The Intelligent Workplace

The Intelligent Workplace

Episode 11

Tips for the C-Suite on Digital Transformation

Saul Sabath
Managing Director, Velrada

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My guest on this episode of The Intelligent Workplace is is Saul Sabath, the Managing Director of Velrada. Velrada is a global business advisory and digital transformation consultancy that have worked with leading companies such as BHP, Mitsubishi and Treasury Wine Estates. They are also a Triple Crown Microsoft partner and won 2018’s Microsoft Partner of the Year for Dynamics 365 Field Service.

Saul has over 20 years experience in a number of leading edge IT consultancies, working with clients in financial services, higher education, manufacturing, and community care, helping those organizations to improve and accelerate their business in the digital age. He is well versed in many business disciplines.

For this episode, I thought that I would borrow upon Saul’s expertise in working with customers that sit atop their businesses and need to make sense of the new technology that they are faced with. What sort of conversations do they have? What insights has he garnered over the years from interacting with these key decision makers? And what advice does he have for the listeners on embarking on digital transformation projects with them?

I really enjoyed Saul’s insights in this chat…quite thought provoking.

Chris:

Welcome to The Intelligent Workplace podcast, Saul Sabath.

Saul:                     

Thanks very much Chris. Happy to be here.

Chris:                    

It is fantastic to have you here, mate. I really do appreciate it and I’m really looking forward to this chat because I talked you up a bit there, but you have got a very impressive CV, I’ve got to say.

Saul:                     

No problem. Look, it’s many years of experience with many customers, lots of technologies, and a strong commitment to the Microsoft ecosystem.

Chris:                    

Sure.

Saul:                     

So yeah, we’ve learned a lot along the way.

Chris:                    

Look, before we get into it, why don’t you just give us a bit of a rundown of your experience in the industry?

Saul:                     

Sure. So look, the kind of things we look to do is help organizations around that digital transformation. And it’s a very sort of cliche term, right? And it’s kinda been the catch cry for the last couple of years.

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

But I think generally speaking, what we’re looking to do is help organizations adopt technology and be more productive, right? The age old principles of saving money, improving revenue are already just underpinned by business and by people.

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

And if we can help those people be more productive, and technology is an enabler of that, whether that’s a mobile phone or a desktop application or a cloud application, as it is all the rage today, let’s use our experience to help those organizations adopt it.

Chris:                    

Fantastic. As I said in the opening, you’ve worked in so many different sectors, with so many different people, I just want to give you an opportunity to sort of almost brag a little bit. What will be your proudest achievement that you’ve had in your career?

Saul:                     

Yeah. So look, in fact, the Microsoft awards that we have been fortunate enough to receive over the last couple of years …

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

… are a strong recognition of our ability to differentiate ourselves. So Worldwide Partner of the Year in a number of disciplines is actually quite exciting.

Chris:                    

Amazing.

Saul:                     

It really is recognition from Microsoft for this reason that we’re recognized as the best at what we do.

Chris:                    

Yep.

Saul:                     

And that helps us, you know, from a go-to-market perspective in terms of customers, but also very importantly in our world is our employees. Right? So it gives them a sense of pride and the fact that they can be proud of the things that they’ve been able to achieve in their work life. And whether it’s on a barbecue on a Sunday amongst their friends or just colleagues and peers or working competitors, the fact that we’ve been recognized as the best in the world is quite a testament to the things that they do in their day-to-day lives.

Chris:                    

Yesterday Gabriella called out this year’s winners, and there was a lot of excitement in the room when they’re announced.

Saul:                     

That’s exactly right. This year we were finalists, so a runner-up. So, yeah, but it continues to just reinforce that Microsoft’s recognition as the organizations that they look to provide leadership and guidance back to the product team. Even this week over here in Las Vegas, we’ve been working with them. A number of the Microsoft product engineering folks are seeking our guidance and counsel around how to actually improve the products, right?

Chris:                    

Oh, nice.

Saul:                     

That’s a big part of what we’re involved in, and our inner circle programs and partner advisory councils are taking the feedback from our customers and actually applying it to Microsoft so that the products are engineered in such a way that they’re actually going to be better. And that’s a great feedback loop.

Chris:                    

It’s good to hear that actually do really practice what they preach because there’s been a lot of talk this week about, you know, closing that feedback loop. And so you guys are obviously on the inner circle with that.

