Technology, Data, and Chaos
by Emily Smudde
From beer to cell phones, digital technology affects almost every product on the market today. At the annual Business Technology Symposium, top business executives came together to talk about how technology can and will change the world.
The event opened with Heidi Melin, the chief marketing officer of Plex Systems, Inc. and the master of ceremonies for the event. When she began her career, she hadn’t expected to end up working so closely with technology.
“Be flexible as you develop your career,” she said. “Do what you love, but be open to new possibilities.”
Plex is a company that focuses on providing cloud-based plant floor management systems. Its clients include sunroof manufacturers and craft breweries.
Melin then handed the floor to Steve Tarr (’76, ’84), the former vice president of information technology at Verizon Wireless. Now, he focuses on transforming organizations using the power of technology and creativity.
“In chaos, there’s opportunity,” Tarr said. “Never shy away from chaos.”
During his time at Verizon, text messaging was a new technology. At first, his team thought no one would use it, but they were in for a surprise. Texting soon became more popular than phone calls, he said.
Now, other apps that allow for brief communication, like Twitter and Snapchat, are even more popular than texting, he explained.
“People are constantly developing new ways to do what they need to do in life,” Tarr said.
Adapting to new technology
New technologies will always overtake old ones, Tarr said, and businesses need to be prepared to adapt.
Justin Curtis (’01), the director of product information technology for Zumiez also joined the discussion. Zumiez, an international retailer with over 650 stores worldwide, changed its distribution system to keep up with online retailers.
“Someone once said to me ‘You guys hacked your way to success,’” Curtis laughed. “Technology was changing the delivery expectations for customers, and we had to compete.”
Instead of central online distribution centers, Zumiez made each one of its retail stores a mini distribution center, Curtis explained. The system makes deliveries faster and gives sales associates the opportunity to personalize each order, which customers love, he continued.
The emotional side of data
Adriana Gil Miner, the vice president of corporate communications for Tableau, finished out the event talking about the emotional side of data.
“Data is information, and information is full of emotions and stories,” she explained. “With the advances of the Internet, it’s easy for any of us to produce, analyze, visualize, and share data.”
That is why data literacy is a critical skill in today’s marketplace, Gil Miner said.
“Data analytics is becoming a critical skill,” she said. “You need to be more data literate.”
The symposium ended with a discussion of how to succeed in the marketplace after graduation. The panel agreed that knowing technology is key, but it’s also important that students have ambition and drive.
“Do your work. Do it with joy, and bring your creativity with you,” Curtis said. “Winners are determined during business hours. Champions are determined after hours.”
The annual Business Technology Symposium convenes a panel of technology executives from leading enterprises. Panelists discuss current and emerging issues facing information technology leaders.
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