How'd I Get Here: Our IT Director's Journey At Summit

An IT graphic showing different parts of IT
on 27 October 2020
  • IT Director
  • Journey
  • Summit

The Leap

In the fall of 2017, after a successful and highly rewarding 20+ year run in various information technology roles at UNC-Chapel Hill, I took a huge leap of faith and accepted an offer from Summit Design and Engineering Services as its first director of IT. That leap was made easier by the fact that the job offer started with a chance encounter in downtown Hillsborough, home to Summit HQ. There I stood on a beautiful midsummer Friday night, sipping a beer in front of the favorite local watering hole, The Wooden Nickel. I would soon learn this place is a favorite destination of Summit’s CEO/founder for socializing, good food and beverages.

Exterior of the Wooden Nickle.

Jim Parker, Summit’s CEO/founder, invited me to sit with him and his wife since there were no other tables or seats available. Though I politely declined, telling him I didn’t want to interrupt their dinner, I eventually sat down and started talking about living in Hillsborough and working at UNC in information technology. Jim’s ears perked up when I said IT. He immediately asked if I’d be open to talking about a potential job leading the IT department at Summit. His ears perked up even more when I said I played guitar! After bonding over mutual interests, I handed Jim my business card before saying goodnight and told him “give me a call if you’re serious about a job opening at Summit.”

Within a couple months, I’d resigned from a safe and comfortable position at UNC and started my new role as Director of IT for Summit Design and Engineering Services. At the time, the company was growing rapidly, hiring people every week and beginning to expand into new markets. It was a fast-paced, exciting work environment, even if it was a total departure from the familiar academic setting I’d grown to love.


A Customer-Centric Approach that Values People

The thing I most enjoyed from the minute I started at Summit was the sense that it felt like a place where people mattered, where every employee was valued even as the company evolved and continued to grow. We each had an important role to play and—as the new Director of IT—I felt responsible for making sure my team treated ALL employees like valued customers. That customer-centric approach to delivering IT support and services is something I developed during my years at UNC. I love helping people and wanted the employees to know that IT was there to make their jobs easier and better, not harder or frustrating.

This was easier said than done! I only had two direct reports at the time, and the first time I referred to our fellow Summit employees as “our customers” they both gave me a blank stare. With so many different disciplines—from Geotech to survey and land development to structural engineering and architecture—learning about how each of the departments did their work and getting up to speed with all the software they required was a steep climb. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to make any “…but I reached the Summit” jokes!)

I started to get to know the people and the pain points that had frustrated them in the past as far as IT was concerned. A big part of what I did those first few months was LISTEN. I can’t emphasize how important that is for anyone in a senior leadership role, IT or otherwise. It’s easy to charge into a new job and want to change everything right away…or play it safe and not rock the boat. The trick is finding the balance between the two. Listening really helps. What I heard helped me shape a strategic approach to improving the IT department’s services, developing new workflows to increase efficiency, and cutting costs where possible without compromising quality.


Making People Able to Work from Home

Since those early months at Summit, I’ve seen IT play an increasingly critical role in how the company operates and have strived to align IT with the business needs. A recent example of this was when my team and I got out ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, planning for a sudden shift to remote work for many of our employees and executing that change without much of a negative impact to worker productivity. Yes, there were challenges in getting people who were used to coming into a high-speed office network set up for WFH but through the use of various existing technologies and the implementation of some critical new ones, my team and I rose to the challenge.

Woman working from home.

While We're At It, Let's Migrate The Data

The transition of over a hundred employees to WFH was intense, but the biggest project that Summit IT has tackled was migrating over 10 years’ worth of project data from on-prem file servers to cloud storage. The solution we chose after a careful proof of value trial reduces latency and makes remote CAD work much more viable. This project also allowed us to consolidate our project data in a single place, rather than having files scattered around three or four different file servers at different offices. Additionally, we were able to create a better data governance structure around this mission-critical data. It was a lot of work, but all worth it.

Server room.

Looking Forward to 2021

Out on the horizon, as I look ahead to 2021 and beyond, the big picture IT initiatives that I see shaping how we win business and continue to excel as a company are DaaS (Desktop as a Service), aka VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure); increased use of our Leica scanning technology; adoption of drones for survey and civil engineering work; and venturing into virtual reality so we can provide a more immersive experience for some of our clients. In any case, I certainly see no slowing down in my role as Director of IT! And I’m still grateful that I took that big leap of faith back in 2017 after a chance encounter over good beer in Summit’s hometown, Hillsborough, NC.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Doug Edmunds Headshot

Doug Edmunds
Doug prides himself on being a communicator and collaborator who understands the value that IT can bring to any organization, but he is also sensitive to the ways in which it can drive people crazy at times. With advances in technology, there are always going to be problems and Doug likes being faced with the challenge of making those problems disappear.

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