Saul:                     

Yeah, absolutely. Look, it is quite genuine, right? Microsoft office, you do set up in Seattle in many instances and kind of have a vision of what these products should look like. But without that real customer experience, they’re kind of doing it in a vacuum. So it’s important that we have the ability to learn from our customers and as partners who, we’re implementing the technology. So and somebody with LiveTiles, right, we had the opportunity to take your technology and apply it to a business context. So the feedback from what we’re seeing, when we roll up our sleeves and actually engage with customers is really important so we can help improve the product and the ecosystem end to end.

Chris:                    

Absolutely. So in your working life with Velrada, you’re involved in higher level, more strategic discussions when it comes to implementing new technologies, and I really wanted to explore that today. So when you sit down for your first chat with those C-suite customers that you’re working with, how do those conversations go? Is it something like, “I’ve got this huge problem. Please help me fix it,” or is it more like that they’ve identified that they need to grow and change and want to explore options or maybe they just want to implement some cool, shiny tech?

Saul:                     

Yeah, it’s a little bit of all of those, right? The cool tiny, shiny tech I’ll actually talk about first because it’s the easiest one to actually say, “Really, is that your reason for implementing that?” Interestingly enough, there are a number of organizations today who have innovation as a sort of discipline within the organization that they’re trying to improve what they do, right? So from time to time, and we’ll use bots as an example. A lot of organizations have got lots of projects on the go for no other reason other than it’s the fact that it’s kind of cool.

Chris:                    

Keeping up with the Joneses?

Saul:                     

Keeping up, right? And being able to kind of go back to the board and say we’ve tried a few things. Sometimes they’re successful, sometimes they’re not. But also in that kind of concept of innovation, not being successful in a proof of concept is actually an okay outcome, right? Because you’ve used that opportunity to learn and improve something. Just because you try it doesn’t mean it’s actually going to succeed. And so, often we’re encouraging organizations to make a small investment, put some real commitment into it, and get a sense of if it’s going to be able to deliver some benefits. And oftentimes you find there’s an unintended consequence of trying a small project or a proof of concept. And so that sort of shiny ball syndrome actually spurs out other ideas and …

Chris:                    

Okay.

Saul:                     

So it’s good from that perspective to allow organizations a little bit of freedom to try things and learn from them. So failure is not a bad result …

Chris:                    

Yep.

Saul:                     

… as long as you fail fast and don’t perpetuate it, right?

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

And obviously try and harness those learnings. But oftentimes, yeah, projects are undertaken for the real, back to that sort of colloquialism of digital transformation, improvements. Oftentimes it is an old legacy system that come to an end of life, but it’s sometimes a mission critical system that need to be improved upon. Other times, just new initiatives, right?

                               

So greenfields opportunities where organizations are trying to take new products to market, and they need a system to manage that. And so they come to us in looking for guidance and advice, and sometimes we advise customers we’re probably not the right partner for them.

Chris:                    

Okay. Yeah.

Saul:                     

Or sometimes it’s not the right tech. Other times where we embrace the opportunity and really want to take that journey with them because it is a journey.

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

And an organization such as ourselves who has a strong advisory function are able to help organizations through that business planning, return on investment business case, and so on, not only the tech. And the change and adoption then becomes a key component of the success of many of those projects ,and that’s an area that we tend to focus on quite a lot.

Chris:                    

What’s your typical life cycle with your customers that you work with? Is it like we work with them for 12 months and then we don’t talk for a couple of years or is it ongoing?

Saul:                     

Yeah, look, at the smaller end of the scale projects probably run sort of three to six months, sometimes longer than that. Larger projects, yeah, can run for a number of years in terms of overall digital transformations. It depends on the nature of the organization. Oftentimes we deploy a a first set of phases and help an organization adopt it internally, and then they kind of run with it themselves. But typically we’re looking for ongoing partnerships, organizations that have the capacity, and also the desire to improve is the ones that we’re looking to typically engage with. Because once we get to know the business, our people become invested in their processes, and we have that corporate knowledge that we can share with them.

Chris:                    

And we know in 12 months’ time it’s going to be a new piece of tech out there that maybe might be beneficial to your customer.

Saul:                     

Absolutely, and that’s part of the journey because stuff does, does evolve all the time. Right? Especially in the cloud world today with constant release cycles, there’s no longer the concept of set and forget. Right?

