If it were not for truckers, enterprises around the world would be struggling to run their supply chains and meet the needs of their customers during the current crisis. But who is taking care of these unsung heroes as they drive down the highways, with only the radio for company for hours on end?

“The need to shift goods and make home deliveries is greater than ever before,” says Sandy Rapp, the newly appointed CIO of TravelCenters of America, the largest publicly traded full-service travel center company in the U.S. “Our job is to make sure truckers and all other drivers have everything they need when they stop for a break.”

Two Clicks Away

Technology is playing a key role in making life safer and easier for people on the road. They need to eat, sleep, refuel, and maintain their vehicles. TravelCenters of America makes it hassle-free by providing a range of services including convenience stores, restaurants, truck maintenance, and repair operations along the interstate highways crisscrossing the U.S. and Canada.

The Ohio-based company, set up to be the first 24/7 truck stop chain in the world, also offers its patrons a loyalty program that saves time and money, and a variety of payment options. Truckers can reserve parking spaces or showers, order meals, and request maintenance or repair services without getting out of their vehicle – all accomplished with a few clicks on a smartphone.

“Being on the road can be a lonely, tiresome occupation,” Rapp says. “Many of our customers have regular routes, and they build relationships with our staff along the way. We’re their home away from home. They can grab and go or sit down in a full-service restaurant that gives them a feeling of familiarity and comfort.”

As the CIO, Rapp was brought on board to support a company-wide reorganization intended to improve operational efficiency and profitability.

Peace-Keeping Mission

Sandy Rapp, CIO of TravelCenters of America

Rapp, who has 30 years of experience in software development, consumer products, IT consulting, financial, and manufacturing industries, joined the company in the midst of the pandemic. She has not yet met any of her staff in person.

With an undergraduate degree in liberal arts and an MBA in International Business, Rapp did not set out on a career in technology.

“IT found me,” she explains with a chuckle. “I worked in project management for a time, and often found myself liaising between IT and the business. That experience taught me the need for a well-rounded approach to position the positive impact of IT on the business.”

For Rapp, everything begins with defining purpose. Part of her success stems from her ability to speak in laymen’s terms about technology and to educate IT on business needs. The other part is about finding common ground, an ability that evolved from her undergraduate dream to work for the United Nations to bring peace to warring nations. She believes that using emotional information to guide thinking and behavior and handling interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically go a long way toward getting people to accept change.

Changing the Game

Now, Rapp is playing a vital role in the company’s move to turn its business around. With a new CEO, new CFO, new CIO, and new strategy, TravelCenters of America is poised for significant organizational change.

Key initiatives include centralized procurement to drive economies of scale in pricing, inform negotiations with vendors, and save on purchasing and operations. Others are focused on cost savings and increased revenues through merchandising in the convenience stores, over-the-road delivery, truck-repair training, and staffing and IT systems.

Rapp explains that these changes require new processes and a new role for IT.

“In the past IT was an order taker. Now, we’re showing the business the art of the possible,” she says. “We can help address societal challenges like the ones posed by the pandemic. We can provide insights, we can speed up the decision making process. We can look for synergies that will lead to better pricing policies or asset management.”

None of this would be possible without a central platform. Rapp views the company’s strategic work with SAP as a key differentiator in maintaining a competitive edge. An end-to-end enterprise solution from SAP allows TravelCenters of America to be sustainable, smart, and innovative for the long term.

Success requires a continuous juggling act between cost savings and innovation. Best practices and cloud capabilities from SAP are important elements when it comes to simplifying TravelCenters of America’s portfolio, responding quickly to business needs, and accelerating change.

Words of Advice

Like many of her peers in the IT world, Rapp believes technology is one of the biggest drivers of change in our lifetime. But it is not enough to develop all the hard skills. She believes the ability to communicate, collaborate, and manage projects skillfully are key success factors for navigating the whirlwind of changes in an increasingly complex world. She encourages young people to be fearless and raise their hands for assignments no one else may want. Influencing others, negotiating win/win outcomes, and opening one’s mind to diverse viewpoints are all essential abilities.

This mindset enables Rapp and the team at TravelCenters of America to make sure business remains open at all times, and that travelers find comfort and safety at all sites during and after the pandemic. After all, they are catering to a nation of travelers and a slew of professional drivers day and night, week after week, mile after mile – TravelCenters of America is in it for the long haul!

The Path Forward is a news series featuring trailblazing women in leadership and their inspiring insights and experiences.

Follow me on Twitter: @magyarj
Top image via TravelCenters of America