CIO Update '1-on-1' With Eric Bischoff

By Esther Shein

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After 12 years in the music business, Bischoff, CITO for Quick International Courier, has spent the last 22 building the infrastructure that fuels a $100 million-dollar specialty courier company. To do this he has, at times, been on the cutting edge of technology development, yet, at other times, shunned current trends, preferring the 'old-school' way of application development and management.

In this exclusive conversation with CIO Update, Bischoff lets us into his way of managing IT and shares his views on getting things done, current trends like offshoring and what it takes to succeed as a IT manager.

Q: First of all, CITO? Where does the title Chief Information 'Techknowledgy' Officer come from?

Because I manage technology and knowledge. So it was a play on words. It's about the knowledge in the company, which is one of our assets; we know how to get things moved so we have a lot of human knowledge and we're trying to manage that. It's not just about managing equipment and software.

Q: What are some of the pressing IT projects currently on your plate?

Integration of three different companies -- we have the Sterling (a company purchased several years ago that specializes in assisting aircraft on the ground (AOG)) branch in Washington, D.C., and we have a (Quick) branch in London and we're currently in process of getting them off their own system software and getting them on our system. We've already started and we hope to have it all done in next six months.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges involved in these integrations?

Matching the databases in the fields, so we can match the data. We have to do gap analysis; they may do some things differently than us so we have to do analysis. What's driving this is their customers want to get on our Quick online extranet, which is far superior to anything anyone else has. So, in order to use that, they have to get on our Quicktrack database.

We have a pretty sophisticated ... extranet to allow customers to place orders, receive updates and manage parts inventory and then there are some specific applications that are designed for managing clinical trials for the drug companies.

(Pharmaceutical companies) need someone to send out the drugs and they use us to deliver them safely and securely. And they have to get the samples back. So we deal with the labs or clinical sites and they use our extranet to enter information and we manage it for them.Q: How large is your IT staff and what skills do you lack?

I have six programmers, a network admin, a systems administrator, one person who does user support, one person in the U.K., one more programmer in Sterling and one user-support person. So approximately 12. I also oversee telecomm, purchasing and facilities.

Right now I would like to have somebody who is versed in Web technologies like Python or Perl or PHP to work on an intranet project.

Q: Is Quick International outsourcing any IT initiatives presently? Will you?

No. We used to outsource quite a bit and we found that by bringing it in-house we get better quality and product. We're actually faster and are saving money by doing it all ourselves.

Q: Which of your skills has served you best in managing IT?

I think probably the first thing is that I didn't come from the IT side. I actually started as a driver in this company and worked my way up. So, coming from that background, I understood what we needed as software and how it would work. As for the technology stuff, I've always been a geek anyway.

I've been labeled a visionary a lot. I like to plan way ahead. I drive everyone crazy in company a lot because sometimes it takes two years to build something. One thing I learned from the music business is that the show must go on. Things have to work no matter what. So that was good preparation for IT.

Q: What is your proudest professional achievement?

The biggest gamble I ever undertook was the Quick extranet. We spent a lot of money and this was pre-dot-com era. We started this in '96-'97 and we outsourced quite a bit and for a while I wondered if I would lose my job over this. It turned out to be way beyond everyone's greatest expectations because customers rant and rave about it and we've won lot of business as a result. We take in about $10 million annually on the online system so it's paid for itself.

It was a big gamble because in those days the technology to make things work wasn't there so we had to build an API bridge between software called Web objects and the multi-value database where the data resided. So our data is live. I had to find a vendor and get them to engineer a tool that didn't exist and for a while we wondered if this was possible.

Q: What keeps you awake at night?

Not much these days. There was period of time where we only had one server and the network was a little iffy but we built a high availability system so we have two of everything and, instead of having it in-house, we relocated everything into a co-location facility and these days we all sleep. There's very few middle of the night phone calls with problems whereas it used to be all the time.

Eric Bischoff is Chief Information 'Techknowledgy' Officer for Quick International Courier, a $100 million company based in New York that specializes in next-flight-out delivery services worldwide. He has over 34 years of experience in technology and logistics.