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

Products are evolving all the time, and organizations need to be able to adopt and embrace that change all the time.

Chris:                    

Yep. So what we’re talking about here today is obviously the intelligent workplace, and there’s so many elements to consider within that term, so many options of what you can include and how to implement them. How in those discussions with those C-suite members do you pitch the concept of the intelligent workplace?

Saul:                     

Sure. Look what we’re seeing a lot of, and people kind of get the concept natively, right?

Chris:                    

Yep.

Saul:                     

In the old days, you kind of referred to it as a portal.

Chris:                    

Yup.

Saul:                     

Kind of central place for people to kind of come and work. We’ve done a number of projects where our customer, in fact, the project I referenced, it’s called the SmartHub, and in fact, there’s a LiveTiles solution that’s of key components of that. And it’s global mining company, and that kind of brings together a whole bunch of occupational health and safety and other data within a portal concept. Right? So that intelligent workplace, SmartHub, portals, it’s really just the modern interpretation of really, which is how to make people more productive.

Chris:                    

Sure, yeah.

Saul:                     

Every organization have multiple line of business applications. It’s a very common scenario, not for any reason other than the fact that they were evolved at different times in the business’s journey, right?

Chris:                    

Yep.

Saul:                     

So if you can kind of bring that all together, centralize the data, centralize the interactions, simplify their interactions in a multiple form factors, whether it’s mobile, obviously desktop, people want to be able to interact with the data and in an intelligent way and have the right information at the right time, minimize the amount of searching. So all those concepts are quite native now in terms of the modern workplace, and the more we can use the technology to try and enable it and to simplify people’s day, we’re giving them free time to go and do other more productive tasks.

Chris:                    

Is that idea of giving them more time to go and do other things enough to get your customers to get excited and get them on the hook, that sort of thing? Or do you need to dig deeper often?

Saul:                     

Yeah, look, oftentimes because time-saving is a big feature of that product …

Chris:                    

Yeah, sure. Yeah.

Saul:                     

Sometimes it’s legacy applications that have come to end of life, and then organizations use that as an opportunity to kind of reinvent those work practices. It’s very common in organizations that have been around for a long time that they do things in a certain way because they’ve just always how-

Chris:                    

It’s how they’ve always done it. Yeah.

Saul:                     

And that’s a very common scenario. Right? And so that’s sort of corporate inertia is oftentimes the blocker for innovation. What tends to happen is that a new manager comes in or a new director who’s kind of come from a different environment, and he starts to question or she starts to question why they’re doing something that particular way, and what that oftentimes is a trigger then for innovation and improvement, and then that opportunity to then relook at things is quite an exciting transformation because taking the opportunity to say, “We’re not going to do it that way anymore. The technology now allows us to do it faster and smarter” …

Chris:                    

Yep.

Saul:                      … is a good reason to actually be more productive.

Chris:                    

Yup. Now I know you’re a smart businessman, and obviously you’re involved in the sales world, so I know you’ve probably got a few tricks up your sleeve. To get these people excited, when you’re in your meetings, what piece of tech makes their eyes light up, do you think?

Saul:                     

Yeah, look, that’s a great question. It’s very common in our world to do demos, right? And we kind of try to limit the amount of demos for obvious reasons because it takes a little time to prepare for them.

Chris:                    

Sure, yeah.

Saul:                     

Also trying to understand the context. So we want to do the demo at the right time with the right audience and with the right outcome in mind. We often try not to jump into the first session just with a demo because it’s very easy to get the context wrong. So oftentimes what we tend to do is review what the business is trying to achieve, manage the expectations of what a demo could look like, and then prepare for probably a context truly driven demo that actually solves a business problem that actually makes sense to those organizations with data and content that’s actually relevant. To begin at the end of that demo, you occasionally then get the odd “wow” and you’re hand clapping and …

Chris:                    

High-fives.

Saul:                     

“We’ll have one of those and when can you start?” Right? Because if you kind of hone in on what it is that’s actually the problem that they’re trying to solve, then that’s kind of the key takeaway, right?

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

And with today’s kind of technology, the ability to then build those demos quite quickly. Fast prototyping, MVP-style is … Probably one of the key things that drives an outcome for us is when an organization gets the right stakeholders in the room, sees the ability that we understand their business, and then they can see the improvements through the use of our platforms. As I said, you kind of then get the “wow, we’ll have one of those,” and that’s kind of when you know you’ve won them over. But it’s super important to really try and get that pre-work done so you understand their business complex.

