How Rick Klotz Has Kept IT Evolving

Altra Industrial Motion Corp. CIO Rick Klotz makes an industrial company flourish in the technological age

Sometimes all it takes is one request to change someone’s career trajectory forever.

Take Rick Klotz—chief information officer of Altra Industrial Motion Corp., a publicly traded manufacturing company that specializes in motion control products. Klotz was a marketing professional for the first eleven years of his career. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, his advertising and sales promotion office became infused with Macintosh computers. The IT director needed help putting together the company’s network and tapped Klotz to move to IT and help lead the local area networking effort.

Klotz took on that challenge, in spite of advice from his boss and others recommending not to join the IT team. The historical perception of IT as a slow-moving and controlling group was seen by many as a limiting factor, but he felt it was the right thing to do. He thought he could use his aptitude and abilities to see how much the company could use technology, and the rest was history. Klotz saw the potential for change by leveraging new technology to drive process improvement, so he engaged as a team member in helping build a new order management system for the business.

Klotz has led IT through a number of changes in structure and ownership since 2000 and became Altra’s chief information officer in 2008. “I’m really a businessperson who happens to have a good understanding of technology and how we can use technology to run the business and improve business processes,” Klotz says. “I’m not a coder by vocation, nor am I a hacker or anything like that. I took BASIC and COBOL programming classes in college and a special studies course in operations research around critical path management. It whet my appetite for what computers can do, and I’ve seen amazing changes in technology since the early 1980s. I’m really a business guy who evangelized technology while learning it.”

Klotz’s work today includes integrating acquired businesses, consolidating operating units to keep the company’s cost structure under control, mapping out strategies for moving production from one plant to another, managing infrastructure changes, and switching to SAP. A continuing effort to build an effective global IT leadership team and structure is also a critical focus.

“There’s never a moment where there aren’t significant projects, improvement initiatives, and opportunities to move commodity IT services to the cloud,” Klotz says. “It’s a wide variety of things related to technology, networking, and software IP systems, and then there’s integration of new acquisitions.”

Klotz’s switch to the IT side of things couldn’t have come at a better time. After being part of other companies, including Dana Corporation, Altra Industrial Motion formed in 2004. The good news was that the company was now independent; the bad news was that it lost the technological support that comes with being part of a $15 billion company. With a lean, forty-person IT team, Klotz and his team were now spending 70–80 percent of their time on tasks that were not adding value to the company, such as maintaining equipment, resolving network events, responding to emergencies, and fixing e-mail problems. Multiple legacy ERP systems sustained application system complexity, and thin support structures for each system were a daily challenge in supporting the business improvement activities.

“I’m really a business guy who evangelized technology while learning it.”

“Something would happen in the middle of the night, and we would have to intervene, and the next day, you’re half asleep still supporting the business,” Klotz says. “It was really not the best position to be in. We realized if we want to get close to the business, if we want be part of lean thinking and helping a business leverage technology, we have to stop managing it hands-on and be more engaged in helping people use technology and help them see how they can use IT to do things faster, cheaper, and easier.”

Two of the biggest steps toward helping Altra employees get a better grasp of technology and make IT more efficient came when the organization incorporated SAP and the Microsoft Cloud. The first Altra business unit went live on SAP in August 2010. Altra now has more than twenty businesses on SAP, with a few more to convert. It’s been a crucial effort in giving the business a common data model, a shared customer view, a common supplier profile, and a global material database so that the company can truly start to see how it’s performing financially, through sales and inventory management. It is yielding benefits in helping Altra see the whole business globally.

Three years ago, Klotz and his team helped usher in the Microsoft Cloud, and now the company has 2,400 people around the globe on the Office 365 Cloud. Instead of IT having to run everything itself, Microsoft manages the “engine,” and the team can focus on the business and show employees how to use technology like SharePoint Online, OneDrive, Skype for Business, instant messaging, one-to-one video conferencing, and Yammer, an enterprise social networking tool.

“We are really getting the leverage out of the Microsoft agreement,” Klotz says. “We don’t have to overmanage it. We help people use the technology provided, and then we monitor performance and see if we’re actually getting more people to use technology. It was quite a transition from the old school, where IT procured, configured, and managed everything.”

Klotz turned out to be ahead of the game a few years ago when the company’s CEO approached him about creating a “Facebook for Altra.” The CEO wanted a way for employees to be able to informally connect with one another and share ideas. Klotz informed him that, thanks to the Microsoft agreement, the company had access to Yammer, which could serve this purpose. Yammer was presented at a global meeting in mid-2015. IT had engaged with a Yammer deployment partner to prepare and facilitate the launch. Three hundred people had already registered and were actively using it with minimal training required.

“For me, it was one of the biggest smiles that I’ve ever produced,” Klotz explains. “Sometimes, being a CIO can be a little stressful. But seeing people quickly adopt a new tool, learn it by doing, and encourage others to register and start Yammering was powerful. IT led the effort and gave the business a new capability to increase collaboration and interaction globally.”

As it turns out, there was nothing to worry about with Yammer. More than 50 percent of Altra’s Office 365 users are actively engaged with Yammer, and there’s a group of about 100 people around the world who are using it to collaborate on new product development ideas.

“Enterprise social can present some legal and HR concerns around acceptable and appropriate use,” Klotz says. “IT worked with legal and HR, updated the social media policies and guidance, and took some risk. People generally know what to do, how to do it, and have a good sense of what they should or should not communicate on Yammer. It has been a great experience for Altra to get people to share ideas, discuss opportunities, and collaborate on projects. To me, most of what the IT team and I do is look for opportunities to influence the business, coach our leadership around what we could do, and leverage what we already have access to. We just have to partner with you to make it happen.”