The name Maritz Motivation Solutions might not be immediately familiar, but anyone who has ever been a member of a consumer loyalty program, participated in a sales or employee incentive program, or redeemed credit card points for merchandise or gift cards is familiar with its work. The company, which began as a jewelry store in the late nineteenth century, invented the incentive industry and now provides the foundation for nearly two hundred incentive and rewards websites for Fortune 500 clients in finance, hospitality, travel, automotive, health care, and technology.
One of the biggest challenges the company faces is the constant search for new and innovative ways to keep participants in client programs engaged, entertained, and motivated. Users also expect their experience to be on par with other online shopping sites. That means constantly upgrading features such as advanced search capabilities and being able to automatically keep track of shoppers’ personal preferences.
Bryan Phillips, senior vice president, technology, and his team are responsible for developing and implementing those kinds of features and capabilities. However, when he joined the Maritz team five years ago, it was facing the same challenges faced by many IT departments: it was considered too slow, too expensive, and lacking innovation. Existing teams were experts at writing custom software that addressed specific client needs, but they also ended up developing countless versions that made iterative innovations difficult and expensive to implement across the company’s large customer base.
Phillips points out that the heart of the problem was a lack of enterprise architecture and the development discipline that goes along with it. His immediate challenge as the new CIO was to explain those issues and to gain the organization’s confidence that he and the department could address them. Admittedly, it was an enormous task to re-platform all systems so that they would optimize the software production process and allow for more innovation and cost-effective solutions.
Phillips’s first steps focused on identifying elements that could be addressed quickly and would produce the greatest savings. Vendor contracts were renegotiated, the internal technology infrastructure was consolidated, and a project management director was hired to oversee finances. All of these efforts succeeded in reducing IT’s costs as a percentage of revenue to two points below a target that had been determined by outside consultants. The resulting additional savings were invested back into capital projects.
Next was refining the architecture itself. Phillips decided to concentrate on one particular major project, the design of RewardSphere, Maritz’s online points-based shopping site. This single initiative, spanning all components of the business, could be used to demonstrate IT’s ability to effectively and efficiently execute a project of that size while providing benefit to the entire organization.
One of the guiding principles he introduced was what he calls “LEGO block” architecture—developing common components like secure logins, registration, rules engines, and a rewards platform that can be utilized across many solutions. “When we build an important piece of functionality, that becomes shared code base that can be programmed into all our new solutions and help upgrade existing ones. It becomes a proven block that we can snap into place to help cut down the life cycle for developing other innovations,” Phillips explains.
He also endorses an agency model for working with internal clients. Technical teams report designs to the agency, where they are reviewed by the chief architect to ensure that key design patterns are followed and code can be shared with other projects. The matrix structure allows IT specialists to work collaboratively with other product lines while simultaneously enabling client teams to make sure custom solutions stay closely aligned with client expectations.
A LASTING LEGACY
As a junior IT staff member at Anheuser-Busch, Bryan Phillips had the opportunity to work with the chief brewmaster. This placed him in the heart of brewing operations, where he developed and implemented the Brewing Information Executive Retrieval (BIER) system for documenting recipes, testing new brewing processes, and recording taste results.
Comparing the software he now manages at Maritz, Phillips points out that there is one distinct difference between the two industries. “Manufacturing applications can last for years before they get replaced. But in the incentive industry, customer-facing software is constantly evolving and innovating on top of what we started with,” Phillips says.
He was reminded of this when his son began working as a brewer in Anheuser-Busch InBev’s research brewery last year. When they got together to discuss his first day on the job, Phillips discovered that his son would be working with systems he had designed twenty-five years earlier.
Reaping the Rewards
All of these changes have helped bring about a dramatic and positive transformation. In 2015, Maritz Motivation Solutions successfully launched five new products: CultureNext for employee engagement and recognition programs, LoyaltyNext for consumer loyalty, ChannelNext for direct sales and channel loyalty, a new online points-based travel tool called Quality Reward Travel, and RewardSphere.
To reinforce the new, more disciplined and integrated approach, Phillips presents the IT department’s portfolio to the company’s board every six months. The practice began two years ago with thirty different potential projects, ranging from basic back-office infrastructure to technology innovations. They are now presented in concept, solutioning, funding, or execution status categories. This approach has dual benefits: allowing visibility into key innovations even when they are still in conceptual or incubation stages, and providing a carefully managed and maintained pipeline of ongoing projects and initiatives.
Steering committees also have been created to monitor and track all products, priorities, progress on the company’s overall road map, and approval of key architectural decisions. This focus on governance has been emphasized to the extent that the company president sits on each of the committees.
“Keeping up with the pace of innovation is a challenge,” Phillips says. “You can’t ideate fast enough or, realistically, write everything yourself anymore.”
To help address the situation, Maritz has begun partnering with Capital Innovators, a startup accelerator that provides funding and mentoring. The arrangement enables Maritz to provide guidance to, and create relationships with, some of the most creative new entrepreneurs in the country.
“St. Louis has become a hotbed of startup activity, so working with Capital Innovators is an opportunity for us to preview great ideas and to enhance how we nurture innovative ideas that come through our own internal funnels,” Phillips points out.
Maritz has already begun working with a startup called Speetra to incorporate its voice recognition software into pulse surveys that can be linked in client texts or email messages to program participants.
Even as the industry keeps evolving and Maritz continues to add to its long list of product innovations, the company is sure to maintain a special place in the hearts of everyone who uses them. While participants may not be able to keep track of how they spent their last bonus check, they will surely remember how they out-sold the southeast region to earn their new flat screen television.