The Business Technology Leader

Kent Mills has held technology leadership roles at major multinationals, but it wasn’t until he joined Wakefield Canada, focused on the automotive and commercial heavy-duty aftermarket, that he was truly able to drive his tech vision forward

“From a technology point of view, we call our own shots. We’re not a huge multinational; we’re a privately held company with autonomous operations in Canada. We don’t have to wait for approval from a head office in the United States or United Kingdom. We decide what we want to do and go after those things quickly.

We don’t call it “IT”; we call it ‘BT.’ IT is information technology, but that information isn’t valuable in and of itself; it’s only valuable if it’s helping accomplish a business goal. So we call it business technology. Everything we do has to be focused on the business needs. We put a lot of energy into ensuring we’re aligned with the business—not as a service organization but as a strategic partner. I would rather hire people with good business sense and customer focus and train them on technology versus the other way around. Sitting on the leadership team that includes the heads of sales, marketing, and supply chain, we align our strategic objectives so that we’re pulling in exactly the same direction. At many companies, you tend to get functional silos. When we see those, we knock them down in a hurry.

We own the last mile to the customer. This is a Wakefield advantage in an age of outsourcing. We have our own customer-care teams, sales force, and trucks and drivers. If we can leverage all of those customer touch points, we can do a better job at what we call ‘intuitive customer service,’ which means knowing what the customer wants—sometimes before the customer knows.

A narrow view of IT

Rebrand IT and break down silos

We’re a Microsoft shop, from the desktop to our enterprise resource planning [ERP] system. We see an advantage in having a small number of strategic partners and driving them as far as we possibly can. We save boatloads of time, effort, and money on integration of diverse products. Last year, we moved to the Microsoft Dynamics AX2012 ERP. That built a strong foundation, but it’s not headline material. This year we’re putting icing on the cake with customer relationship management and mobility. We enabled our sales reps with Microsoft Surface Pro 3s, which provide the best of a tablet and laptop. We use them to manage customer interactions and display e-content on sales calls. In supply chain, we’re delivering gold-standard customer service with remote site monitoring and computerized route scheduling.

We focus on business-friendly technology. When we introduce new technology, we do a lot of piloting. For example, we engaged a group of five sales champions—salespeople across channels, across Canada—as guinea pigs when we evaluated tablets. They each took turns using Apple, Android, and Windows tablets, and Surfaces for a week. We had both technical and user criteria that the reps helped establish. When you do that, you don’t have to sell the technology to the sales force. It’s a pull versus a push because the colleagues of those sales champions see them embracing the technology and know it will work for them as well. It’s certainly not rocket science, but it’s amazing how often IT shops will try to push technology down the throats of users without their input.

Our approach pays off internally as well as externally. Even as a midsize Canadian enterprise, we maintain a small-company culture and entrepreneurial spirit—and we’re all close to our customers. That’s why we’ve been recognized multiple times as both a Top 50 Best Managed Company and Top 50 Best Employer in Canada.”