Meet a Minnesota CTO: Ben Nielsen

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Ben Nielsen Wireless RoninThank you to Andcor Companies for underwriting the new Meet a Minnesota CTO series.

Ben Nielsen is the CTO of Wireless Ronin Technologies, a Minnetonka-based company with a market cap of $7.5m.  Nielsen has served as Senior Vice President of Product Development and CTO since December 2011.

Prior to Wireless Ronin Technologies, he spent 8 years within the Telematics Industry delivering mobile devices and Software as a Service solutions in the automotive and transportation industries.

How long have you been in tech and what is your brief background?

I have worked in various technology roles for over 19 years. The past 11 years of my career have been focused on technical product development and implementing Software as a Service (SAAS) business models. Prior to my current role, I spent 8 years creating Telematics products in the mobile product space, and previous to that I was building integrated supply chain solutions as a part of a hosted SAAS business model. Currently I am working for Wireless Ronin Technologies, creating marketing technology products with a focus on the QSR, Automotive, and retail verticals.

What are you focused on right now?

Wireless Ronin has a great reputation for being a technology innovator, and we have a high year over year investment in ongoing product development through focused research and development initiatives. We are releasing the newest version of our flagship platform RoninCast at the end of March, and this is our primary area of focus right now. During the remainder of our year, we will focus on Business Intelligence investment and continued automation of our business processes.

What are the most important technologies deployed in your IT environment?

As a product company, we believe we are creating the most important technologies in our IT environment. The most recent release of RoninCast allows our customers to take their digital content and deliver that to their OmniChannel marketing destinations via web, social media, mobile, kiosk, or digital signage. With that being said, we are predominantly a .NET shop and are leveraging a number of Microsoft technologies.

What is the size of your department and how is it organized/managed?

Wireless Ronin Technologies is a small to mid-size organization with two-thirds of the organization devoted to product development, quality assurance, professional services, product support, warranty support, call center services, and hosting management. These responsibilities fall under my leadership within our organization. My staff is located in two facilities one in Minnetonka Minnesota, and the second in Windsor Ontario Canada.

How does your company approach recruiting and retention for technical positions?

Wireless Ronin Technologies has a reputation as an innovation leader in our industry, and the innovative spirit tends to create a challenging and driven organization where people are excited to conquer the next challenge. When we hire, we take extra time to ensure that selected individuals are a good fit both organizationally and professionally, and that they have an entrepreneurial spirit.

How do you ensure that IT plans, projects and objectives are aligned with business outcomes?

As an organization, we execute product development through more traditional IT roles; which affords portions of our staff direct visibility into product releases, corporate strategy, and the direct revenue impact achieved through their daily work. Additionally, our organizational model is very flat and thus multiple team members have job functions that span traditional and product development roles. As leaders within the organization, we spend a lot of time and effort ensuring that the entire staff feels the same connection and impact on the organizational goals that the forward looking product team does for defining our future goals. Additionally, non-product related IT projects are reviewed within a portfolio management approach to ensure they align with our overall vision regarding technology spend; and are tracked following completion to measure the successful outcomes of the business objectives.

How do you personally keep up with the ever changing technology landscape?

I am a true geek. I still very much enjoy writing code and implementing the technology solutions. Because I have less time available for those activities, I have had to satisfy my technology urges by reviewing and researching new and ongoing technologies. Because I have such an appreciation for the way technology both works and can potentially be used to resolve a business problem, I find that I can spend every waking moment of non-working time researching and reviewing technology.

What excites you about where technology is headed?

What doesn’t excite the true technologist these days…? The processing power and capabilities of hardware are increasing, while the cost and size are decreasing at amazing rates. At the same time, we are seeing so many independent streams of development delivering amazing solutions in Open Source models that there are numerous positives about where technology is currently headed.

What concerns you about where technology is heading?

To sit back and look at the technology landscape and try to find concerning areas, I believe not enough focus is applied to put on innovation activities. Impactful innovation in the rapidly changing technology environment is difficult to achieve unless you devote the necessary time to it; I don’t see enough focus on taking the time to drive innovation in all businesses. At Wireless Ronin we actually set aside time every week to discuss new technology topics, ideas, and innovations. The team here has been able to generate valuable ideas from this devoted time and we are a stronger company because of it.

What is one thing you’re into outside of technology?

I am a board member of a non-profit that supports basketball development in my community, called the Lakeville South Boys Basketball Association. This allows me to maintain my passion for family activities, the sport of basketball, and helping the community.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Nothing at this time.

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