Chris:                    

Yeah. So it’s interesting in talking to lots of people such as yourself on this podcast, it’s becoming very clear that in the intelligent workplace there is not a silver bullet. There is so many different elements as customers different that feels a bit like a bit of a bird’s nest, if you like, of different elements.

Saul:                     

Yep. Look, I think within the context of the intelligent workplace, right, the technology in many times is quite similar between different vendors, and obviously our world is very Microsoft-centric. Obviously we’re a leading partner with LiveTiles, and we embrace all of your tech and and think it’s fantastic, and we’ve seen our customers benefit from that. But to a certain extent, you could argue that there are other vendors that could have sold the same problems in the same way. What we tend to find that’s really the key differentiator is the way we go about the implementation and the adoption and the change management, right?

You just can’t stress enough that at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what tech it is. The customer will not get the benefit if we haven’t helped them actually become enabled and adopt the technology. And so again, from an advisory perspective, the ability to weave that into the product project, whether it’s our internal folks or the customer’s folks, that strategy’s really the key differentiator.

Chris:                    

Is the change management part of those projects one of the major concerns that the C-suites have when going to implement?

Saul:                     

Totally. Absolutely. There’s no question about that. Right?

Chris:                    

So you can get it really wrong, can’t you?

Saul:                     

You can get it very, very wrong. And the best tech in the world can just sit unused because the organization hasn’t understood why they should be using it, don’t see the benefit. There are just so many reasons why projects don’t become successful and don’t get adopted. And it’s not because of the tech. The tech was just fine. In fact, the tech can be the best in the world. It’s because the organization just couldn’t overcome the inertia of its own internal issues to be able to change what they’re trying to do.

Chris:                    

Yeah. You see it all the time with projects. They don’t set it up right. They throw more money, more money at it. If you just set it up right at the start and make sure everybody’s onboard, and then everybody knows what’s going on, it just sets you off for success.

Saul:                     

Absolutely.

Chris:                    

Yeah. So look, I can imagine that the term artificial intelligence in this situation, in those meetings can be met with equal parts excitement and also potential caution. Do you have to give them a little bit of a teaser, an example of the power of AI to get them excited?

Saul:                     

Look, absolutely. Look, today AI is the theme of the moment, flavor of the month. I think everybody’s starting to understand and appreciate the compute power of the Azure Cloud, and there are other competitors out there with equivalent tech. Easy means today, right? So it’s the ability to have processing power automate a number of tasks that typically were done manually. It’s just intuitive, right? So people don’t question that anymore. It’s almost an accepted capability within the technology platforms. What we’re looking to do now is work with customers, and what customers are looking for is how do you apply that, right? So there are many, many business opportunities around improving automation, whether that’s old paper-based forms, whether that’s processing information, whether that’s workflows.

And to be honest, a lot of the tech has kind of existed for many years, right? Workflows is not a new concept. Automation of processes, robotic process automation, all of these concepts have been around 20, 30, 40 years. They’re not particularly new in terms of their concept. Yeah. The tech today is, it is a little bit more flexible, a little bit more powerful and you can configure platforms and applications to achieve that a lot quicker. The real sort of deep learning and real artificial intelligence where a computer system is actually making decisions on behalf of a human, I don’t think we’re quite there yet. The ability for automated driving systems and so on is becoming very, very real. And the ability for us to try and leverage that now in a business context is quite exciting.

And so we are starting to see, you know, sort of green shoots of these opportunities popping up, and the next couple of years will be very exciting and will be quite transformative from a workplace perspective because a lot of organizations will be redeploying employees and staff into other areas of the business to be more productive.

Chris:                    

Yes.

Saul:                     

Because there are a number of manual processes today that can just be automated. Right?

Chris:                    

Yep.

Saul:                     

And that very much is the next kind of future that we’re seeing.

Chris:                    

Yeah. Yeah. Do you have to sit them them down and tell them that with great power there must also come great responsibility in terms of opening up a business to the world of AI?

