ComSpark Podcast - Jason Hightower, IT Project Manager, Hightowers Petroleum

ComSpark Podcast - Jason Hightower, IT Project Manager, Hightowers Petroleum

ComSpark Thought Leader

Jason Hightower

​IT Project Manager 

Hightowers Petroleum


Alex Perkins

ComSpark Executive Host Committee, Director – Marketing & Communications Global Business Solutions, Inc. 

To listen to the podcast click here

Hello and welcome to the ComSpark Podcast where you will get to meet today's technology thought leaders. To learn more visit

Alex Perkins:  Hello, I'm Alex Perkins with Global Business Solutions.

We're here today to talk to Jason Hightower. He is IT Project Manager with Hightowers Petroleum Company. As I understand it, Jason, Hightowers is a down line distributor of gasoline and diesel products with a national scope.

Jason Hightower: That is correct. We are down line distributors of gas and diesel. We handle large fleets as well as tank maintenance monitoring.

AP: Excellent. You have about 45 employees with about a $300,000,000 – impressive revenue figure, so congratulations.JH: Thank you.

AP: Hello, again, my name is Alex Perkins. I'm with Global Business Solutions. We are a technology provider here in the Greater Cincinnati area. We are also a ComSpark executive host committee member and we are very glad to be a part of this interview with Jason today.

So, Jason, we have a couple of questions for you and we'd love to get your feedback on them. As the business needs change within your company, how do you balance and maintain quality and meeting what becomes more and more challenging deadlines every day?

JH:  Well, there are several aspects to meeting deadlines that transcend technology as an industry. Definitely one would be being reasonable. People make unrealistic goals and they doom themselves from the start. So, setting a reasonable deadline and not making it a promise, but making it definitely a goal sprint that we're going to hit. The other part of it would be transparency. If we have a team and there are certain deadlines that can't be hit, if there's not a level of transparency or comfortability where they feel comfortable saying to you that this will not be hit by this time, then you can't make adjustments until they happen and then instead of being proactive, you're being reactive and in technology, you'd rather be on that proactive side.

AP: I think that's a great point. I think that setting those expectations and meeting those expectations is such a key part of our business today.

JH: Because change is the name of the game with technology, especially in the past 10 years. We've seen even the birth of new languages, so definitely there are times where we can get ahead of ourselves by projecting incorrectly or just the unforeseen happens. We have to be in communications with each other and definitely lay out every detail as it comes.

AP: Isn't it funny how even though we're in a technology environment today, that communication and setting those expectations is such a key part of our business day in and day out.

JH: Right. Because that's the one thing that won't change. It's definitely tried and true -communication will always be communication and that's just something you can't replace.

AP: Absolutely. So, let's switch gears for a minute. A couple of weeks ago, we heard  that the meltdown inspector vulnerabilities have come to light within the IT environment. Obviously, you're very aware of them. Let's talk about those vulnerabilities and you know, should we, should we really be worried about these vulnerabilities and, and how is Hightowers Petroleum taking a look at these?

JH:  We should all be worried about vulnerabilities whether they impact us or not. That's the tale to be told as we go through the calendar, year in and year out. There always be something new. They'll always be a new threat. This one in particular, as it effects the processors of not only our computers, but also our mobile. We have to be conscious as to what patches we’re delivering so that we don't break our devices, as well. Because taking patches from Microsoft or taking patches from Intel or any company that's a service provider, definitely could have long-term effects on other aspects of the business where we would end up having to revert our resources back to another point in history. That's one thing that we always have to be conscious of. It's never just a straight forward as the fix they present.

AP: I think that's a great point. In fact, in our recent video that we've done, we've made that exact point about not breaking your own systems in locking those, locking those for your own access.

JH: Right. Because there's nothing worse than losing a day of productivity because you were trying to be ahead of the curve and doing the right thing and taking the recommendations that are provided, but you have to be conscious that if you're the first foot out, you're the experiment.

AP:  So, you know, we know that there's these vulnerabilities there, but how do you see it in its potential to impact not only your business but businesses here in the Greater Cincinnati community? If the vulnerability was to be open.

