Discovery in the Details

Geiger IT director of data and analytics Michael Plourde uses data and analytics to modernize the company’s systems and develop a competitive edge

If you walk down a typical street, you may pass people wearing Geiger hats and carrying Geiger totes. However, you would never know it. “Anything you can put a logo on is what we sell,” Michael Plourde says, with a laugh. With that kind of volume, of course, comes a lot of information and needed technology.

As IT director of data and analytics at Geiger, Plourde manages all customer and vendor integrations and large-scale data migrations—an especially big job, considering the Maine-based promotional products company’s reach extends all over the globe.

Just as Geiger sells a little of everything, Plourde does a little bit of everything. He has been behind several initiatives to modernize the company’s systems and develop a competitive edge, including a recent ERP migration, developing e-commerce, and updating vendor pricing systems.

How to Manage Masses of Data

But prior to some innovative ideas, that volume of projects didn’t always seem quite as manageable as it does today. “We used to work all year trying to update vendor pricing, never completing it before new prices came out in January,” he says. To solve this, part of the organization’s ERP migration plan included moving all product data to Informatica’s Product 360. “This tool helped us increase the product offering available on our website from 3,500 different products to over ten thousand products in the first year,” Plourde explains. “It helped us reduce our product setup time from ninety minutes per product down to twenty-five minutes.”

As the largest family-owned and -managed distributor of promotional products in the United States, Geiger’s catalog is intimidatingly large. Plourde works behind the scenes to ensure that everything runs smoothly—a feat made all the more important because customers often don’t know it’s Geiger they are interacting with. In addition to their own website, Geiger manages over three hundred websites specifically branded to look like their clients, offering promotional products to employees, inside sales representatives, and customers. This arrangement, Plourde says, requires a lot of trust.

“Our clients are requiring more and more stringent security systems and architectures, and we have to prove that architecture to these Fortune 1000 companies,” he says. “It could be insurance, banking, finance, retail. They all want assurances that if we are handling their organization’s data, credit cards, or customers. Our systems need to be using best practices and are architecturally sound. We are brand managed services, and we don’t look any different to the outside world than they do.”

Cultivating Trust

Cultivating that trust can be tricky, particularly with the news full of data breaches at big organizations such as Home Depot, Sony, and Target. Geiger saw that it could gain an advantage when competing for global accounts if they became PCI-compliant and could guarantee greater safety for their customers. This led Plourde into a yearlong process to develop a concept and road map for how to outsource their credit card data and move to a token system without disrupting customers. Geiger had to modify their system interfaces and remove the credit card data stored in their systems and on their websites. It also needed to get rid of their encryption programs and transfer the data. Once these tasks were complete, the servers needed to be able to handle the tokens. They needed to communicate with them in order to provide settlement as well.

“PCI is no small undertaking,” Plourde says. That’s particularly true when you factor in all the documentation work required to become PCI-compliant. Geiger ended up creating a dedicated security officer to document the backup procedures and user logins, to ensure people are rotating their passwords periodically, and to document their tape storage. He also praises Geiger’s network team. The team had to change the way traffic was handled on the network to keep card transactions from commingling with internal systems. This kept the internal systems out of scope, which required less paperwork.

After a smooth rollout, they are now seeing positive results. One standout was an increase in their ability to validate credit cards. Address verification increased 50 percent. In turn, this improved the company’s rates from their bank on credit card processing.

The Future of Data Governance

Plourde’s next opportunity is improving the company’s data governance, particularly with their customer data coming in from multiple sources. Currently, the system is inconsistent: street addresses might be found in four different places due to the different systems. As such, the accuracy of the data analysis suffers. “As we evolve our distributorship into an e-commerce-driven business, both from a supply chain and customer perspective, we need to work on data governance even more,” Plourde says. “Often, representatives want good reporting on what product categories are selling. However, I can’t tell them what the products are because they aren’t set up correctly and there’s little information. So we create some reports that can be directionally accurate, but not even close to being precise.”

Plourde never stops looking for his next opportunity to improve systems. He believes a passion for solving problems and a forward-looking approach are essential for successful IT. “You get to solve business problems using processes, people, systems, and applications,” he says. And at the end of the day, it comes back to making systems easy for the user. “They will appreciate taking the complexity out of their job,” he says. “That is what computers should do for us: make things simpler, not harder.”

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