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Turning a mobile sales app gap into a new business opportunity

IT Leadership Award finalist Helane Stein turned a mobile sales app gap into a mobile movement inside and outside her company.

Our SearchCIO-Midmarket 2013 IT Leadership Awards recognize the contributions and innovations of IT professionals within midmarket companies. We put out a call for nominations for individuals who have excelled in six categories: cultural innovation, technological advancement, business value, green IT, IT engagement and customer experience.

Helane SteinHelane Stein

A mobile sales app in itself is pretty common, but it's how an app evolved at Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT) that landed Helane Stein as one of our finalists. As vice president of IT at PREIT, Stein turned a mobile sales app gap into a conversation about how to improve overall business operations. The application inspired the company to swap out desktops for iPads, change its software vendor partnership RFP to include a "must have a mobile version" clause and created a new business opportunity whereby competitors and peers asked to use the app or purchase it. Read on to learn about the biggest IT challenge that Stein, a finalist for our business value award, faces today, and a common mistake she sees up-and-coming IT leaders make.

Number of years in IT: 20-plus

Revenue: $458 million

From the judges

"Clear partnerships and ongoing support that doesn't require constant IT attention."

Number of employees in the company: 650

Number of employees in IT: 14

Educational background: A bachelor of science degree in information science from the University of Pittsburgh and a master's degree in business administration from Saint Joseph's University.

First job: Before college -- camp counselor. After college -- programmer.

LinkedIn: Helane Stein

What's the best advice you've ever received? My mother insisted that I take at least one computer course when I was in high school and that led to my career in technology.

In the movie of your life, who would play your character? Meryl Streep, of course.

If you could have just one superpower, what would it be and why? Mind reader. This would ensure our deliverables exceeded our customers' expectations.

What's your favorite app on your smartphone or tablet device? Anything news- or weather-related.

Where do you fall in the iPhone versus Android debate? I have an iPhone and it is our company-standard device. But I believe it's a personal choice, like chocolate or vanilla ice cream.

Describe the best technology decision you ever made: To be an early adopter of iPhones and iPads. The ease of use has been a game changer with technology adoption.

Was there ever a technology that you thought was a gimmick but now couldn't live without? If not, which current technology is a gimmick or overly hyped? There are many examples of technologies of the past that were not adopted at the time either because they did not have the right marketing strategy or were just ahead of their time. The touchscreen tablet from the late 1990s is not that different from the iPad of today.

From the nomination

"Helane has proven her leadership by leveraging existing systems to identify opportunities and monitor risk, improve business processes to maximize efficiency and develop innovative solutions to meet changing business needs and support new initiatives."

What's the biggest challenge you face in IT today? Consumerization of technology has led to an expectation that all software, including enterprise software, should be as easy to use as an app on a smartphone. For the enterprise, the challenge is in creating applications that are easy to use yet complex because of their need to provide tight integration of information from multiple sources.

Which role and/or internal partner do you rely upon the most? I believe it is important to interact with all resources within the company. In today's world, all IT employees need to understand what drives the business and partner with all areas to leverage technology effectively and create innovated products and solutions.

What's your prediction for the next big technology? We are beginning to see the next big thing: the fully connected world and the Internet of Things. For example, apps where you can interact with devices in your home such as security systems and DVRs.

What's your favorite nonmonetary benefit or perk of your job? Technology and the business needs of the company are continuously changing, and keeping pace is crucial. The company encourages employee participation in user groups, conferences and training sessions.

What is the biggest problem you see with corporate cultures today? Each company has a unique corporate culture that possesses both strengths and weaknesses. The key is to find an environment that matches your individual preference and style.

What are "rookie mistakes" that you see in up-and-coming IT leaders? They speak too much about the technology and not about creating business value.

Describe your leadership style. Leading an IT department requires a diverse skill set. First, it is essential to be a genuine business partner, conversant with each aspect of the company's business. I need to understand the technology, yet not get bogged down in details or micromanagement. That requires hiring the very best people for each position. I also have to be looking past the current technology to what is heading in our direction.

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