A Rainmaker is someone who makes something happen: at his company, in his career, in his community. The Rainmaker series showcases Department of Information Systems alumni who are catalysts of growth and change.
Jill Myers knew that she eventually would get a degree from Arizona State University. What she didn’t know was that it would be a different degree than she originally envisioned — and that it wouldn’t happen for nearly 10 years.
Myers was an accounting major at ASU in the 1990s, planning to someday work for a large accounting firm. Family issues forced her to leave the university and find a full-time job before she graduated, but she vowed to return to ASU.
Myers achieved that goal in December 2013, when she graduated from the W. P. Carey School of Business with a Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) degree from the online program. A short time later she landed a job with Atlanta-based McKenney’s, Inc., a mechanical contracting and engineering firm that specializes in facility design, construction, operation and maintenance.
Myers, who is the program manager for McKenney’s Enterprise Intelligence Group, directs an innovation technology team of software developers and business analysts. She is responsible for all aspects of product development, including data harvesting and analysis technologies that support predictive, forensic and benchmark assessments for industrial device and machine ecosystems.
“McKenney’s hired me because of the reputation and quality of my MSIM degree,” she says. “It is a phenomenal program with a modern delivery platform that eliminated time and geography barriers,” she said. “I always wanted to get my degree from ASU. I’m so proud to officially be a Sun Devil and happy that my investment has already paid dividends.”
From accounting to writing about technology
After leaving the ASU undergraduate program, Myers, a Pennsylvania native, went to work at US West’s mobile division (now CenturyLink). While it was not an ideal program, she embraced the opportunity and completed her business administration degree in the classroom-based evening program at the University of Phoenix. Subsequently, she led Hyland Software Inc.’s enterprise RFP response team and grew her experience in similar roles at Battelle Memorial Institute and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“In high school I set my sights on becoming a partner at a Big Four accounting firm, following the path of my mentor and uncle who achieved success at Ernst & Young,” Myers says. “When I had to change course early in my college years to assist my family, I found a program that helped me advance my early career, but it left me wondering about my long-term pursuits. I have a natural curiosity for all things business, operations and technology, and was told that I have strong verbal and written communication skills.”
Myers used those skills in the software development world.
“Writing responses to complex solicitations for enterprise technology solutions encompasses a variety of important and core skill sets — most notably facilitating subject matter expert collaboration, converting technical concepts to narrative that is understood by all stakeholders and time management,” she explained. “It exposed me to all facets of the organization — even legal and human resources — and educated me on how enterprise technology buying decisions are made. In a nutshell, I was hooked and haven’t left the field since 2004.”
In 2009, Myers joined OverDrive, Inc., an industry leader and global digital distributor of eBooks, audiobooks, music and video to K-12 schools and public libraries.
As manager of knowledge services/business systems at OverDrive, working full-time and travelling 50 percent for business, Myers decided to add the Online MSIM degree to her schedule. Now she has nothing but praise for the program.
“The program’s platform is the perfect intersection of technology and content delivery for working professionals,” she says. “We had access to the same faculty as the traditional classroom program, and students in my cohort had tremendous academic and professional backgrounds. The diversity was rich and truly enhanced my learning experience.”
IT is an enabler
Myers says the program prepares students who aspire to be in leadership and executive roles. She says the main theme running through the program was that information technology is an enabler and must be aligned with strategic and operational goals. Lack of alignment introduces risk to desired outcomes such as full adoption and return on investment.
“The MSIM program helped me take my skills to the next level,” Myers says. “We did not focus on computer science per se. Our instruction was centered on interpreting market forces and assessing business culture and readiness, then correlating those assumptions with an evaluation of technologies and risks to identify paths of pursuit that enable an organization’s strategies and goals. A traditional MBA would not have prepared me for the role I am in now and the executive leadership path that I am pursuing.”
When presented the opportunity to join McKenney’s, Myers was intrigued with the company’s insights on how to turn machine data from the built world (i.e. physical spaces — commercial offices, industrial facilities, college campuses, hospitals and research centers) into meaningful enterprise operational intelligence. The company’s clients include Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Macy’s, Cousins Properties, Eglin Air Force Base and Emory University Hospital. McKenney’s also designed, built and maintains data centers for Facebook and Google and is a member of the team constructing the new Atlanta Braves stadium, which opens in 2017.
Such facilities include control systems that regulate power, airflow, heating and cooling, lighting and other major functions and normally have hundreds of different devices performing a variety of tasks. Myers says new buildings “are commissioned like ships” and it is her company’s job to make sure that all functions are performing as intended.
Myers oversees the Enterprise Intelligence Group, which creates cost-effective solutions that help organizations leverage Internet of Things data streams into process improvement, risk mitigation and expense reduction capabilities.
A startup CEO and with a time to value focus
“Two of the competencies that we’ve refined over the past year are the velocity and quality of our execution,” she said. “We quickly and adeptly create data pipelines with decades old industrial systems that are not designed to talk as fast as we ask them to. Then we prepare tens of thousands of unique data points and turn on software that allows people to experience truly new insights and interact with data they have never seen before.”
Although each building has some similar physical attributes, “the devices that power them are like snowflakes and no two environments are the same.” Some devices cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace.
“Our focus is to create a new service delivery value proposition with predictive solutions. We have the capability to see problems before the customer knows they are taking shape,” she said. “The most captivating aspect of our work is the broader market applicability; it does not just apply to physical spaces. We can translate it to other use cases, including our new customer who is a global leader in locomotive braking and driverless systems.”
Myers was quoted in a November 2014 article in Forbes Magazine as saying that her team “realized that pulling in machine data from physical spaces (HVAC, for example) is crucial because costs related to such spaces directly influence profitability, the ability to attract talent and the ability to expand and evolve the product and resource mix.”
Forbes also quoted her as saying that by using machine data, “both McKenney’s and its clients are able to create far richer models of all sorts of spending and operational activity. Visibility leads to deeper understanding and the ability to optimize and identify risks in real-time, better allocate resources, break down silos, make better use of capital and create more efficient spaces.”
Myers says her six-member team is like a startup operating within a mature, 70-year-old, 1,200-employee company — and she is the CEO.
“It’s very exciting,” she says.
Myers says that she came away from the MSIM program with the following guiding principles that have served her well in the business world:
- Information technology is an enabler and must be aligned with strategic and operational goals.
- Defining success criteria is essential to all strategic and tactical initiatives, especially information and operational technology investments. Doing so, as well as defining roles, responsibilities and risks, helps orient all stakeholders on what success looks like and helps create a shared focus when challenges and scope creep arise.
- Absent executive sponsorship proceed with caution. While it might take time and nurturing to establish trust and a shared vision, this ingredient determines the success of initiatives above all others.
- In today’s fast-paced technology arena with innovation outpacing strategy development, there typically are multiple paths of pursuit and vendors and solution options. Due diligence, including quantitative data, can inform assumptions and recommendations, but don’t rule out the two I’s: intuition and instincts.