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Washington State University
Carson College of Business Dividend Article

Business Technology Symposium

Links Technology to Value-Driven Business
By Sue McMurray • Photos by Josue Schneegans
Heidi Melin_print resolution
Heidi Melin, Chief Marketing Officer of Plex Systems

At the annual Business Technology Symposium, three top business executives from Plex Systems Inc., Alaska Airlines, and the Walt Disney Company shared examples of how digital technology touches nearly every product consumers use, in the most unanticipated ways.

“Who would have ever thought a torque wrench could be connected to the manufacturing cloud to make sure the right amount of force is used to turn a specific part, bringing safety to the shop floor and more efficiency to how the manufacturer is building products?” asked Heidi Melin, chief marketing officer of Plex Systems.

She said there is a resurgence going on in manufacturing, and the cloud allows manufacturers to be more nimble and profitable.

As one example, she said Inteva Products used the Plex cloud to standardize manufacturing of most major U.S. car brand sunroofs and reduced IT costs by 1 percent. That doesn’t sound like a lot, until you calculate 1 percent of $2.5 billion, she said.

“The cloud processes 41 terabytes of data per month, which allows us to watch and predict the success of manufacturing in the United States,” she said. “It speaks to the power that cloud based software and big data are bringing to the world.”

Technology allows more personalized Disney experiences

Jeff Wile, vice president of hosting, cloud, and DevOps services for the Walt Disney Company.

Jeff Wile, vice president of hosting, cloud, and DevOps services for the Walt Disney Company, said digital technology has helped Disney become more efficient, get closer to consumers, and protect the Disney brand.

For example, Disney games are offering more interactive experiences, such as Infinity toys that can be played online or offline through a dock. “Disney Movies Anywhere” allows users to download Disney movies on any platform. Wile said Disney is one of the leaders in providing content and has announced partnerships with Apple and Dish TV, who will release subscription-based services so users can buy a smaller subset of channels for less money than traditional cable TV subscriptions.

He said one of the biggest technological investments Disney has made in the past five years is “My Magic Plus,” a wrist band that syncs guests’ information with their smart phones. As one benefit, guests can tap their wristbands to order and pay for food without standing in long lines.

“The Disney brand is very, very important to us. Customer data collection is almost more important than anything we do because of the trust that goes with our brand,” he said. “We are more aware of and more focused on security than we ever have been in technology.”


Kris Kutchera, Vice President of Information Technology for Alaska Airlines Inc.

Using technology to grow Alaska Airlines

Kris Kutchera, vice president of information technology for Alaska Airlines Inc., said her job is less about technology itself and more about driving business value. She said it all starts with Alaska’s 13,000 employees, who each know the company’s strategy and reason for success: superior customer service, excellent operations, and people who work well together. She said Alaska’s great customer service and safety practices stem from the company’s “60-second airline” strategy.

The 60-second airline

While some travelers may know Alaska rates as the number 1 airline for on-time arrivals and was the first with a 20-minute baggage claim guarantee, they are probably unaware that more than 80 safety checks occur before the door opens, all within 60 seconds. This saves three minutes before each flight, 25 hours of savings per day, and two airplanes free to fly to other places, Kutchera said.

New technology is playing a big role in building customer loyalty, she said. Alaska receives 50,000 customer surveys per month, and the feedback goes straight to the employees who delivered the service. Every front line employee is receiving a mobile device to facilitate communication and improve customer service. A top-rated mobile app for everything from booking through day of travel to entertainment that streams to personal devices are some of the latest developments, Kutchera said.

“The Alaska IT group plays a key role in the 60 second airline designation by keeping systems up and running and delivering new customer products and services—velocity is the key,” she said.

Alaska Airlines has doubled in size in the last 12 years and continually looks for ways to take performance to the next level. Kutchera said cloud services, collaboration, data insights, user experience design, continuous delivery, and development operations are actively being explored.

Tips for technology careers

Andy Reinland, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of F5 Networks.

Master of ceremonies Andy Reinland (’86), executive vice president and chief financial officer of F5 Networks, concluded the symposium with suggestions for students interested in technology careers.

“Don’t get caught up in landing the perfect job,” he advised. “Be patient, open, and strategic. And don’t just do a job; learn the business.”

Other suggestions included combining academic disciplines with technology, finding internships using data to solve problems, spending time with customers, and using LinkedIn to develop and leverage networks. Kutchera suggested technology positions that will be high demand include security, technical solutions, business analysis, architecture, and project management.

The Business Technology Symposium is hosted by the Department of Management, Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship within the WSU Carson College of Business and is sponsored by Alaska Air, Avista, F5 Networks, Mike (’85, ’86) and Amy (’86) Dreyer, and Steven (’76, ’84) and Cyndie Tarr.