Saul:                     

Yeah. Look, I think most of the folks we’re tending to engage with at the sort of C-level, I think you know this, right? These concepts are not typically new. We’re not speaking it for the first time. So I think it’s generally accepted that organizations need to change, and how best to do that is often the conversations that will now take place. So the areas to focus on, the opportunities for quick ones. These are the areas that we’re now talking about, and there many organizations have undertaken our proof of concept, MVPs, pilot projects. Wholesale adoption of AI across entire industries or entire organization is not quite there yet.

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

It’s certainly in pockets and in smaller business units. But as I said, failing through that process is actually an okay outcome. Right? Because they’re really opportunities to learn, and it is an evolution because any one of these projects is not just set in stone. The tech gets faster every day. It gets more productive every day. And so the ability to learn how to redeploy that with a continual improvement cycle is really important.

Chris:                    

Have you implemented an AI solution with a customer that is just a really fantastic example of where it’s taken the business to another level?

Saul:                     

Yeah. Look, we certainly have. What we’re kind of excited by, and we’ve had a couple of recent instances of this is we’ve deployed a bot solutions based on your framework, LiveTiles spots, into a number of professional services organizations. And what we’ve tended to see is that peers of this organization have now picked that up and have come to us and said, “We’ve seen it been running in one of our peers,” even though they’re actually traditionally competitors.

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

And the fact that you’re doing it in that industry for that customer of ours that we recognize as a peer means that it’s good enough for us. So we want to show the same thing.

Chris:                    

Yep.

Saul:                     

So it’s almost starting to sell itself, right? Because in certain industries there is a sort of accepted norm that everybody in that industry is doing it, they need to be doing it as well.

Chris:                    

Yep.

Saul:                     

And we’re starting to see that pick up now in quite a big way. So that’s become quite an exciting initiative for us.

Chris:                    

Yeah.

Saul:                     

First customer’s always kind of the brave one. They’re the first adopters, and all credit to them for taking the lead, and then those sort of fast followers that are coming straight after are now becoming … it’s much easier to actually get them onboard because they’ve actually seen the success of all of their competitors. Yeah.

Chris:                    

Yeah, yeah. Oh, that’s fantastic. So wrapping this all up, we’ve sort of been talking about the C-suite members today. What’s the single-most important piece of advice you could give C-suite business people looking to embark on one of these transformational projects?

Saul:                     

Look, I think I’ll come back to one of the original points, which is really about adoption, right? And the change management. Can’t stress enough that it’s not really about the tech per se. The business processes need to be improved and the people need to come along on the journey. And that’s probably the area that’s the most acknowledged, but also the most under invested in. Because most organizations tend to focus on paying for the tech, getting the budget approved from their perspective and then tend to under invest in what the people side of things need to take place. Right? So whether that’s through formal change management process or whether that’s coaches and champions or whether it’s posters and kiosks, whether it’s internal competitions, online training, internal training, face-to-face training, train the trainer, right? There’s just so many different areas of adoption and change, and it’s a very well matured and well understood, you know, regime.

Chris:                    

Yes, absolutely.

Saul:                     

And it’s the one that’s probably has the highest impact without question and the one that’s neglected the most. So we really try and speak to the C-level folks around the fact that that really can’t be an afterthought. It really has to be built into the upfront processes, and a part of the business case end to end and really a change champion really needs to be on the steering committee and be a strong influencer in the ability to roll these projects out.

Chris:                    

As a previous card-carrying change manager, it’s fantastic to hear that. But what is also fantastic from my perspective is that we are moving into this world of where everything’s becoming automated and all this technology, but still at the center of it all is people [crosstalk 00:24:08].

Saul:                     

100%. It is. Look, it’s all about people, right? Especially the organizations that we tend to work with, which are somewhat led in a professional services way.

Chris:                    

Yep.

Saul:                     

Folks are clearly sitting at their desks most of the time when they’re out and about. And even if it’s on a mobile device, we have to rely on people 100%, right. So those folks have to be invested in and trust the technology and want to use it. Right? And the more engaging the experience, the more strongly they adopt the processes, the more successful the projects will be. But ultimately at the end of the day, it is really just about empowering people to be better versions of themselves. Yeah.

Chris:                    

Great stuff. Great stuff. So thank you very much for joining me today for this chat. It’s been really enlightening, and I thank you for your time.

Saul:                     

No problem, Chris. Good luck with everything. Cheers.

Chris:                    

Cheers, mate.

Saul:                     

Thank you.

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