Article Originally Appeared in Comspark Podcast – Bryan Kaiser
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Director of IT for Goodwill Columbus, Todd Laber, discusses the technology community in Central Ohio and the importance of fostering talent.
Hello, and welcome to the ComSpark podcast, where you will get to meet today’s technology thought leaders. To learn more, visit comspark.tech.
BK: Good morning. We are here today with Todd Laber, who is the Director of IT at Goodwill, Columbus. Goodwill Columbus is an organization based here in Columbus with 1,100 employees and, you know, they help transform lives for folks who have developmental disabilities and other barriers. My name is Bryan Kaiser, and I’m the Founder and President of Vernovis and also part of the executive committee at comSpark. And I’ll be your guest moderator today. So, let’s get started. Todd, good to see you today. So how have you seen your role change as the CIO?
TL: So, I think traditionally, CIO, you think, or any kind of tech organization traditionally and had been in the past, was, uh, kind of that “keep the lights on” mentality for the services that you’re providing. Are they running, or is the equipment working? How it’s changed over the past couple of years is it’s got to be more than that. You have to be a collaborator. You need to be a partner. Those other business divisions within your company? They’re partners, not just customers.
BK: Wonderful. So, how do you partner with people and collaborate with people from the IT function? What does that look like?
TL: Well, it’s spending time with them. It is a not just learning technologies. It’s getting to know the business. What drives their business? What can we do? What are their pain points? What can we do to not just enable them to be more efficient, but how to be more productive and drive that business?
BK: That’s great. So, what advice would you give to an aspiring CIO, someone that’s up and coming and maybe wanting to get to that seat? What would that look like?
TL: The advice I give to an aspiring CIO is to not just learn new technologies, but to learn their business. Again, how can they enable their partners to be more effective? I’d have them…I would suggest to get involved with the community. There is a wealth of knowledge outside your own community, outside your own company.
BK: That’s great. So what would you say is the best part of working in Central Ohio?
TL: With the Smart City being awarded to Columbus, it was a lot of those leaders of the companies working hand-in-hand with the local government here to be awarded that, and you see them collaborate even now as we’re looking at solutions to bring to that.
BK: Well, it’s interesting because I see it from my seat that many of the folks in the technology space in the Columbus, Central Ohio area, it seems to be a lot more collaborative, competitive. You know, you’re all going after the same talent, you’re all trying to build businesses, but it seems like you guys are more into sharing information and helping one another and that’s pretty special. What do you attribute that to?
TL: I don’t know. I mean selfishly, I guess the better we are, the more talent we can attract here, but I think it is that willingness to help out. I don’t know if it’s a Midwestern mentality, but there is a willingness to step in and help out. It’s one of the, that kind of, that adage “one plus one is three,” you know, you talk about that, that brain power, you don’t know everything you can pull from other resources. And like I said, you know to continue to drive. I think when people think IT, they think Silicon Valley. Well, I mean we’ve got a lot going on here in Columbus and I think we’re all in it to continue to tell that story, to bring more talent here, to be more successful.
BK: So, you bring up the word talent and that’s a huge part of being successful in technology. When I say the word talent, what does that mean to you?
TL: To me it’s not just a technician. It is the other aptitudes. It is vendor management. It’s budget management. It’s managing people and it’s driving technology, being on the forefront, being innovative. We, you know, just recently we had CoverMyMeds. It’s a big success story. Root Insurance. We have other ones in the pipeline I think that’ll be just as successful.
BK: Do you feel like there’s a talent shortage in Central Ohio in technology?
TL: I think as we continue to grow, there is. One of the topics we even talked about last year with CIO Tomorrow was what do we do about that? So, collaboratively as a group, how do we do that? How do we put those pathways, so the people we have here in the area, how do we develop them to become better technicians, better leaders, and what does that look like?
BK: So, you know, talent’s always a challenge to try to find good people and develop them and have them, you know, continue to grow. What do you think the biggest challenge in this region is from a technology perspective?
TL: The biggest challenge I think is finding that talent and, and not just bringing it in, but making sure we’re not stealing from each other, right?
TL: You take from one, then there’s a deficit in another company. So, trying not to steal from one another, but to develop our talent internally and then to attract talent from outside.
BK: Sure. No, that makes sense. So, your organization is growing, you have, it’s a brand that people know well. It’s a wonderful organization. How do you want to improve or change your organization in the next three years?
TL: So for us, we have a lot of programs, a lot of them have been center-based, traditionally. There’s a big shift to make them more community-based, so, take them out of our main facility and have them actually in the community onsite, out interacting and doing work for other companies and not just us. So for us, what does that mean? That means that we need to be more integrated in the community. So, solutions we’re thinking about are mobile first, cloud first to help us. So, not just our employees, how do we document, how do we check goals, how are we measuring success while we’re out in the community and not just one place? But also, what does that mean for our customers and our clients? How do we put technology in their hands and make it accessible to them and not just the availability of connectivity, but if it was someone with a developmental disability? How has that program worked for them? So, keeping that in mind.
BK: So, um, what does the cloud initiative look like for you in the next couple of years? What are you guys thinking about there?
TL: We’re already on that path. Any new solution we have and, we’ve done a couple of years ago, we got a new HRS system. Um, we have a new business intelligence tool that is one requirement for us. It has to be cloud based. So, that does a couple things. One, it makes it accessible wherever you are at any time. And that also takes the burden off of us. We don’t have to maintain that software, that hardware. It becomes more vendor management than management of the system itself for us.
BK: That’s good. So I have one more question for you. And it revolves around a dirty word in technology right now and that is “cybersecurity.” So, there’s so much in the news today about companies being hacked and their critical data being stolen. How worried should we really be? So, I don’t think a month goes by, where don’t hear where somebody got hacked or a leak, you know, either another celebrity from their Instagram account, real or not, I don’t know, but, to a major company such as Sony, as Target or Home Depot, those kinds of things with credit card information – so how worried should we be?
TL: We should be worried. It’s not a matter of if, but when. That’s how I would prepare for it. What would we need to do to respond? Well, that’s the thing. You’ve got to be ready before it happens. You have to plan that it will happen. And that is not just IT, that is with your risk management department within your community that is getting with your immediate people. What’s the response? It may even be you’ve got a website with all the information in case this does happen, just keep it dead and when it comes, you can spin up and put that up there, you have to be ready to go as is.
BK: That’s really good. Well, Todd, thanks for your time. You know, we’re going to wrap this up. I’m Bryan Kaiser. This is Todd Laber. To learn more about us, please visit comspark.tech and have a great day.
TL: Thank you.