Ryan Lee – KLJ Engineering
Ryan Lee says his IT career has been built on “goal setting with ruthless execution to get there.”
However, the affable IT director for KLJ Engineering isn’t the type to trample over people to achieve success. Rather, he’s always identified the skills he needs and found ways to get them.
“I always wanted to go into IT and climb the corporate ladder,” Lee says. “I like having the ability to influence decisions and make big changes in peoples’ lives for the better.”
After working in manufacturing and at a managed service provider with customers throughout the Midwest, Lee saw the recruiting ad to join KLJ. He jokes that it was as though the company had read his LinkedIn profile.
Nearly four years after joining the company, Lee’s helped guide a tech transformation enabling KLJ to share the vast amount of file data, drawings and plans involved in its projects while improving communications between its locations.
“It’s all about the amount of transformation that is possible if you refuse to accept the status quo,” he says. “KLJ was the perfect next step to design more sophisticated systems and gain additional management experience at a growing company, so I jumped at a leadership chance when it opened.”
A plethora of projects
KLJ Engineering was founded in 1938 by Louie and Mary Ellen Veigel as L.W. Veigel Consulting Engineering. Headquartered in Bismarck, North Dakota, the firm also has locations in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Wyoming and Colorado.
Lee says while people may think only of constructing roads and bridges when it comes to civil engineering, KLJ’s portfolio of work is much more extensive. Among its services, the firm designs municipal wastewater treatment systems, network infrastructure for telecoms, and aviation planning systems, which enable airports to handle the flow of inbound and outbound flights. It also performs soil tests and other services for oil and gas companies.
“There’s a huge amount of data to process and collaboration is crucial,” Lee says. “That’s what we needed to address first in our digital transformation.”
Shortly after joining KLJ in 2018, Lee helped implement Panzura cloud-based file caching to alleviate the storage load on redundant servers at all of the major company sites.
He says centralizing the files on the cloud, then caching them at each local site, has made it quicker to access them and allowed KLJ engineers to collaborate more effectively. That’s because all the notes and alterations to plans are accessible on Microsoft Azure at every location—and there are no longer multiple versions of files being circulated.
With improved file sharing and storage completed, Lee sought to improve communications between offices and remote locations—emails and phone calls just weren’t effective enough. He led the rollout of the WebEx platform and helped set up each office for video conferencing. Then, he guided in-office training and added more information online about using the platform.
Lee says the use of video conferencing and Microsoft Teams has decreased travel expenses by 20 percent.
Still, Lee says the format to share files and the IT network needed upgrades. So, he implemented Microsoft Azure virtual desktops in 2019 to ensure KLZ staff working in remote areas could access files. To improve bandwidth, Lee implemented a Cisco Meraki software-defined wide area network, or SD-WAN, and larger internet circuits with increased redundancy to protect against internet failures.
“We vastly over-provisioned on the bandwidth to ensure speed would never be a problem, and we did it while cutting substantial costs,” Lee says.
He relies on a firewall, end point protection and domain name system, or DNS, filtering provided by Meraki to secure the network. Lee’s added Varonis to provide network monitoring and uses KnowBe4 to provide monthly cybersecurity training and perform phishing tests.
“When malicious actors perform reconnaissance, we need to be the less desirable target, so we have tough security perimeter, endpoint protection on all devices and layers of defensive systems,” he says. “We constantly train our end users and monitor traffic.”
Lee knew he wanted a career in IT when he was 14 years old, but admits the choice came after eliminating teaching, law enforcement and becoming a lawyer for reasons of economics, personal safety and job satisfaction.
Once his decision was made, the North Dakota native earned his bachelor’s degree in information systems management with a minor in computer science from North Dakota State University.
While at NDSU in 2010, Lee joined Bobcat Co., makers of utility equipment such as mini-excavators and compact track loaders. He built custom digital dashboards for its hydraulics department to manage its build queue and scheduling. He also helped implement remote access, workstation imaging and replacing PCs with touchscreen devices.
In September 2011, after Lee graduated, he shifted to Doosan, Bobcat’s parent company, as a tech representative. He worked with a design architect to install backups on production lines and moved data center infrastructure from the basement to the second floor of the facility while converting 75 percent of the physical servers to virtualized ones. He also managed more than 1,100 devices including PCs, routers and switches.
Lee joined managed services provider Network Center Inc. as a solution architect in February 2016 and helped manage IT for customers throughout the Midwest while also developing a security services portfolio and standards for the security team.
He still spends as many as 10 hours every week learning more about technology and how to apply it to KLJ. He also requires his team to spend a minimum of two hours weekly learning about leadership or training in technology.
“You should never be afraid to pivot if a process or system is no longer working for you. Find a better solution and implement it. That’s what I love about my job and working with technology,” Lee says. “I love working with businesses, finding inefficient processes and ways to streamline and make things more nimble and agile.”
View this feature in the Fall I 2022 Edition here.
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