The Open and Resilient Podcast With Greg Mader
Conversations featuring the leading open source thinkers in business, management, and technology.

Bruce Aldridge, Orr Protection Group -- Why Open is important?

Greg and Bruce discuss animal crackers, hard knocks, Odoo, and open software vs proprietary software.
Bruce Aldridge, Orr Protection Group -- Why Open is important?

Greg Mader [00:00:00]
Today, I’m talking with Bruce Aldridge, Vice President of Operations and IT for ORR Protection in Louisville, Kentucky. Bruce, thank you for being on. My question I’m asking everyone here at the beginning is, what’s your favorite snack food?

Bruce Aldridge: [00:00:20]
Ask anybody that knows me is listening, it’s untreated broccoli and kale chips, but probably between you and me, it’s frosted animal crackers.

Greg Mader [00:00:29]
Animal crackers. Okay. Is there a story behind animal crackers?

Bruce Aldridge: [00:00:34]
No, just my ranked immaturity.

Greg Mader [00:00:37]
[laughs] Okay. I love it. So, one of the things that I think is really fascinating is you are the Vice President of Operations and IT and I don’t see that marriage of job titles very often in enough companies. But it seems to me, in this day and age, operations and IT are joined at the hip or should be. How did you get to this place in your career and why that specific union?

Bruce Aldridge: [00:01:06]
I’d start by blaming my son. In 1982 when we became pregnant with our first born, I was working in a factory. I didn’t know what I was going to do for a living. My wife was a registered nurse and so she was making all kinds of good money. I was a factory worker working graveyard. So I decided to try out this new technical school that popped up called Computer Learning Center out in Los Angeles and computers were still pretty much mainframe oriented at that time. And so, I borrowed some money, went to school, learned about programming and systems and when I got out, I started working for a computer timeshare company.

And most people that are around today, don’t remember the days of punch cards and timesharing, but it used to be computers were so expensive that companies would just borrow your computer and you would charge them for the time that they would use that computer. And one of our clients ended up buying our company because they wanted their own internal IT department and I got involved in the operations there.

As time progressed, it just seemed like, for some reason, I would end up doing IT for the purposes of helping things out, but operations was really where I spent a lot of my time. So, I’ve been in manufacturing and healthcare and law enforcement and- and the company that I work for now does fire protection systems. But in all of that, I ended up doing both. And it is a good marriage in that when you’re involved in the day to day business operations and you- you see how things really need to work. It helps to inform you about what types of technology solutions make sense. So, I guess that’s how I ended up there.

Greg Mader [00:03:04]
That’s great, Bruce. Thank you. A big part of what we are trying to talk about in the podcast are the ways to think about business change projects and I’m
staying away from the term IT projects for lots of reasons, but I don’t really think there is such a thing as an IT project. I think there is a business change project. How, as an executive, do you determine the need to do something different? And I think the last year’s probably given us lots of examples of where we decided, oh, we need to change the way we’re doing something, but from a strategic level, when you’re working with the leadership, or for that matter, just the staff of the company, how do you realize there’s a need to charter some sort of business change project?

Bruce Aldridge: [00:03:56]
So, at ORR, I would say there are three sources for me. One of them is the Executive Committee. We meet on a regular basis. We have a very good relationship. We’re the major stakeholders in the different aspects of what goes on in the businesses and we just talk about how are we performing financially, how are we doing operationally? As we discuss those issues, certain things will come out of those discussions which will just spark an initiative.

We also have a Kaizen committee here. My first really big operations and IT job was in automotive aftermarket. We did manufacturing and I didn’t know it at the time, but the owner of the company was a major proponent of Lean manufacturing methodology. And I learned an awful lot about just working with people and talking with people. In Lean, there’s a concept of respect for the workers and to listen to them and to help them understand.

When I was working on a particular project, I put my desk right next to the desks of the people who I was developing the software for. Or implementing a solution for. And that’s developed into Kaizen, which is the Lean concept of continuous improvement. And we have a committee that meets, they meet twice a month and they will talk about what they need . There’s been a lot of good initiatives that have come out of that group. And that’s not run by IT people, that’s run by the operations people.

The third area, we have an open issues meeting once a month where anybody can come and talk about what issues are concerning them or what they think might be important. So, it’s just keeping as many channels open as possible. I think that helps inform me on when there’s a need for change within the organization.

Greg Mader [00:05:54]
That was really interesting, Bruce, for a lot of reasons. And let me ask this, because I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, but it’s certainly one of the points of a lot of discussion and maybe even a little controversy right now. But, the idea of grassroots or guerilla IT projects to solve business problems versus business leaders picking a platform or solution.

Bruce Aldridge: [00:06:21]
When I think about grassroots projects, I think about initiatives that are carried out by non IT personnel. When I first arrived at ORR, the IT department kept talking about all of the shadow IT that was going on in the organization. The IT professionals felt like we were the new high priests and everybody should come and bow to us and we should be the ones that make the decisions about what happens. And, unfortunately, it- it just created a tremendous bottleneck for things getting done in a business. And software has evolved to where, especially a lot of the things that are available today with an Amazon web service, let’s say or Google workspace or even in Microsoft, you see a lot of tools and a lot of things that don’t require someone with an IT background, necessarily, to run.

