Renowned IT Authority and Software Expert
This week, Stephen
Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with the widely
regarded, IT authority, and noted executive, Wesley Bertch.
Mr. Bertch is the
Director of Information Systems for Life Time Fitness, one of the
fastest-growing, health, fitness and nutrition companies in the
US and fitness retailers in the US.
At Life Time Fitness, Mr.
Bertch is responsible for leading major software systems initiatives
to enable the overall business strategy of the company. Recent
projects include enterprise POS, member management systems, and CRM.
In addition to leading
the software team for Life Time Fitness, Mr. Bertch is an advisory
board member for and contributor to Network Computing Magazine.
Before his current
position, Mr. Bertch was a software consultant and Microsoft
Certified Trainer. Mr. Bertch completed undergraduate coursework at
Brigham Young University and holds an MBA from the Carlson School of
Business, University of Minnesota. He is married (to a Canadian) and
has two daughters.
Q: Wesley, you have an
impressive record of accomplishment as a leading IT expert in
software systems. Thank you for doing with interview!
A: Thank you, my
Q: How did you get into
A: Dumb luck. I was
applying for work as a starving first-year law student when a friend
of mine asked if I wanted to make $30/hr (US) as a technical
trainer. Desperate, I would have sold American flags, door-to-door,
in the Sunni Triangle for that kind of money, so I jumped at the
chance. I thought, “You mean they’ll pay me for doing something
After an intense period
of study and certification, I was hired on with my friend’s
consulting firm and taught MCSE courses during the summer. When law
school resumed that fall, I continued teaching evening MCSE classes
and worked a second job in the law school computer lab. Finally,
mid-way through my 3rd semester of law school, I realized I had to
choose between law and computers to be any good at either….So I
shocked my family and accepted a full-time offer as a technical
Q: What lessons did you
learn as a software consultant and MCT?
A: My students were all
older than I was and typically knew far more IT than I did. They had
forgotten more about IT than I had learned up to that point. It was
swim or get eaten by the sharks, so I studied constantly, and
managed to stay afloat in the classroom. Both my parents were
teachers, so I may have had a genetic boost.
As a software consultant,
I got lucky to have found great gigs where I could cut my teeth.
Consulting taught me to market myself and to deliver business value.
Q: How does your MBA
contribute to your job?
A: I view my role as
first a businessman and second a technologist, so the MBA made sense
as a way to understand the big picture of business. Because my
undergraduate degree was not business-related, the MBA was my first
formal exposure to corporate governance, strategy, finance,
accounting, marketing, and operations.
Q: Describe your work
with Network Computing Magazine.
A: I currently serve on
the NWC editorial advisory board, which means I get to swap stories
with really smart IT people--what we’re working on, our challenges,
and information needs. In conjunction with this relationship, an
opportunity arose to contribute a story about a failed outsourcing
project. I enjoyed doing the piece and plan to contribute further as
Q: You are working on
completing an enterprise POS system. What wisdom can you pass on
from this experience?
A: The project is far
from over—enterprise software is more like a journey than a
destination (does that sound like wisdom?). Seriously, the big
challenge with enterprise POS in our business is the integration. We
sell lots of scheduled services, such as personal training and
massage which means you have to integrate complex services
scheduling functionality with the revenue capture part. On top of
that, you have to expose these services to the Internet for customer
self-service. No one in our industry has successfully done that.
We’re thrilled to be able to pull it off.
Q: What prompted the move
to CRM and what were your key decisions in this project? Can you
answer the same questions for your member management system? If you
had another opportunity, what would you do differently?
A: Life Time Fitness’s
CEO, Bahram Akradi, receives credit for taking a product-centric
brick-and-mortar health club company and adding a customer-centric
dimension. He designs and builds beautiful health and fitness
centers that provide a combination of sports, family recreation,
professional fitness, and spa amenities. I mean these clubs are
spectacular inside—people who tour the facility are blown away by
the value they receive for a relatively low monthly cost. Yet,
retaining our club members for the long-term means also
understanding their goals and needs, and tailoring the mix of
services to help them succeed. This forms the basis of our CRM
strategy. If we had another opportunity to do it differently, I’d
seriously consider custom-building our own SFA to mitigate
The decision to build a
member management system came from necessity-we simply outgrew our
legacy system and did not have good off-the-shelf options. Rolling
our own J2EE member management system was, in hindsight, a brilliant
move. Credit for championing this investment and leading the effort
goes to Life Time Fitness VP of IT, Brent Zempel.
Q: Can you describe your
current work and your greatest current challenges?
A: The major projects for
2004 are Enterprise POS, services scheduling automation, Time &
Attendance implementation, and Document Management. I think the
biggest challenge is servicing disparate business units all within a
common enterprise architecture.
Q: What are the major
strengths of your company?
A: Passion, innovation,
and willingness to take risk. These values are embodied in the CEO,
and flow by extension throughout the organization.
Q: Where do you see
yourself and your company in five years?
A: I love what I’m doing,
so hopefully they haven’t fired me by then. The company over the
next five years will continue to expand nationally, extending the
brand in innovative ways.
