Managing Change: Mobility & The Multigenerational Workforce

By  Susan Nunziata — January 08, 2009

Jim Barrecchia, Senior Director Business Systems Delivery with Atlas Air/Polar Air Cargo, Greg Lush, CIO of The Linc Group, and Kevin Baradet, CTO of the SC Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University are in charge of mobility deployments for three very different organizations. In Part One of our two-part series on Mobility & The Multigenerational Workforce, they shared some of the challenges they face in deploying mobility to their workforce. In Part Two, they discuss the ways they manage the change process to ease the transition to mobility for their wide range of workers.

Making the successful transition to enterprise mobility involves as much understanding of human behavior as it does technological know-how. Choosing and implementing the right solution for your workforce is a multi-faceted exercise, whether you decide to handle the development completely in-house or outsource key components.

Atlas Air designed its own software for its mobile workforce solution. "We knew that adoption would be a challenge early on because of the nature of the workforce," says Jim Barrecchia, Senior Director Business Systems Delivery with Atlas Air/Polar Air Cargo. The answer? An extensive development cycle that incorporated substantial proof-of-concept work.

"We had the crew force form a committee that included about a dozen people, says Barrecchia. "We engaged them very early in the process with what it is we were trying to accomplish as a business and what they thought we needed to put in place in terms of safeguards around their privacy to avoid some of the comflicts they had about being monitored in the workplace."

These early meetings gave a jumping-off point for Barrecchia's team to begin design work. "One of the things in hindsight that we looked back on was that we really didn't allow enough time in the cycle for the amount of proof-of-concept work we had to do [in the design phase]."

He says it took about a dozen times of going thru designs and incorporating suggestions from the committee before arrive at a solution that was really workable.

Even then, the real-world rollout revealed additional design factors that needed to be addressed. For example, says Barrecchia, the application itself shows a calendar view of a crewman's operating schedule. "That includes flights that they operate, flights they have to be on to deadhead into position or to de-position, their hotel reservations when they're in a given city around the world. And one of the things they thought would be good and that we wanted to accomplish for the business was to let them know about changes to the schedule."

Sounds good in theory, but in reality the change alerts proved to be a case of too much information. "We very quickly learned was they really didn't want to know about every change, they only wanted to know about meaningful change. So we went from show us all of our schedule changes to show us what's meaningful to us. And as many of you from the programming world will immediately recognize, that's quite a programming challenge, assigning meaning to that data that you're actually displaying."

However, the issue was important enough to put into place right away, even though it didn't match the architecture, says Barrecchia. This drove his team into a complete redesign of the infrastructure and the application. "But we felt for ultimate adoptability we had to be ready as an organization to support that level of change as painful as it turned out to be," he says.

Engaging Advocates In The Field

At facilities management firm The Linc Group, CIO Greg Lush says, "All our stuff is off-the-shelf. None of our line-of-business applications have been modified, they just work. We take our process maps, mold them, create an RFP, find out the piece of software that comes closest to it and then build it."

The company engages advocates in local offices to help build consensus among employees. Training includes web-based education sessions as well as face-to-face instruction. "We make our employees go through the digital education and the assessment process prior to arriving [at the training center], so they have some skin in the game," says Lush. "We'll also send the devices out a week or so, sometimes two weeks in advance so they can put it under their pillow or do whatever it is they need to do to get comfortable with it before they're asked to use it."

Once it's time to go live, there are no training wheels. "They come in, they'll do their digital-based education, we train them and four hours later we literally take the paper out of their hands, put the device in their hands and off they go," says Lush.

"There's no working-in period. We found that that working-in period creates more excuses than it does reasons to adopt it. Maybe it's just our industry, but when you're dealing with technicians and mechanics they'd just as soon get pushed off the end of the dock and learn how to swim, and that's essentially what we have to do."

Lush estimates that about 20% of workers have to come back for more coaching, but the majority of them are ready to take advantage of the solution right out of the gate.

At Cornell, Kevin Baradet, CTO of the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management, describes the campus as a "multi-billion dollar small city." Cornell has 20,000 users, of which 15,000 are students ranging in age from 18 to 30 years. "They're highly mobile," he says. "Every 50 minutes, they get up and move from one place to another. They're expecting us to provide them with cell and wireless LAN services to go from point-to-point during their day."

Baradet adds, "We also provide E911 services and emergency response for the campus, and also we go from tracking the local deer population on campus through wireless to speaking with the Mars Rovers through our planetary science department. So we have a little bit of everything."

The school's executive MBA program is taught through teleconferencing and offered in 20 cities in the U.S. and Canada.

On the other hand is tenured faculty who are not particularly eager to embrace new technologies. "We really have no leverage over them other than force of personality, incentivizing them to change how they teach and offering them very focused private one-on-one training," says Baradet. "Faculty will not go to a class, especially if their peers are there. So we try to say to them, listen, we have these demands coming from the students that's reflected in the reports they give you at the end of the semester that they're tired of bringing their laptop to class and not being able to use it. So I sit down with them and say what can we do that's easy for you, that will satisfy the needs of some of the students. Some faculty have been teaching since 1958 and they're not going to change the way they teach and they're going to be there until we find them dead at their desk. And so we have no leverage over them."

On the other hand, the newer faculty coming in "Want me to rip out all the blackboards in the classroom and replace them with electronic whiteboards," he says. "They like electronic delivery of class materials. They like to be able to send a text message to students reminding them that assignments are due. We like to be able to provide them with a service to be able to do that. It's mostly their faith in me that whatever I roll out to them is going to be reliable and not embarrass them in front of their peer group or their classes. That enables me to move them in a direction that satisfies their customer, which is the student."

The Law Of Unintended Consequences

No matter the level of training or process management you try to instill in your workforce, chances are they're going to find ways you  never thought of to use the tools you're giving them. This is, in fact, a good thing.

For example, says Barrecchia, "In phase one, we really tried to limit the use of the device to the intended use. But what we found in phase one was that there was a lot of unintended use that was very beneficial to the organization."

On-time operations are crucial in the air cargo business. "What we found is some of these guys would be waiting [a long time] for a flight-release from our dispatch operation. Sometimes we operate miles from the nearest landline or fax machine or telephone. What we found in a couple of instances was that they were actually getting the flight releases on their [personal communication devices]. We were able to launch on time, instead of taking a 45-minute delay to have someone fax it, drive it out the airport, [and get it to the pilot]."

As a result, in phase two the company anticipated that the use of the device would grow organically within the organization, and that people would find ways to use it that were beneficial that maybe we didn't anticipate. "We actually architected for that," says Barrecchia. And, notwithstanding the one crew member who racked up $20,000 in data charges by downloading movies in Dubai, "we haven't seen anything that's crazy."

Instead, he says, "We have found similar anecdotal situations where we've avoided delays or improved efficiency through the creative use of the device."

This article was excerpted from a panel discussion at the 2008 Mobile Enterprise Executive Summit, Nov. 5-7, 2008 in Orlando, FL.


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