Valassis Communications CIO Steve Carrington strives to create a better, more efficient work environment through technology and innovation.
By Stephanie Harris
Steve Carrington is always looking to improve processes through the use of technology. Whether it is via the successful implementation of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or the inception of a companywide “Bring Your Own Device” program, Valassis’ Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer (CIO) constantly strives to create innovation and improve the work environment, all while eliminating inefficiencies within the business.
“As the technology leader of a company,” Carrington said, “I have to make sure we are creating the right environment—from a technology perspective—that gives our employees the flexibility they need or else they’re going to find someplace else to work.”
Following the principles of Lean Six Sigma, which revolve around efficiency and effectiveness, Carrington has been enhancing the Valassis work environment through technology since his 2008 arrival. Under his leadership, the company has been the recipient of four innovation awards over the last three years, including InformationWeek’s Top 500 Innovators award in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Most recently, Carrington was recognized in Crain’s Detroit Business CIO award program as a top technology executive in metro Detroit.
Building His Way Up
Carrington’s career in information technology (IT) began somewhat unconventionally, working the third shift running machines in a factory. “I realized early on this was not something I wanted to do for the rest if my life,” he said, “so I got myself motivated, went to school, got my first degree, which was in industrial engineering, and shortly thereafter moved into a quality assurance (QA) role at the manufacturing plant for the company I was working for.”
Carrington continued working in manufacturing plant QA roles and quickly realized he had a knack for project management. When one particular ERP project was not going as well as it could have, he was presented the opportunity to take over that effort.
With unsatisfied clients on the other end, Carrington re-planned the project, motivated staff and implemented a new ERP system in less than 120 days. “This was a game changer for us at the time,” he said. “This was back in the early ’90s, and it was probably the beginning of what became the trend of accelerated implementation.”
When a company implements a new ERP system, Carrington explained, the existing processes and systems—from sales all the way through accounting—are replaced with new ones. “You are essentially changing out the DNA of a company,” he said, “and that’s a really big thing because everybody in the company, their role changes. They are going to have to do things differently.”
“Continuous improvement is key. The minute we become stagnate, we start losing.”
To facilitate change of this magnitude, Carrington spends a lot of time building relationships with functional leaders within an organization. “[I] make sure we’re hearing what they have to say, understanding what they have to say and delivering what they need versus us delivering what we think they need.”
When spearheading change in any organization, particularly one the size of Valassis, Carrington says there are three elements to consider: process, people and technology.
“You have to simplify the process and take out the activities that aren’t creating value in the eyes of your customer,” he said. “You then have to change the behaviors of the people who are using those processes and make sure they are being followed the way they should.
The final step: applying the new technology that will enable the simplified process.
Responding to Change
Because technology is constantly advancing, and often changing our lifestyles along the way, Carrington is faced with the perpetual challenge of adapting in response to this change. For instance, the introduction of the iPad and other tablet devices led him to successfully launch a companywide Bring Your Own Device program that embraces the new technology while meeting employees’ personal and professional needs.
“When I first saw those being introduced I thought, ‘We have a tidal wave coming at us.,” Carrington said. “If we don’t deal with this now, we’re going to deal with it later and with a lot of chaos.’”
And so Carrington proposed an idea to the information security team: employees would purchase their own tablets, but be granted access to company information from their personal devices.
“My position was ‘let’s not buy these from the company and give them to people, let’s let people buy these on their own and allow them connect to our environment,’” he said. “This way they can choose what device they want—let’s start giving people choices.”
Through extensive conversation, Carrington and his team implemented what he considers to be one of corporate America’s first Bring Your Own Device programs.
“One of the things that drove us to this program was not only this tidal wave that was coming at us, but also the fact that if we want to attract the right people, we’re going to have to change the environment,” he said. ‘One thing we considered was what kind of devices does the next generation of workers want?”
Carrington recognizes that the Millennial Generation now entering the workforce is not interested in a standard device everybody in the company receives. “They want choices and flexibility,” he said.
Since beginning the tablet program three years ago, more than 400 personally owned iPads have been deployed. The smartphone program began a year ago, and 650 phones— nearly half those in the company—have been switched over to the Bring Your Own Device program.
Carrington constantly challenges his team to consider ways in which to create innovation in their IT processes and systems. “It’s about how we simplify our business processes to make them more efficient and effective,” he said, “How do we create the right environment—one of innovation, one of taking risks? If we’re not taking risks, we’re not going to move the company forward.”
As technology continues to evolve, Carrington and his team keep an open mind to the possibilities that exist, and they are ready to embrace whatever innovations and changes may present themselves within the workplace.
“Continuous improvement is key,” he said. “The minute we become stagnate, we start losing.”
Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.
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