we must surpass in order to maintain good standing with our key customers and, in prior systems, we did not have a reliable way to measure and track these. The tool brought data together in one view. Also, the tool provided a much easier and accessible interface for the finance team, allowing them to find efficiencies and close the books 50% faster than before. While it's a pretty large expenditure, at least for a company our size, of all of the tools we've implemented, it's one with a more readily available ROI for us.

What the judges said: Good project that showed actual direct benefit to business improvements.

Best career move: Deciding to move away from programming languages to focus on database technologies and business intelligence.

Biggest career influence: There's not one person that's a standout. I've melded different things from various people I respect.

Best technology decision: Standardizing on Cognos 8BI for our analytical and reporting platform. I came into this company four years ago with a deep knowledge and a lot of experience in various [business intelligence] BI tools out there. One reason I thought I was good fit for this company is that I thought it needed to launch an analytical solution on top of its burgeoning ERP application. I brought in tools to evaluate … the resources we had to do this.

Biggest IT challenge: Providing responsive, secure and impactful business applications to users anywhere, anytime, while managing unrelenting growth in the quantities of data.

Best personality trait: A sense of humor.

Worst personality trait: Impatience.

Hobby: Listening to music, and playing the trumpet in my youth. Tennis and skiing are things I like to do when I get away.

Alter-ego career: I'd like to teach, probably at the college level. Mathematics and computers are two things I'm looking to do.

Current reading:I don't get a chance to read a lot of books, but, outside of tech journals, Portfolio magazine is a really good business magazine. It's about the business climate, the economy and how businesses are handling different issues. It's like The Wall Street Journal, but in more of a storyline [format].

Next big technology: For us, certainly virtualization plays a big part. In the midsize market, we're just getting into it now, and getting into it big time. For the industry, new storage technologies that provide greater capacity at ever-shrinking costs. Storage requirements are going to keep going up as there are ever-increasing amounts of media and file types needing to be stored.

One word of advice to IT pros coming up the ranks: Don't fall in love with any one technology; make sure you invest your time in a broad range of skills. And don't stray too far from the database -- for most organizations, that's where it all happens, and it will be the linchpin of all major corporate systems going forward. If you focus knowledge on that area, you'll always be employable and relevant, and have a good career in IT.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Rachel Lebeaux, Associate Editor

2008 CIO Decisions Midmarket IT Leadership Award Winners
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