Vice president of information technology, Uponor North America
Time in position: 6.5 years
Number of IT staff: 16 full-time
Major software: Oracle, HighJump, custom applications
Number of users: 143 desktop users, 200 laptop users, 4 full-time telecommuters, 32 mobile salespeople, 28 warehouse staff, 172 cell phone users
Number of custom developers: 8
Mary Connor: I know Uponor is based in Finland. What parts of the company do you support?
Chris Moore: Everything in North America. Uponor [has] three main data centers. One is here in Apple Valley, and that encompasses all of North America. One is in Hassfurt, Germany, which encompasses primarily central and southern Europe and Asia; and there’s one in Nastola, Finland, which covers the Nordics. Everything in North America is centralized in Apple Valley. That covers the voice and data services—we have four-digit dial in every single location in North America—and the servers and all the infrastructure, hardware, software. The manufacturing is centralized here.
MC: How many people are in your IT organization?
CM: We run fairly lean. We have 16 full-time employees. We do staff augmentation as needed, where we’ll add consultants on a project-by-project basis. At any given time, we could have 20 on average, based on what our project load is at the moment.
MC: Do you do any software development?
CM: Yes. About half the staff is devoted to ‘keeping the lights on,’ so these are helpdesk people, infrastructure people, operations people. The other half are really applications or systems analysts, and these are the people that do the development—Webmasters, systems analysts for Oracle, systems analysts for our warehouse management system, et cetera.
MC: So you use an Oracle ERP?
CM: Yes. About five years ago, we were looking at a warehouse management system solution. We didn’t really have anything in our warehouses, and it was all paper based. It was really just very primitive, and we had actually owned the licenses for Oracle’s warehouse management system module but chose not to implement it, because it was not going to meet our needs and instead selected [Eden Prairie–based] HighJump’s warehouse management system. We actually put that in place and successfully integrated Oracle and HighJump together. We went from like the Stone Age to the modern age in our warehouse in a period of months, so it’s been very good for us.
Those are the two really big applications that we have. We have some smaller manufacturing systems. We have your traditional Microsoft suite. We implemented SharePoint services about six months ago, and we also implemented Microsoft’s Enterprise Project Management suite about 18 month ago. We are using Enterprise Project Management to manage our portfolio of large product-related and IT projects. It allows executive management to view the entire portfolio of projects that are inflight and make resource allocation decisions based on an individual project’s benefit or payback. It allows project managers to store, manage, and update their project plans in a centralized location rather than storing them on their desktop.
MC: Which programs do you spend the most time on?
CM: We’re always trying to be creative on how we save costs where we can and be as efficient as we can be in our warehouse. So there’s always this constant stream of requests from our supply-chain group to enhance or modify our warehouse management system to support a new process that they may have in place.
We continue to invest and enable new modules in Oracle. We started out here with a fairly standard footprint, and we have the financials, we have core HR, HR advanced benefits, we have manufacturing, we have supply chain and order management. But we’ve also enabled a lot of additional things like advanced pricing, where we can have much more robust pricing rules; advance supply chain planning; iSupplier Portal; a lot of collaboration things. We’re continuing to invest in the six years that I’ve been here.
MC: Which tools or applications are unique to your industry or to Uponor?
CM: Well, we have some manufacturing systems . . . custom made for our manufacturing process. [They] interface with the Oracle ERP or the HighJump warehouse management system. There are systems that control—like our product quality systems and our systems to track production waste, systems to control or to monitor the extruders, the machines that produce the pipe itself.
These in-house developed systems are Microsoft Access–based, and we have decided to reduce Uponor’s dependence on Access-based production applications—Access not being scalable enough to support large transactional systems—and are migrating all of them to Microsoft SQL Server and .NET platforms over the next 12 months.
MC: Is it part of your role to be a technology translator—a bridge between the technical staff and the business executives?
CM: Yeah, it’s certainly a big part of my role to kind of explain how technology can be part of any solution. I mean, there’s not going to be any business process or any new thing done that doesn’t require some type of technology foundation to support that, and what I’ve been tasked with by my boss is to go throughout any part of the organization and identify where process improvements can be made. So IT here is at least viewed as kind of the process improvement experts.
And then it’s like, ‘Okay, let’s improve the process and let’s buy some technology to support that process and automate it.’ So a large part of my role is to work with my colleagues, the VPs of supply chain, marketing, sales, whatever, and help them understand how technology can make their life or their teams’ lives easier and better and more efficient.
