Agents of Change

Season 3


Episode 6: Predictions: What will happen next?

It’s finally here, the end of Season 3 of Agents of Change. Over the course of this season we’ve discussed some of the biggest factors businesses face as they prepare for whatever happens next. On today’s episode, we’re wrapping up this season by asking several of our guests what that “next” could look like. Sharing their insights are David Murphy, Chairman of Conga, Susie Hayman, Owner and Founder of In Your Business, Lori Ramas, a Systems and Social Media Specialist for Ask Relezant, Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga, Dr. Julie Hanks, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, and Dan Hopkins, Senior Director of Applied AI at Eightfold.

Episode transcript

Kevin Galang: Well, it’s finally here, the Season 3 finale of Agents of Change. I’ve really enjoyed going on this journey with you and I hope you feel more empowered to be the agent of change you are. 

As we wrap up this season, we’re going to do things a little differently. We’ve discussed some of the biggest factors businesses are facing as they prepare for whatever happens next. It seemed only fitting that we ask several of our guests what that “next” could look like? Their responses were fascinating.

Joining us once again to share their insights are David Murphy, Chairman of Conga, Susie Hayman, Owner and Founder of In Your Business, Lori Ramas, a Systems and Social Media Specialist for Ask Relezant, Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga, Dr. Julie Hanks, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, and Dan Hopkins, Senior Director of Applied AI at eightfold.

To start off, here’s David Murphy talking about the future of the B2B software landscape. 

David MurphyI'm very excited about the outcome of this year. What I see in a lot of the business discussions that I have with customers, prospects, peers is now an acceleration on the adoption of both collaborative technologies that we've all begun to use in a much more pervasive way that, I don’t want to trivialize it, but I think the millennials and the gen Xers have grown up, embracing a lot of the technologies that now the kind of corporate collaborative world is seeing to bear. More interestingly, it's accelerating companies’ own business transformations, their own digital transformations. It’s clear that if we're going to work and the way that I described before, that we can use technology, automation, process automation, I do a lot in analytics, so knowledge work, kind of a capture of a know-how. But there's ultimately in almost every company now, a set of work going on, on how we run the business and take advantage of both these collaborative technologies to transform how we work, but how do we then redesign the business operation to accelerate the use of automation technologies? Conga is a terrific example of that because both the CLM automation capabilities and the CPQ automation capabilities, we're seeing a terrific uptick in the amount of interest and the amount of business that we're involved in this year. But I think it’s broader than a single company. It's really every company looking at themselves and looking at different work environments and wanting to use technology more pervasively.

Kevin Galang: Next, we’ll hear from Lori Ramas, with some recommendations on how to “virus proof” your business.

Lori RamasSome of the things that we talked about were being able to look at what actually produces results. So we're all in different industries, we’re  in different businesses. And we might be used to doing something the way that we do it: We deliver it this way, we provided this way. And what I invited everyone to do was to take a look at rather than the, how, just look at what it is you're producing or providing. And then let's reverse engineer that. Is there another way you can accomplish that with either less people, less money or more online tools or possibly tweaking — even temporarily — tweaking that offering or results so that it might be similar, so that it might be more pertinent to what people need right now because we're all suffering in the same kind of circumstances, for the most part. So in mechanics, for example, we're having a really difficult time getting parts. So this might be the time where you start collaborating with your competitor down the road, because right now you're not competitors, right now you're in service of the same exact client. So your “how” is very different, but your “what” is the exact same. So we had a deep-dive conversation and, for that we happened to come up with a book just so that they could sit back and read it and take a thoughtful approach to that because it's not something that you can probably come up with in 10 seconds. You do want to engineer something that is going to withstand — even this pandemic time has been a lot longer than most of us thought, right? We're like, Oh, a couple months. Well, it's the summer. And not much is really changing, except for that. There's been a couple of phases of people being able to go back. But not the way that it was. I have really been in a lot of training and development to take a look at what we are producing. Cause I talked to people about this a lot. And just adjusting how you do it. And I think the only thing that really stops people is either not understanding maybe the tech part or the tools, the online tools, or just simply being afraid because it is daunting. Let's be honest, doing it differently, especially if you have a rent due. Not everybody has that as a layer to their circumstances. So I think that’s the only thing that's really gotten in people's way is, if you are a food establishment and you're not adjusting and shifting to, although some things have reopened, you know, curbside pickup, you might not make it.

Kevin Galang: As an entrepreneur and a veteran of a pre-COVID work-from-home environment, Susie Hayman offers a unique perspective on the future of the business landscape. 