JH: If the vulnerability is to be open; we definitely have sensitive material and most companies do, whether it'd be payment information, whether it be personal information. But we will just take those things in stride and all of those have a monetary number associated with them of risk potential. And we're all aware of those numbers. And that's just something we planned for ahead of time.

AP: That the personal device side of this, you've already mentioned it; it clearly has vulnerability to the smart phone, the tablet, etc. How concerned are you within the organization knowing that you have 45 employees? Those vulnerabilities exist in quantum scale as you go up in the number of employees.

JH: This vulnerability in specific seems to be more of a bug than a virus when it comes to the mobile platform, so it seems that it actually messes with the user experience more than the actual information that is stored. Hopefully it sticks to that and just that and we don't discover beyond that there has been some sort of breach that has caused a significant loss for an existing corporation. But as far as worries are concerned, as long as your security protocols are up to date and you have trained your work staff to where they know proper use of the mobile device, then everything should be ok.

AP: Let's talk about integrated technology. Obviously, most technologies today run, whether it's audio, video, whether it's obviously your network, it's running over an IP address and that obviously has huge challenges and a learning curve to go along with it. Talk about where you see integrated technologies going and how Hightowers Petroleum uses integrated technologies to their benefit.

JH: So for us, most of our infrastructure is in-house. We do not have very many applications that are cloud-based applications. And with that there comes a challenge of communicating outside of your walls while not being vulnerable as well. So, for the future of Hightowers Petroleum, definitely as cloud becomes a more viable option with the prices lowering and the infrastructure upgrading, our outlook definitely changes than what it is today. We have access to more applications that really have a simpler end user experience that allows us to train our staff to be able to continue to keep their bottom line as sound as it is and bring these new pieces to the table. I believe that the integrated technologies path for us doesn't deter what we're currently doing and only adds because we won't be changing much. The communications is an aspect of it and it becomes much simpler as you start seeing more cities, increase their pipelines, increase their resources, and we're just going to follow the trends.

AP: And on that, we're going to go over to the security and talk about security and governance plans. What would you recommend to a company that has no security or governance plans? And where do you start?

JH: You start yesterday. If you have no security and no governance plan, then you're dangling in the wind. You're at the vulnerability, one of the environments of your industry. Anything that happens, you really have no continuity plan in place for; you become at the mercy of the event that occurs.

AP: So, can you be a little bit more specific when you talk about the event, are you talking about an IT event, some a problem that happens?

JH: Well, security and IT governs the entire scope of the enterprise. So, definitely it's a technology plan, but it revolves around accounting operations. All of that information is stored within a certain receptacle that you've put in place. So, if that's breached and you have no breach impact plan in place, then like I said, you're at the mercy of what happens to you. Now, that also means that you may pay that risk number if you even know what that risk number is, which if you don't have a security plan or a governance plan, you probably don't and it's just like anything in life. If you have a person who is of high standing in your family or even a low standing of your family and if them being removed today would cause an impact. If you don't have a plan for that impact then you'll be scrambling. You'll be at the mercy of the situation. I definitely recommend that you start now. Definitely there are a lot of resources within the IT community that exists in Cincinnati that are there for help. There are templates that you can start with and then begin to mold and transform that plan to fit your personal company's needs.  

AP: Talk about disaster recovery and how that plays into this. Obviously, if you can recover and the quicker you can recover from an event.

JH:  So, for us, we have redundant internet lines. We have raid configuration on our servers and it's pretty much standard stuff. I don't have to go into detail as to what's behind the closet for everyone to know that you know your backup needs a backup, right? So, if your backup needs a backup, do you have that in place? And be honest with yourself. Don't sugarcoat it and say, well, you know, if this happens, we know down to the minute and the hour of how long after an event occurs, whether that'd be a breach or a tornado, our downtime or uptime and that plan is in place.

AP: It sounds like Hightowers Petroleum has it together on the IT front, so congratulations to you and your team.

JH: Thank you.

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