It can be difficult at times, because IT is a fairly expensive function. I mean, that’s not unique to Uponor. That’s in any organization. What I think we’ve somewhat successfully done is we don’t want to be viewed—IT—as a function, as a call center. We want to be viewed as a partner and a solution provider.
In the past six years, we’ve actually reduced our staff level a little bit, and we’ve actually lowered costs each year over the last five years, so we haven’t had to sacrifice services. We haven’t had to cut helpdesk hours or support or SLAs or anything like that. We’ve done a lot of self service in some of our applications to enable us to do that.
MC: How is Uponor using SharePoint?
CM: On the IT side, we have a public file share. We were spending just a tremendous amount of money every year just on organic growth, because once people put things out there, they never actually go back and clean them up. That’s an exponential cost . . . adding space and space and space. You have to back all that up. You have to buy tapes, and you have to buy offsite storage. With SharePoint . . . well, a good example is like an e-mail. If I create an Excel spreadsheet and I send it to you and say, ‘What do you think of this?’ or ‘Apply any changes,’ and you send it to somebody else, and they send it to somebody else, we end up having like 15 copies of this single Excel sheet.
So the main thing we’re hoping to do with SharePoint is to actually help us cut our storage costs. It’s much easier to use and navigate. You don’t have to remember which folder or which drive letter I put this file. And you can keep generations of files in case you damage one.
We really view it as the foundation of our next generation of intranet. Here in North America, there’s a group headquarters intranet. There are other local intranets as well, and we think the SharePoint is going to be our next intranet solution.
MC: Can you give an example of a process improvement you’ve worked on?
CM: Within IT, when I started, we had no helpdesk at all, none. Somebody would see the helpdesk guy walk down the hall and grab him and say, ‘Hey, can you fix my machine?’ So we put in a helpdesk process, and that actually was embraced fairly well by the user population.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve taken the software that we use to track and manage these helpdesk tickets, and we’ve [made] a public portal. Instead of somebody having to call the helpdesk, they can just go through the intranet. There’s intelligence built into that application to route it to the right person. We still do [answer calls], because that’s a service that’s expected, but we don’t have to have somebody there sitting on the phones.
MC: Have you done virtualization?
CM: Yes. We invested very heavily into the VMware and the virtualization software maybe two, three years ago as part of our cost reduction efforts in IT. We want to be known as a green company. Our products are friendly to the environment, and we kind of need to practice what we preach. We need to reduce our carbon footprint. We consume a lot of electricity—our IT servers add gradient heat and need air conditioning and so forth, and virtualizing servers is a good way for us to go down that road.
MC: Do you handle the company Web site?
CM: We partner with marketing, so we support the technology side. We did the new Web presence, which is uponorusa.com. We introduced a new Web presence in 2007. We partnered with two external companies to do that. Any changes or enhancements or whatever to that site, they’re done here.
We actually host the corporate uponor.com site here in Apple Valley as well, so there’s about 25 countries right now running in Europe, but it’s all using the North American technology. That’s a little bit of a challenge for me personally and for the IT team here. There’s an eight-hour difference between Minneapolis and Helsinki and a seven-hour difference between Minneapolis and Munich and so forth, and we have to provide support for those sites as well.
We also rolled out a new extranet site, uponorpro.com, in the spring of this year that contains more detailed information on our products, training, and technical support. It also has the ability to let our customers post questions and build relationships, share ideas, and continue discussion threads with other professionals that utilize Uponor products.
MC: And why do you choose to host them here rather than having a third party do it?
CM: The main reason is because we had successfully launched uponorusa.com, and we had all the investments in place. We had the servers, we had the content management system. We have had experience with the development of a large Web presence itself, and there’s not a lot of Web infrastructure available in the other two data centers in Uponor, so one is experience. The investment was already there, and so the decision was made, you know: ‘Let’s just try this.’ It actually has worked fairly successfully so far, and they’re continuing to roll out countries in Europe as we speak. I think that the next one is Sweden. We’ve done all the Eastern European countries—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia—and then we’re working our way west.
MC: What’s your background before working with Uponor?
CM: I came from Best Buy. I was at Best Buy for six years, and I was the director of corporate systems and database administration. Before that, I was with a company called Ferrellgas, the number-two propane retailer based out of Kansas City. In my career, I started out as a programmer, and then I was a systems analyst. And then I was in database administration—a very dark period in my life. I’ve done a little bit of everything, and I can still code if we ever get desperate.