We try to discourage people doing that at ORR without conversing with IT because we would like to keep a coordinated level of activity. Data, they’re like assets. It’s like inventory and when people are just collecting data for the sake of their own department or their own use, that deprives the rest of the organization from access to that data or integrating that data appropriately. But, I don’t want to ever be in the way of business getting done. I try to be a business partner and support the activity of our personnel. I prefer for IT to be intimately involved in choosing and implementing technology just so that we can preserve as much of that data as possible, prevent it from being siloed, but whenever possible, I try to partner with our citizen developers.

Greg Mader [00:08:18]
That’s really interesting. It really seems that trust is at the heart of this whole effort of being in leadership, particularly in IT, but operations as well. Are there tools that you use to create that trust and communication?

Bruce Aldridge: [00:08:34]
When I first got here at ORR, and we start talking about shadow IT and that sort of thing, you could tell automatically there was a lack of trust. For me, there is all kinds of different ways of measuring progress on a project or whatever. But, to me, the biggest tool that I use is user adoption. You can have the best product in the world, but if the end users aren’t using the tool, then you’ve not developed the right tool or at least you haven’t marketed it correctly or you haven’t deployed it correctly, you haven’t included them in the process.

And so, we tried very hard here to include users from the very beginning. From the design side of things we have what we call discovery sessions. We include as much of that process of, uh, workflow and value stream mapping as we can. But with the users, and we try to find out what is it that you really need in order to get your job done and work towards that direction. For me, the biggest tool for understanding if we’ve got a good level of trust is, are they using the products that we’re delivering to them?

Greg Mader [00:09:50]
That’s really helpful. How important is self-sufficiency, independence, or openness for you when you are looking at technology platforms?

Bruce Aldridge: [00:10:04]
I think if you are familiar with the fact that when I was recruited to ORR, they were in the middle of, or at the end of a pretty massive ERP implementation project that ultimately failed. One of the reasons why it failed was because we were building an environment in which we were not able to be self-sufficient. We were going to be reliant on external sources for support, for maintenance, for everything. And that just didn’t make sense to me. We needed to have the ability to extend, to modify, to support and then to use companies like OSI, for example, for the complicated stuff, for the challenging stuff, instead of for our day to day operational stuff.

And so, when we sat down and started interviewing companies, when we started this new project, one of the things that I talked to your team about was the fact that it was important to us that at the end of that project that we’d be able to support it, to maintain it, to extend it. That’s a complicated thing. It’s going to be hard to for me to find something that has that level of knowledge. When I talk to you or Wolfgang or Jen, and I get that level of…I mean, you guys just know it. That’s where the value of our partnership comes in, is that you have this specialized knowledge and ability to help us reach some of our goals. Well, for me, that’s the value of our partnership.

When it comes to doing updates and taking care of adding a field here or there or whatever, I don’t want to have to call you guys to do that. I want to use the smart people for the very hard things and, in the meantime, I’d like for us to be able to take care of our own shop.

Greg Mader [00:11:59]
Something I’ve noticed that I think the COVID crisis has accelerated, is companies and organizations feeling like they need some independence and freedom. It might be that a vendor was a little too brittle or that they were rather locked in and that lock in didn’t allow them to adapt to new situations quickly and that certainly what we’ve all gotten. So that’s where, I think, open systems are probably more resilient. And that flexibility allows resilience. Any thoughts on that?

Bruce Aldridge: [00:12:40]
At ORR, we are in the business of helping business stay resilient by protecting them from fire. We build fire protection systems for major data centers. I’ll be the first one to admit, when people first started talking about COVID, I thought, you know, this is just the flu, we’ll be done with this in a couple of weeks. And then, all of a sudden in a period of about two weeks, we went from a traditional on campus at the company every day, to sending everybody home.

Greg Mader [00:13:10]
Yes.

Bruce Aldridge: [00:13:11]
And we are today, we are a work from home operation and we did that in two weeks. The only reason we were able to do that is because we’d already started setting up systems in case we ever needed to do that. We have 12 facilities around the country. Some of them are in earthquake country. Some of them are in other disaster areas where we have to be prepared to just move and shift and change things over very quickly. So, we were already in that mindset and when we decided to send everybody home, we were ready for it. We already had the infrastructure set up. We were really trying very hard to facilitate something that would allow us to be able to operate from where we’re at.

And we’ve done very well over the last year. I’m very proud of our company. Our chairman of the board was sending out messages every day to let everybody know where things were at and where we were going. You just think about those periods of time in your history when you went through something really major but you didn’t realize it at the time how major it was.

Greg Mader [00:14:18]
Mm-hmm [affirmative]

Bruce Aldridge: [00:14:19]
This last year’s been that way. So, it has changed the thinking tremendously for a lot of people about how prepared are we really to just pick up and move to another location and still continue our business?

