"I got interested in it at a young age," she says. "I used to go to work with him on Sundays and use the keypunch machine. That's what I majored in in college. I've been in IT ever since."
Since 1996, Barretta has put her skills to work at Con-way, starting out as a systems analyst with no trucking background.
Con-way, which Barretta initially knew as Consolidated Freightways when she moved to Portland, Ore., in the '80s, "was always one of the biggest [IT] shops and one of the most technically advanced organizations" in the area, she says. "It was an exciting place to work."
Barretta was instrumental in the formation of Con-way's IT department and its infrastructure. She quickly moved up the ladder, promoted to director of information systems in 1997 and received the vice president title in 2000. In 2005, she became chief information officer. Recently Barretta was named one of the Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2009 by IDG's Computerworld magazine.
"Overall, the thing I'm most proud of is just flat-out the strength of our IT group," Barretta says. "We have some of the best minds in IT, and we have a really good environment for people - they like being here, it's a great company to be part of. And because we have such a strong team, that results in great solutions for the business."
One of those solutions, which was singled out by Computerworld's editors, was the internally developed Step Saver Web-based interactive software application for Con-way Freight. The automation of previously manual dock planning and configuration tasks improved operational efficiency, freeing up valuable time for dock coordinators and saving $3 million a year.
"It's essentially a planning tool," Barretta explains, "designed to develop the most efficient plan for moving freight across a dock."
As freight moves across the country through Con-way's LTL network, it goes through a series of Con-way facilities along the way. At each location, trailers come in and the freight is cross-docked, put on another trailer going to a different destination.
The Step Saver creates the optimal unloading plan, figuring out where the trailers should be placed at the dock, based on the dock layout, what freight's coming in, when it's supposed to arrive, what doors will be available, etc.
"Basically the goal is to minimize the distance traveled to cross-dock the freight," Barretta says. "That increases our productivity, so the cross-dock process takes a lot less time, we need fewer man hours to do it, and it saves wear and tear on our forklifts. And it allows us to complete the process in a lot less time, so it allows us to speed up the network and get the freight out the door and on to the next destination on time.
"If we add up just the labor costs alone, we save over $3 million a year. If you take into account wear and tear on forklifts, that sort of thing, we save even more."
The Step Saver application also landed Con-way among the top 10 companies on IDG's InfoWorld 100, an annual ranking of the most creative and intelligent uses of technology to meet business goals, and put the company at No. 72 on the 2008 InformationWeek 500.
These types of projects start out with a strategic planning process, Barretta explains. "Whether it's line haul or service center operations or sales or pricing, we have a process where we get the right people together, IT and business people, and we think about our biggest challenges, what we are trying to achieve, what we're trying to improve in that arena, and what projects will help us get there."
For each project, a business case is put together, with Barretta's department estimating the IT costs and the business people quantifying the business benefits. From there, they are able to prioritize all the different projects.
In today's tight economic environment, Con-way uses IT to be more attractive to customers and to save costs, both in its own operations and to offer customers cost-savings as well.
For instance, Con-way uses a lot of electronic transactions between the company and its customers - things like pickup requests, bills of lading, invoicing and electronic payments.
"We're automating more and more of that every day," she says, "and we have what I consider very leading-edge methods to do that." Automated, electronic transactions like these, she says, cost Con-way one-tenth the cost of doing them manually, and they believe customers see savings on their end, as well.
"We find customers in this economy are just clamoring to use electronic transactions, more so than ever in the past. They're all doing the same thing we are - looking for ways to save money."
Computerworld also singled out Barretta's move to an "agile development" model. Con-way's IT had a reputation for slow progress on projects, so Barretta moved them to an "iterative" model that delivers a few key features of new projects in weeks instead of months.
In the past, the company and the IT department would define a large scope for a project, then develop the whole thing and implement it, a process that would take months.
"A lot of times, business users would guess at what they needed," Barretta says. "It was hard for them to envision what it would look like, so they would think, 'This is my one shot to get what I need, so I'm going to ask for everything I think I might need.' And a lot of times, they would ask for far more than they really needed."
With the new method, changes are made in "iterations," just a few at a time, a process that only takes two or three weeks.
"They use it, they realize what's useful about it, what they need to add to it; they're a lot smarter about what they need, so we plan the next iteration. We build it piecemeal at a time, so at the end of the day, we get a much better application that fits their needs, and we haven't wasted time building functionality that won't actually be used."
This has had a secondary benefit, Barretta observes, of driving a closer relationship between IT and the business. Someone on the business side, called a "product owner," is responsible for working with IT on a daily basis on each iteration, giving IT direction on what's needed, what to put into the next release, etc. And as each iteration is completed, they show it to a broader audience, then the entire business community gets to use what IT has built. "So they see constant delivery of IT systems," she says.
This reflects Barretta's observation that over the years, not only has computer technology changed significantly (she remembers mainframe computers, punchcards and monochrome green-screen "dumb" terminals), but so has the way IT people interact with the rest of the company. During her first job out of collage, at Duke Energy, she remembers, "there seemed to be such a separation between IT and the business. Today, we're much more fluid between IT and the organization - we can speak each other's lingo. It seems like it used to be, IT was something business executives considered a necessary evil, but didn't necessarily think of as a strategic advantage. But today, they take a big interest in it if they're smart - and at Con-way they do."
From the March 2009 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.