This CEO Relies on IT for Innovation

For ARI CEO Carl Ortell, real-time information delivery is key to strong relationships with customers and employees. 

For ARI CEO Carl Ortell, real-time information delivery is key to strong relationships with customers and employees.

How is IT changing your business?

As a vehicle-management business, we collect data on everything vehicle-related, including specifications, maintenance, fuel, safety, value and the telematics information that comes in through a vehicle's on-board computer. With 2,600 customers, who run everything from small cars to complex trucks, you can imagine the amount of data we collect.

While we've always collected the data and worked with our customers to generate reports to help them run an efficient fleet, it's only recently that we've been able to offer real-time solutions with real-time data.

It used to take us up to a month to analyze a customer's multi-year maintenance expenditure and make recommendations. But last year, we developed a new analytics tool using SAP HANA in-memory technology that allows us to deliver that analysis in minutes--3,600 times faster than before. Now we're a generation ahead of our competitors.

How else are you driving value through data?

An ARI salesperson can walk into a meeting with a fleet manager and use ARI 360--another tool we developed using HANA--to formulate a presentation on their iPad within minutes. If their next meeting is with the CEO, they can formulate a different presentation. These tools allow us to establish immediate brand credibility with a new customer.

How does technology make you a better CEO?

Regardless of how big we get, it is important to me to know each employee's name, who our future leaders are and where they are in terms of their career development. I want to know their work history, education, strengths and weaknesses. I want to know who is enrolled in ARI University, our training and development program, and who is taking advantage of our tuition reimbursement program.

Technology allows me to see all the data points for an individual employee on my computer, iPhone or iPad. This would have been much more challenging a few years ago.

What advice would you offer to other CEOs who would like to innovate with technology?

You have to decide: Do you want to be an innovator or a follower? We used to be really good at following because we didn't want the risk of being first to market. But a few years ago, we decided to be an innovator. Once you make that decision, you can never take your foot off the investment pedal--and not just in terms of money.

It's also an investment of time and engagement. For example, we have a program that allows employees to suggest ways of creating new revenue or efficiencies, and we pay a percentage of the benefits to the person who submitted the idea. Managing the program takes time, but it creates a culture of innovation at every level.

You also need the stomach for investing when times are bad. We used the recession to create competitive differentiation because we never stopped innovating.

What technology are you personally most excited about?

I'm a guitarist, and I play a little piano and drums as well. Technology like the tablature app that's on my iPad is making me a better musician.

Martha Heller is president of the executive recruiting firm Heller Search Associates and author of The CIO Paradox. Follow her on Twitter: @marthaheller.

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