Amerijet Restructures IT Team to Set Itself Up for Growth
Jennifer Torlone, senior director of technology and information services at Amerijet International, speaking about the way she reorganized the cargo carrier’s IT team to enable company growth. (Photo: Bri Pennington)

Amerijet Restructures IT Team to Set Itself Up for Growth

Data Center World: Airline’s IT leader on dialing in the team to fit her vision

Organizational changes are never painless, but they are unavoidable. Rapid change in the way companies do IT has made deep organizational changes necessary in many companies.

Today, IT is increasingly viewed as a way to enable business growth, which necessitates an IT team whose roles are radically different from roles of a team that sets up office networks, manages an exchange server, sets up employee PCs and answers support calls. Both the technology and the talent mix of the modern IT team is different. It is a service provider and driver of the company's strategy.

Amerijet International, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based cargo airline operator recently went through the transition from old model to new model of IT, and Jennifer Torlone was the person the company hired to make the switch.

Torlone, senior director of technology and information services at Amerijet, spoke about the transition in her keynote at the Data Center World conference in Orlando Monday morning.

When she was interviewing for her position in 2011, the management mentioned they were planning to double the company’s size within the next few years. They also mentioned that IT was somewhat of a mess, something the new head of technology would have to untangle in addition to setting up the infrastructure to support the growth plan.

The company had grown through acquisitions, but there wasn’t a unified IT platform to integrate each acquired firm’s infrastructure onto. Instead, things were “bolted on,” in Torlone’s words.

There were multiple IT teams operating in silos, and even the basic services, like providing work computers to staff, took a long time. For her first six weeks Torlone did business using her own iPad and Blackberry and a personal Yahoo! account.

“I needed to know that it wasn’t going to be like this every day, forever,” she said.

And on top of having to clean house, business leaders were looking to her to help grow the company.

Hard choices

So Torlone went to work, at first focusing primarily on changing the way the company’s IT staff went about their business. There needed to be a cultural change, and that meant some hard decisions needed to be made.

“It’s important for you to have the best and the brightest team that you can,” she said. “Unfortunately there is a time when you have to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

As with any IT organization, her resources were limited, and she needed to reassess the team and make sure she was spending resources on the right talent. “Only one person from that original team remains with me today,” she said.

Hire for the vision you have

She was careful in selecting people to fill the positions that were freed. Hiring carefully is crucial because staff turnover is very costly.

According to Torlone, the cost of replacing an employee can range from 100 percent to 300 percent of the salary of the person being replaced.

Torlone established a new hiring process for the IT department. Her team built a behavioral test tool, which helped her find people with the right mind set for the kind of things she wanted to do.

Candidates that passed the test were then handed over to the hiring managers to assess their technical skills.

“You need to hire with your vision in mind,” Torlone said.

And she did not focus on hiring people with deep technical expertise for the IT jobs. She was hiring a lot of business analysts and project managers, not typical IT employees.

She said she believes in taking her employees out of their comfort zones and asking them to do things they hadn’t done before. “They have the seeds… and you can cultivate that.”

Outsource the day-to-day

Torlone also outsourced a lot of the day-to-day work the IT team was doing. All level one and level two support is now outsourced to Dell, for example.

While employees may get nervous when things are getting outsourced, if the employees in place are good at what they do, the idea is not to get rid of them but to have them do different more demanding tasks that take advantage of more of their talents.

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