Greg Mader [00:14:33]
Do you have any stories from the school of hard knocks?

Bruce Aldridge: [00:14:38]
[laughs] Um, I have a lot of stories and some of them I can even tell. When I think about what I have learned over the years, I think the most important lesson was that I don’t have to do this on my own. That while there’s just a certain personality, a white knight type personality that you sometimes find in IT people and I think I was afflicted by that early on in my career. I was insulted when people offered suggestions on how to improve my software because I thought I did a pretty darn good job on it. I went through a period of time where I just thought I had to know all the answers. I had to make all the decisions. I had to be the one to figure things out.

When I said I could start pulling smart people together around me, that as a community, we could figure some things out together, that was a huge relief for me to think that I don’t have to have all the answers. But I also started taking joy in being involved with other people that had passion. We have a group that I call “The Three Amigos”, Kate and Jerry and Shawn and they all have different skill sets and provide, for me, so much help and assistance. They know how to deal with people better than I do. They know how to pull things out of our users. They can develop very good requirements of what’s needed. I rely very heavily on the three amigos and then I enjoy our meetings when we get together for OSI and when we start talking about solutions. It’s nice to have people that you can bounce those things off of. It’s nice to go into the Odoo community and see some of the solutions that some of the people there have figured out.

And, so when you get out of your own way, that’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve had to learn. Get out of my own way and start building teams. Building partnerships. That way, you get the benefit of a really combined and well thought out solution.

Greg Mader [00:16:49]
That was beautiful, actually. What I love about the community that we’re in, Bruce, and your discovering it I think, is that there’s people from all over the world who got great ideas they can contribute and I’ve gotten to meet many of them. I’ve traveled to Belgium and France and all over Europe and even Latin America and it’s amazing to be able to collaborate with these other sharp, fantastic people in a non-competitive manner. There’s no friction between us, there’s only the ability to work together and individually achieve our goals.

Any other comments or thoughts, Bruce?

Bruce Aldridge: [00:17:38]
It’s been a very enjoyable experience here at ORR to introduce the organization to concepts like open-source and cloud-based operations and the newness of what is available to us as a company, is pretty interesting. But it’s also been just great to see just the acceptance. You would enjoy, very much, seeing our users as they start testing and playing around with solutions that you guys have been helping us to develop. And it’s just been a lot of fun. This has been a great journey for us on the heels of what was probably the most depressing project failure that I was ever a part of.

Thomas Edison, supposedly he said that, “I didn’t fail, I just found a 1,000 different ways of how not to make a light bulb.”

When we put an end to the ERP project that I first came here to get a look at, some people thought we were insane to suggest that we start a new ERP project right on the heels. But we learned so much from that experience that I thought it was probably the best time for us to do that. And I’ve been happy to see that we are progressing down that road. So, my advice to people is, just be open. We think that within ourselves, we’ve got it all figured out or we have to figure it or we have to have the right answer and being exposed to different solutions that are available as different ideas that are available, it opened my eyes to a lot of things that I just wonder how much I’ve been missing over the last 30 years and not being open to some of this stuff. And I have had a great experience over the last year, since we started this project and I’m very pleased with where we’ve come and what’s been going on for us.

Greg Mader [00:19:37]
That’s awesome, Bruce. Thank you. So, thank you so much.

Bruce Aldridge: [00:19:40]
Thank you. I enjoyed it.

Bruce started his career in IT in 2003 after completing the Programming and Systems Administration program at the Computer Learning Center in Los Angeles. He has also completed a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and an MBA with an emphasis in Computer Information Systems. Bruce worked for seven years at the Mercury Group where he elevated to the position of Vice President of Data Processing. From there he moved to Austin, Texas while working as Director and then Vice President of Information Systems at Classic Soft Trim, a manufacturer and distributor of automotive aftermarket products. Bruce returned to California to work as Vice President of Client Services at HNC Insurance Solutions, managing the EDI, Maintenance Programming, Technical Support and QA departments as well as operational control of three service centers for the largest solutions provider of Workmen’s Compensation Repricing and Fraud Detection software. After the sale of HNC Insurance Solutions, Bruce became the managing partner of Daleon2, a consulting firm focusing on Regulatory Compliance and Law Enforcement software. To enhance his knowledge of Law Enforcement Systems, Bruce became a police officer, ultimately becoming a Certified Computer Forensics investigator and the Information Systems Officer for Downey Police Department in southeast Los Angeles. Bruce retired from Downey PD and moved his father to Kentucky to be near family in his father’s final years and worked as the Data Integrity Manager for The Rawlings Group, a company that provided insurance subrogation investigations. Bruce later worked for Appriss Safety as Director of Data Integrity and Governance, then left there to join the Orr Corporation as Vice President of IT and ePMO. During his career, Bruce has also served as a Risk Management consultant in the areas of Information Systems and Physical Security, and served six years as Captain of Guardian Ministries, managing the security of a 10,000-member church in Anaheim, California. Bruce is an avid reader and enjoys bike riding in his spare time. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife of 42 years near his two adult children and two granddaughters.