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Technology Executives Club Keynote Panelist, James Marks, Director of IT, Magellan Corporation

As we continue to prepare for our next Summit, I am very pleased that James Marks, Director of Information Technology. Magellan Corporation will be joining our Customer Experience panel, CIO and Technology Leadership Strategies for Customer Experience. Here's a preview of what he will talk about:  

1. What is it about your background that led you to your current project?

I know exactly what set me down this path. I was in college in the eighties when we still used mainframe computers to manage data. At Michigan, where I went to school, automotive engineering was a major focus for many disciplines. I remember my roommate coming back from the computer lab one night with a table of auto parts arrayed neatly in columns on green bar paper. And I said to myself, that’s what I have to do. The rest of the world is in constant chaos, but on that green bar paper, everything is in order. And I became obsessed with how to bring that order to the data that we use to describe our endeavors. I felt in my heart that the greater the quality of the data we use to drive our decisions and our transactions, the higher we can rise in our actions and enterprises.


2. What types of strategies are using to leverage technology and innovation processes to create better customer experiences?

Strategically at Magellan we are very conservative. We follow classical methods. We eschew redundancy. We never want to have the same protocol or the same procedure or the same code occurring multiple times in our operations. This is what kills successful technology operations. Because you will never find the resources to document, reconcile and synchronize all of your disparate processes. We believe there are two user communities that we serve when we solve problems. The first community, our end-user community, is the most visible. They are the hungry mouths that must be fed and they pay the bills. But there is another community, the engineering community, our technical staff and all of the third-parties who support our operations. At Magellan we understand that we are really building systems for this other community. When we solve a problem, we are failing if we don’t think about the poor engineers that are going to support th e solution. It’s tempting to believe that you can put a solution in a box and tie a ribbon around it and give it to the user community and that it will run indefinitely. But we all know that’s not the way technology solutions work. The day after you deploy it there is always an exception that needs to be addressed, and that’s just day one. We build solutions for engineers to support. We know that we can only deliver solutions to our user community efficiently if we have the engineering infrastructure in place to support the solutions. 


3. How do you integrate applications and infrastructures for rapid delivery and successful customer experience?

The cardinal rule at Magellan is that if the solution isn’t rooted in our infrastructure then it will become a liability for us. We’ve experienced the pain of this over and over again. You don’t learn these lessons without suffering first. When we want to solve a problem now, the first thing we do is ask ourselves whether we can build it with the infrastructure we have. If we don’t have the right infrastructure then the first thing we do is refactor our infrastructure to handle the solution. Then we solve the problem. When we first introduced a check-signing application into our operations we made the mistake of doing it backwards. We deployed the application and then we added RSA security as a wrapper. Then we sat down and said, how are we going to back-up all of these components and restore them when they fail? We had to start over and refactor our core network to host the security and software applications s o they would be part of our already substantial disaster recovery strategy. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s not. If you do it right the first time you eliminate countless hours of triage and maintenance. 


4. How did your shift to the modern Agile/Dev Ops environment make you more responsive to the business?

Our goal at Magellan is to never say we can’t realize a customer’s vision. We never want to be the bottleneck. And we never want our customers to say to their business partners: “We can’t do that because our computer systems don’t support it,” or, “my technology group is busy with a large backlog of other projects.” We want our direct and indirect customers to believe that if they can visualize something with data then we’re going to make it happen quickly. The downside to this kind of attitude is that we risk enabling our user community to be careless about requirements and to ask for things which are not well thought out. The solution to this is work closely with them in training and technology transfer which is challenging. I think every great development and integration team begins with an outstanding customer service organization. I learned that at CNA where the business owner s really knew how to take charge of their solutions. 


5. What are you most excited to share with our group at the Summit and why?

At Magellan we have cultivated a practice of removing obstacles that interfere with responding to user requirements. It’s not merely a question of having a client focused attitude, it’s having a client focused engineering discipline. We challenge every part of our solution response effort to reduce the cycle-time between user request and technical response. That way, we can work more closely with our user community to build the kind of solutions that they require. This is reflected in our build strategy, in our test strategy, in our data management strategy and in our reporting strategy. And our customers tell us that they are lucky to have the kind of response they get because it enables them to work more effectively with our business partners. 

About James Marks

Jim directs the Information Technology group at Magellan Corporation, a worldwide distributor of Specialty Steel Products. With more than 30 years of experience managing data and developing software for dozens of companies, Jim has addressed a broad range of user experiences in mid-cap and Fortune 500 companies. With particular attention to quality management, configuration management and the capability maturity model, Jim has built his career around delivering high-quality data to users in telecommunications, medical records, insurance, manufacturing and logistics industries. He has developed several CRM and ERP systems including Magellan’s data platform which incorporates client-server forms, web pages and Android data interfaces. Currently, Jim is developing a platform for distributing data objects integrating Object Relational Maps and presentations over the internet.

James Marks, Keynote Panelist [at the April 27, 2017 Technology Executives Club Customer Experience Summit]