Q: What are your top ten
tips for implementing any new software initiative?
A: 1) Align the project
to major business goals/strategy
2) Find an executive
sponsor and budget
3) Carefully select the
4) Follow a software
selection methodology if purchasing off-the-shelf
5) Negotiate all
agreements with vendors/partners—don’t be afraid to modify their
contracts and require they sign your critical agreements such as SLA
6) Never shortcut the
business analysis or UI design
7) Design the systems
integration up front
8) Do a proof of concept
9) Do a pilot
10) Test, Test, Test
Q: What experiences are
“surprising” to you?
A: I knew enterprise CRM
would be expensive and complex, but I had no idea until we actually
I’m always surprised at
how relatively young the IT industry is, given its impact on our
lives. The IT industry is an unruly whippersnapper, but they cannot
live without us.
Q: What are the five most
important IT trends to watch, and please provide some
A: 1) Underinvestment in
IT. I believe the US economic rebound will catch IT departments
flat-footed; it’s as if we don’t dare believe in the recovery. We
need to staff ahead of the growth or risk losing out on the talent.
We could see a whipsaw effect once companies begin to see the uptick
is for real and don’t have the systems to support their growth.
2) Democratization of
information. Increasing storage coupled with inconspicuous
multi-media mean everything can be recorded and shared, from human
rights abuses in Afghanistan to “off the record” spats with
political opponents. This has powerful potential for shaping global
opinion in areas heretofore hidden.
3) Inter-company systems
interaction. As our kids become the new customer base, I think they
will demand new levels of system interaction. For example, the
quick-service oil change outfits will have to offer online
scheduling, upload information to a file that tracks the car’s
service history, etc. Health care providers must similarly integrate
patient information across systems or risk losing in the
marketplace. Industries should start now to lay the foundation to
make this a reality.
4) Services sector
domination. Services already account for the 2/3 of US GDP. Services
will continue to capture an increasing share of the US economy
creating new opportunities for IT in this area.
5) Nanotech. If the stock
market is any indicator, nanotechnologies may soon begin to make an
impact across our industry. This is disruptive technology that can
completely redefine the rules for how computing happens.
Q: What are the five
greatest challenges facing businesses today? What are their
A: 1) Insufficient
qualified labor; there are jobs, they just require stronger
analytical and communication skills. Offshore outsourcing is a
blessing because it forces domestic labor to be more competitive.
High end talent is not abundant, probably in any profession, but
increasingly in IT.
2) Closed or restricted
markets; We need broad free trade agreements to drive global
economic growth and prosperity. Bi-lateral trade agreements are not
3) Lack of Democratic
societies; We need sustained promotion of democracy in the Middle
East and Asia. Along with political freedoms must come economic
openness. This will vastly improve standards of living and reduce
poverty and war. The struggle for these nations will be maintaining
the integrity of local values and overcoming the extremists.
4) Corporate corruption;
Capitalism and public capital markets are an undeniable success, but
depend upon respect for ethics and law. In the US, the Sarbanes
Oxley Act is a step in the right direction—there finally exists some
accountability and consequence for corporate misconduct.
5) High taxes, especially
in Canada and Europe. To spur growth, these nations must slash taxes
and promote capital investment. There is over-dependency on
government for social programs. The entitlement mentality is killing
Q: Where do you see IT in
relation to business strategy and operations?
A: IT acts as both a
master and servant to business strategy. Some strategies such as
great employee culture don’t necessarily require technology to be
successful. Other strategies, such as Dell’s direct-selling of
computers, are defined by what the technology can do. A
well-architected, flexible IT infrastructure supports dynamic
business strategies, which in turn generate competitive advantage. I
would never run corporate strategy meetings without the IT
leadership at the table.
I think of IT as a subset
of business operations, logically reporting to the COO or CEO.
Q: Any predications about
the economy and future IT spending?
A: The US economy will
continue its rebound, catching IT departments flat-footed.
Companies, burned by the shock of the most recent recession, will
play conservatively and under invest in IT. There’s a great
opportunity here to leapfrog ahead.
Q: What are your top
recommended resources for both businesses and IT professionals?
A: 1) McKinsey Quarterly
2) The Economist Magazine
3) Leadership and Self
Deception by Arbinger Institute
4) Good to Great by
5) One to One Marketing
by Rogers and Peppers
Q: What kind of computer
setup do you have?
A: At work, HP pc 2.8GH
processor, 512MB memory. Dual flat panel monitor. Toshiba Portege’
Tablet pc (laptop). Various other machines comprise my evaluation
network. I use an iMac at home.
Q: If you were doing this
interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your
position and what would be your answers?
A: Q1: Which recruiting
methods are most successful?
A1: Word of mouth.
Q2: What ongoing
education do you recommend?
A2: Executive business
courses, books, magazines, association events.
Q3: What do you do to
help drive innovation, growth, and profitability?
A3: Create a solid but
flexible systems infrastructure that spawns options for follow-on
Q: Wesley, your insights
have given us much to consider. Thank you for doing this interview!
A: Stephen, great
questions! I enjoyed this opportunity to pontificate, and welcome
candid feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org