by Martha Heller

Moving IT closer to the action at Ryder System

Mar 26, 2019
Careers CIO Digital Transformation

By shifting more IT activity into the business units, CIO Rajeev Ravindran ensures a collaborative approach to technology innovation at the $8.4B transportation and supply chain management company.

digital transformation competitive
Credit: Thinkstock

When technology no longer supports your business strategy, but instead informs or even defines it, IT innovation can no longer belong to one function. Rajeev Ravindran, CIO of Ryder System, exemplifies this concept by moving tier one RPA work out of IT and assigning full-time product ownership to business leaders.

Martha Heller: What does “digital” mean to Ryder?

Rajeev Ravindran: Too often, when people talk about digital, they are talking about technology. For Ryder, taking the company digital is both about technology and a mindset shift. This is particularly important for a company that has been around for 85 years.

As a part of this mindset shift, we are moving from an applications-focused environment to a product-focused environment. In our new model, we look at every application as a product that has a life cycle determined by a product owner, who is typically in a business function other than IT. 

rajeev ravindran Ryder System

Rajeev Ravindran, CIO of Ryder System

In order to shift to a product model, we need to get the business units on board. My team and I meet with Ryder’s business leaders to answer some questions: Why are we shifting to a product model? Why change at all when we have been so successful as a company? Getting the presidents on board to the product model is a critical first step, but even before that, we have to make the shift in IT.

In IT, we are moving from a linear thinking perspective to a design focus, and we are moving from waterfall to iterative. The goal of these changes is create a customer-centric culture, whether those customers are internal or external to Ryder.

What are some examples of products that exemplify a shift to digital?

We have recently launched a one-of-a-kind mobile app called RyderGyde, which lets drivers and fleet managers manage a single vehicle anywhere, anytime, and from any device. Our first release allows drivers to schedule maintenance in less than 60 seconds, find a Ryder location, contact roadside assistance, map fuel rates across the region, and compare those rates daily. The second iteration, which we released late last year, allows drivers to log fuel receipts digitally, and lets fleet managers browse used vehicle inventory. 

We developed this product iteratively, which went from idea to execution in less than six months.

To what to you attribute that kind of speed and productivity?

Our business people did not treat their product ownership role as a part-time job. They were pulled out of their full-time roles and embedded completely into an iterative development team. As product owners, they stay on the team and pull in people from other areas as they need them. For RyderGyde, the product owner, a leader from our fleet management group, knew the app inside out.

That is why our product owners from the business need a basic understanding of technology. We have a lot of long-tenured people at Ryder, and since we have a history of collaboration between IT and our business partners, many of our business leaders, who are curious about technology, have dug themselves in and have the right foundational grasp of technology to step into product leadership roles.

In what other ways are you leveraging technology knowledge in the business?

We have started to shift the ownership of some technology services right into the business. When I think about the future, I see technology getting much easier to use, which means we need to start looking into self-service and how we can use self-service to move faster.

Traditionally, someone in a business function would have an idea, which IT would take and then emerge from months of development with a product that no one wants. The more we shift technology resources right into that business function, the less often that happens.

Let’s take Robotics Process Automation (RPA), which we’ve used, so far, to gain efficiencies in call centers and in finance, but that’s just the beginning. We have many more uses in mind.

For RPA services, we made a shift in our support model. We decided that tier 1 RPA work would be centralized in the business process area who is using the technology.  For finance, for example, we put an RPA group under the person who manages our budgeting process. While an IT person is a part of that tier 1 RPA team, all of the work is done by business end-users.

Tier 2 and 3 RPA work is run by IT. Our RPA technical experts perform the more complex coding, but the business group runs tier 1. This way, much of the RPA work is closer to the business that is using it, and we can all move more quickly.

How are you changing the culture outside of IT?

Our product model changes the culture inside of IT and across the company. When we build applications in smaller chunks, so that users can touch and feel them, the development experience is very different than when something remains abstract until you have the final product. Our business leaders’ direct involvement in iterative product development is a major cultural shift.

We are managing this change business unit by business unit. We have taken all of the applications in one of our business units, assigned product owners for each, and we are bringing in more scrum masters and training everyone. Once we have completed this work, we will take the same approach with all of the other business units.

What advice do you have for CIOs looking to shift to a product model?

The CIO must have the trust of the executive committee before the transformation. I did not start this shift as soon as I joined the company. I had to deliver on some initiatives and prove my commitment to our overall business goals. While I am dedicated to the IT organization, my executive peers know that my first loyalty is to them.

The CIO has to demonstrate a serious commitment to the transformation. When we start work on a new product, I am hands-on. If there is a late-night issue, I am right there with them. If we are adding new functions that will create too much complexity, I will jump in and suggest we go with the original scope. 

When you move to a more iterative model, your IT team can wind up with double the work, because while you are changing your development model, the business is still moving and the requests continue to come in. To keep everyone focused on the future, the CIO has to make constant communication and transparency a priority. 

When I have an all-hands meeting with the IT organization, we will talk about why a product mentality is good for the business. We then reinforce that discussion with messaging displayed on monitors that hang in our offices, to ensure everyone is part of the discussion and transformation. Clear, constant, and consistent communication across all mediums is key to change management.

About Rajeev Ravindran

Rajeev Ravindran is senior vice president and CIO for Ryder System. He is a member of Ryder’s executive leadership team and is responsible for all aspects of Ryder’s IT organization, including technology vision and strategy, operations and project management, infrastructure and software development, resource optimization, and systems development life cycle.

Prior to Ryder, he was the CIO and group vice president at JM Enterprises. Ravindran has a degree in electrical engineering and computer engineering from the University of Miami.