Native Norwegians supporting Native Americans with solution software is a modern day story to be told and retold.
It seems that it was meant to happen, when two young Norwegians from Oslo ended up at the University of Wyoming and came together to create the premier human service software solution in juvenile justice and tribal government.
“Our company is a story about values, teamwork and successes,” said Even Brande, CEO of Handel Information Technologies, Inc (Handel IT) in a conference call along with Terje Vangbo, Chief Operations Officer in Laramie Wyo. (“Handel” in Norwegian means to do business; IT is evident).
My great-great grandfather, Even Bævre, died at sea off of the coast of Romsdal in December 1869. I think of the Lighthouse as the very first computer, a one-bit computer with only on or off. Had my great-great grandfather had a lighthouse to navigate to safe harbor, he may have saved the life of himself and his crew. To honor him, I picked the Lighthouse as our logo. Like the Lighthouses of yesteryears, Rite-Track provides our customers with better information, allowing them to create better outcomes for the children, youth, and families that they serve.
“It wasn’t easy getting started,” Brande explained. “A request for proposal came out of a remote tribal community in Alaska, and based on our previous successes for IT services in several counties in Colorado, we were awarded the contract.
“The Alaska request sought IT to simplify their case management systems. When Handel started work, the tribe used 13 different software programs to manage their different social service programs. What this meant for the tribe was that if a tribal member changed address, they had to update the address in 13 different systems.
“With RiteTrack, our exclusive software platform, we brought all the different programs onto one software platform. Now security of data drives what caseworkers can access, what data, and when an address or other information changes, it is done once, and is immediately available to all caseworkers across all social service programs.
“When we started, many tribal governments did not have the advanced technical infrastructures in place to use our software program, but these days the demand and Internet capacity are driving our business forward.”
From Alaska, RiteTrack picked up momentum in services across the lower 48 states. Today, after 17 years in business, Handel works with close to 50 tribal, county, and state government entities across the United States.
“Initially,” Vangbo added, “we customized the needs of each Tribal community through IT consulting, until we realized that many of the programs we served were common across Tribal governments and we began restructuring our company as a solutions company rather than consulting.
“Once we developed our versatile RiteTrack product, especially addressing juvenile justice along with other child welfare needs, we found that our customers felt part of a ‘family’ of services that Tribal communities could share and compare in informal networks.”
He added, “Our biggest marketing channel is word of mouth and established trust. We realized that a key to our growth is to focus and be the absolute best in the industry at what we do.”
Handel today focuses primarily on consolidating data systems within Tribal Government and Juvenile Justice, where they can be industry leaders. This includes Tribal TANF, General Assistance, Indian Child Welfare and Child Protective Services, and Juvenile Justice.
The common threads that bond Brande and Vangbo are that they were both born in Oslo, both attended the University of Wyoming (although at different times), both received a BA and MBA, both married Wyoming brides, and both saw the potential of living in rural areas with relatively low populations (like in Norway) plus large areas of remoteness for outdoor sports (Vangbo’s scholarship involved cross-country skiing), and the freedom to grow a business.
The values from Norway are reflected in their mission statement—Honesty, Integrity, and Trust. Their business objective is to simplify management of information and reporting to create solutions that allow their customers to spend less time doing data entry and more time serving clients.
“All of our employees,” said Even, “participate in sensitivity training in order to become more aware of cultural differences so they can communicate more effectively with each other, with our customers, and with other stakeholders.
“Many businesses build staff teamwork in classroom settings, but we choose nature whenever we can, such as team rafting on the rapids of Wyoming’s rivers or other such adventures. We convey this feeling of teamwork and working together with customers in our vendor booth during ‘meet-and-greets’ at 20+ IT and Tribal conferences that we attend each year.”
Handel combines core values with new IT solutions. A cornerstone model for understanding differences in value orientations was introduced in academic circles over 50 years that reflects on Handel’s successes. Its original premise holds true today: “There are a limited number of human problems; there are more solutions than problems; solutions are differentially preferred by cultural values.”
It seems to me that the success of Rite-Track from Handel IT comes from their core values and that these practiced values are what make their services “differentially preferred” in a growing market.
Managing child welfare issues can be as challenging as team rafting, but when guided by professionals and with everyone working together, the end result is success and excitement.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 10, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.