Through her experiences with large global organizations, Angela Yochem, Chief Information Officer (CIO) for BDP International, discusses the business impact that technology can have
For Angela Yochem, Chief Information Officer (CIO) for BDP International, timing has been everything. Having begun her career at a time when businesses could no longer operate without a strong technological foundation, she found herself gaining valuable experience in a variety of information technology (IT) roles across a range of business types.
“I’ve had great opportunities that allowed me to expand my technology foundation in ways that are fairly unique,” Yochem said. “I have designed and run very large-scale networks; been a hardcore software developer and a software architect; designed and delivered large-scale, high-volume web-based transactional systems, and have been with some of the world’s largest companies.”
With this breadth of foundational experience, Yochem eventually moved into roles in which she has been able to drive business operations through technology decision-making and adjustments, including her current role as CIO of BDP, a global logistics provider. Using technology and her professional experiences to her advantage, Yochem is transforming the company’s technology at a global level.
Learning from the Largest
Prior to joining BDP in April 2013, Yochem held technology oversight roles for companies such as AstraZeneca, Dell, Bank of America, SunTrust, UPS, and IBM. Working with these large global organizations that provided various products and services to their customer bases, Yochem had unique opportunities to engage across diverse business types.
“My perspective became quite broad as a result of large-scale global engagements across multiple lines of business,” she explained.
It also allowed her to understand scale. “Typically, these large companies have a customer base in the millions. So regardless of whether a company is providing services or a product, delighting the customer when you have millions of customers is a different undertaking than it would be for a company of a smaller size.”
Personalized customer service becomes highly automated when a firm has a customer base in the millions, according to Yochem, so building technology capabilities that allow the firm to serve many customers at scale and pace, and at appropriate timing, was essential to keeping the brand and quality of offering to the company and where it needed to be.
Yochem’s understanding of extreme complexity, diversity of offerings, and scale and pace that she picked up from working with these global organizations proved to be useful after joining BDP, where she embarked on a transformation of the IT function to better meet the needs of its global customer base.
From Good to Great
When Yochem joined BDP, the IT department was already in good shape but was organized as a classic IT function—like a utility. Yochem’s goal was to transform the department to be more streamlined and to provide more visibility for leaders across business divisions.
And so Yochem began to take several steps to create a transformation of global proportions. To begin, she changed the company’s delivery model.
“We moved from a classic waterfall model to an agile scrum-based delivery model,” she explained. “This allows us to work more closely with business partners throughout the life-cycle of a project and constantly allows for shifts in customer expectations or market opportunities to be considered as part of the delivery activity.”
The next transition Yochem facilitated was automating the delivery system so the firm would constantly be operating with the newest, strongest version.
“We’ve adopted a DevOps model, which includes automated build, test, and deployment during development activity. As a result, our new application delivery is accelerated, and is of higher quality.,” she said.
To further support technological advancements, the BDP shareholders made significant investments to help build technology platforms and infrastructure that will help carry the firm to where it needs to be in the future, according to Yochem.
“This includes a lot of mobility-based solutions and advanced analytics capabilities that didn’t exist before,” she said. “These are things in which we are now heavily invested and are delivering for our internal customers, as well as our external customers, and with that, bringing BDP to a truly differentiated space in the market.”
In addition to upgrading the technology systems in place, Yochem brought in a different set of IT capabilities to better serve the needs of customers.
“It’s one thing to have a strong technology organization serving customers using the technologies that existed two years ago when I joined, but it’s another to plan for the evolution of technology to be something that we can’t even imagine,” she said. “For the senior staff at such a company, you want to be able to adopt the latest technologies as appropriate. You want people who have a deep understanding of computer science, data science, as well as business and how to deliver on business outcomes with technologies.”
Yochem cherry-picked key talent from a variety of large and small companies to serve as her senior staff. “With that infusion of new talent mixed with people who were already here doing great work, we were able to create an organization that’s much stronger from a technology perspective, as well as from a business perspective.”
Technology is constantly advancing and more so now than ever before. With significant changes on the consumer level alone in the last five to ten years, technology has enabled substantial changes on the business side, as well. While making strategic changes to the BDP IT function, Yochem uses technology as the impetus of such changes and growth.
“We can have unprecedented productivity using the technology that is available to large businesses today,” she explained. “We don’t have to host and build our applications, we can scale infinitely across major global applications that we don’t even have to own.”
In addition, firms are capable of making better business decisions today through advanced analytics, according to Yochem. “We know more about what will benefit our customers in a variety of what-if scenarios—in ways that were just not technologically possible because the computing power didn’t exist until now.”
Technology has been providing life-changing advancements to consumers and businesses alike, and business can be improved significantly if these tools are applied appropriately.
“These are things that are world-changing and they change everything about how we live and work,” she said. “To be in the middle of all this and to have not only a front-row seat, but sometimes a driver’s seat, this is the most exciting place to be in business today.” ♦
When Angela Yochem joined BDP as the CIO, one of the first things she did was create an IT Advisory Board to engage in discussions with other industry experts about new ideas. She reached out to a range of thought leaders in various arenas, including academia, the start-up community, and large technology companies.
“They together are a great sounding board that I can use to engage in new ideas,” she said. “They’re an advisory board in the truest sense.”
While they do not have responsibility for making technology or business decisions for the company, they do act as a group of advocates who have pledged their expertise and wisdom in such a way that allows Yochem and her team to make very good, highly considered technology decisions.
“When we make major investments or directional shifts, or as we set our strategy for the long-term, having this board handy to use as an advisor spin has been wonderful.”
Outside of the advisory board, Yochem also maintains relationships with a number of personal advisors—also highly accomplished business leaders around the world—who lend their thoughts when she wants to discuss new ideas.
“The punch line is two heads are better than one and five heads are better than two,” she explained. “With access to a community of great thinkers and minds in the industry, why not engage them in discussions as we define a technology path for BDP that will ultimately serve our customers and society better?”
Questions to Ask Yourself
Whether you are being mentored or you are doing the mentoring, self-awareness, according to Yochem, is often overlook during the professional development process.
So how does one become more self-aware? Yochem offers a range of questions every professional should be asking themselves:
- Who do you want to be? Not what type of role do you want to have, but what kind of person do you want to be?
- What type of person are you at this given moment in time?
- What would you like to have said about you at your retirement party? When you think about where you want to be at the end of your career, instead of saying I want to be in this particular role, think about what are the types of things you like to have said about you at your retirement party. What is it you want to have said about you at the end of the day?
After thinking long and hard about these questions and your responses, you can then back your way into what sorts of roles would support your ideas, providing that level of contribution, Yochem explained. Once you start thinking about your goals in these ways instead of specific role titles, which may not even exist by the time you are ready to retire, a mentor and mentee can then have a much more productive set of sessions.
After you have identified the sort of role you could conceivably bring great value out of having, you then have to figure out how ambitious are you. Ask yourself:
- How much ambition do you have to get to that role? Do you have what it takes?
- Do you have the time and capabilities that it will take? If you don’t have the capabilities, how can you gain those? If you don’t have the time, how can you start prioritizing so that you do have the time?
- What are your blockers? Start clearing out those blockers one at a time.
“These are often things the mentee already knows, but it helps to have someone walk through these very elementary set of steps,” Yochem said.
Angela's Key Partners:Anexinet (Systems Integration & Technology Management) | Mendix (Rapid Application Delivery Platform) | CA Technologies (IT Management Solutions)
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