Trusted Data

Steven John, CIO, AmeriPride Services
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Steven John, CIO, AmeriPride Services

This is a story about trust.

I joined AmeriPride Services as CIO about two years ago, largely because trust is deeply embedded in its DNA. AmeriPride provides linens, uniforms, floor mats, cleaning products and other essential products and services to nearly 150,000 customers across North America. We’re like the elves in the Grimm Brothers fairy tale that work while the shoemaker is sleeping, making sure he is ready for his customers every morning. As a true business partner, AmeriPride helps customers improve their image while keeping facilities clean and employees safe. People depend on us to make sure their customers will continue to trust them. And to reinforce this, we have nearly 2,000 delivery trucks out on the roads every day with the phrase “People You Can Count On”, emboldened on the side of each one.

I teach a class for IT Executives in New York for the Society for Information Management and in the first session I run a trust exercise. I have everyone take a 3x5 card and on one side I have them write five people they trust. Then we talk about the similarities between their lists. Not surprisingly, family makes up the majority of most people’s lists. I then have them flip the 3x5 card over and have them list five people or things or institutions that they don’t trust. That could be a coworker or your car to start in the morning or the government. I then ask the simple question, “What would it take for the people, things, or institutions on that list to regain your trust?” It’s interesting that most people say it’s not possible or it would be very, very difficult to regain their trust once it is lost. I then ask the most difficult question of all: “Whose list would you appear on, and on which side?”

  ‚ÄčIn order to establish trust and become the People You Can Count On, we needed to add the third leg, which is trusted data 

I share this story because AmeriPride is a 125-year-old family owned business and we want to be trusted like family. We want to be on the first side of the 3x5 card and that is genuinely important to us. The problem is that historically we haven’t been able to trust our own data, and it often required herculean work to ensure our data was right for our customer. The information our customers eventually received was clean, but it took way too much work behind the scenes to make sure that the data was accurate.

Let me provide an example. As recent as two years ago, our Direct Sales team spent as much as 25 percent of their time sorting, gathering and consolidating data. Think about this for a moment: they spent three months out of every year manually ensuring our customer data was correct. On one hand, that’s laudatory. On the other hand, it’s a horrible waste of valuable talent. My father had a saying, “If you are doing something that someone else can do or do better than you, then something only you can do isn’t getting done.” Because our data wasn’t standardized, simplified, or automated, we had to spend way too much of our time focusing on our own internal challenges. What we really wanted to be doing was focus on helping our customers solve their challenges.

So we launched a project to rebuild our information stack – standardize it, simplify it, and automate it – by blowing up the mess we had and rebuilding it with one clear goal in mind: trusted insight for ourselves and our customers. In simple terms, we wanted to be the People You Can Count On and provide Data You Can Count On. This is a fun play on words, but also something about which we are deadly serious.

From our customer’s perspective, being able to count on our data is just as important as being able to count on our people. Rebuilding our information stack was something that would touch every one of our employees, every one of our leaders, and, if we did it right, every one of our customers, in a positive way. An early example is the previously mentioned Direct Sales Team, which now spends only 1 percent of their time preparing data and an additional 24 percent of their time meeting our customers’ needs.

Since this is a story about trust, our first step was to select technologies and technology partners we could trust to help us succeed.

One of the principles we live and lead by in our IT Department is to have fewer and deeper vendor relationships. We’ve had a long relationship with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) on our desktop and in our data center, so we turned to them and aggressively embraced their Vertica tool set. Vertica is how we store our data. It enables scalability and we are able to tune it for analytic performance and big data. And we also now sit, along with Uber, Apple, Etsy and The Human Genome Project, on HPE’s Big Data Customer Advisory Council.

Another trusted partner, Informatica, is how we transform and govern our data. At its most simple, it enables repeatable, standard definitions and data governance. And finally we added Tableau as the means in which we consume data. Tableau enables self service analytics and dynamic dashboards and is the trusted face of our data.

We brought together a Data Governance Board of business peers to make sure our data became the trusted language with which we do business with our customer partners and the common business language by which we communicate and judge one another. This wasn’t an easy process and it is one that will never end, but it is critical because it establishes the language we will use to determine and drive our future as a company.

For many years, the leaders at AmeriPride had two tools to help make the right decisions for our company and our customers – our experience and our judgment. But at the end of the day, that’s a two legged stool. In order to establish trust and become the People You Can Count On, we needed to add the third leg, which is trusted data. And that is what we did.

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