Susie HaymanBusinesses are having to reinvent themselves if they want to survive. And I think working from home has already become the new normal so that most who are doing it now are probably not going to want to go back to a different way of working, or are going to have a harder time adjusting to it. Especially those people who have not gone back yet. And I think technology is going to continue to be part of our lives, both personally and professionally. The other thing that I think is really interesting about down the road and these predictions and forecasting and foresight or whatever you want to call it, is that as many of these businesses are closing and filing for bankruptcy. I read today that Best Buy’s online sales were up 242%. And I know the target has like tripled its business. Those are different kinds of things. Target's probably tripled his business for paper towels and wipes and toilet paper and that kind of thing and soap and cleaners. Whereas, and I'm just guessing that, whereas Best Buy is selling more electronics and things for an office. And that's why I said earlier, people are going out and buying new furniture. I mean, I know for a fact, my daughter who lives in the DC area has been working from home and will continue to do so. And she just redid her whole entire office area. So that was everything from a desk to a printer, to all kinds of equipment to make working from home easier and better. Also, those businesses who have realized that they can work from home and they can be effective and they can get their work done. They're going to continue to do that as long as it's beneficial from a cost perspective for them. I mean, why would you pay for rent in a big office building if you don't need to. Especially if only half your people can go in at one time or whatever. We have to find creative ways to help our clients. I have always viewed my success based on my ability to transfer skills to my clients. So that's when I feel most successful — when my clients are successful, it's not always about the dollars. Be creative, think outside the box, find a niche that isn't currently served, or maybe find a new way to serve your current client base. Taking advantage of all the online education opportunities and market research that's available and educating yourself because knowledge is power and the more you can learn and the more you can research, the more you can get ideas for what's out there

To talk about the future of mental health and how she predicts it will affect her business, here is Dr. Julie Hanks. 

Dr. Julie HanksI see my business continuing to do really well, unfortunately, because of the high stress level and high anxiety, that's just pervasive in our culture right now. So it's sad to say, but it's good for mental health businesses because people are seeking that kind of support and are needing it more than ever. So it's been good for my business. What's changed is people are doing sessions online and some clients, even though we have a social distancing option to come into the clinic, some clients are still choosing to do tele-health sessions and not come in just because it's more convenient because they actually like it, they don't have the drive time, for a lot of different reasons. So that's been interesting because, tele-health or tele-mental health has been around for a really long time, but it hasn't really taken hold until recently. And I think that's going to stay, a certain percentage of the population will stay doing tele-mental health sessions and choose not to come into the clinics. It'll be interesting to see. And some people do miss the social interaction, so they're choosing to come in, wearing masks and doing all the hand-washing and everything that you need to do. But, yeah, it'll be interesting to see. And I think that a large part of the workforce just in all industries are going to continue to work from home, even when it's safe to go into the office.

I think there are some benefits. People really like not getting dressed up, not having travel time, saving gas money. I mean, we've saved a lot in the last several months, right? There are some advantages to working from home that people are now experiencing and companies are recognizing, oh, it actually works and people are productive.

Kevin Galang: Next up, we have Ash Finnegan, talking about the future of digital transformation. 

Ash FinneganI think technology will play a major role in our processes. I see online and digital selling become far more sophisticated and I see it becoming very aligned with the offline processes. So omni-channel versus multichannel, I see becoming a lot more consolidated and measured and also singing from the one-song sheet. So I see businesses not relying on either online or offline. I do believe it will become about an ecosystem. I do believe technology will be the driver. I do see data driving most of the decisions. And I do see people playing a vital role, but technology really driving the manual processes, allowing people to be more focused on the next big thing. And it's also how customers want to shop, you know, we’re less patient, we want less information. We just want to get to our answers quick. So I think it’s going to be more tailored. It'll be more data-driven and people will want information faster. They want to buy without speaking to people. And they'll want to be able to be flexible with different product offerings, different partners. So it won't be just maybe one provider. It will be about what's best for them. So people in the technology space, I think will need to work with customers closer to make sure they're solving their problems and matchmaking them with the right technology, regardless of who it is, to ensure that they get the right business outcomes, they need. So technology will be vitally key, but I think it'll come from various different places.

Kevin Galang: Finally, here’s Dan Hopkins, offering his thoughts on the future of AI and its impact. 

Dan HopkinsPrognostication is always a little bit difficult, but I think that what you'll see is just an acceleration of what was already there. Especially because of COVID. I think that the trends, the mega trends that we kind of all sort of thought were going to happen in five to 10 years are now happening within five to 10 months. You're seeing a massive shift to e-commerce. We all knew that e-commerce was a thing, but now it's like the thing. If you look at Walmart, I think Nike reported yesterday, it was like 80%, 90% growth. Walmart was like 100% growth on their e-commerce business. And by the way, that's amazing. So I think that you see a major shift of digital transformation. Obviously digital transformation was also a thing, but now it is here. And if you weren't prepared for that, well, hopefully have a contingency plan. So I think that you'll see a continued acceleration of that. From a prediction standpoint, I think that more and more things move digital. Prior to COVID, one of the things that was this big sort of reason of not moving to digital is experiences. And a lot of that was explained for like online groceries, for instance. So online groceries really didn't ever pick up. There's some people that are doing that, but for the most part, a majority of grocery shopping was still done in-store and people wanted to go and touch their fruit for instance and make sure that the avocado wasn't unripe or too ripe. And now, through COVID, it's like it's forced that change to happen where online grocery shopping is now a major thing. In fact, for a lot of people, it is their only thing, they can't even imagine going to a grocery store at the moment. So I think in a way this whole time sort of like experiences, whether it's retail or whatever, at least for the moment that's dead, or at least it's done virtually. Which is why most meetings are Zoom meetings because you're experiencing those virtually. I don't think this goes away anytime soon. I think we're still in this for the next year. So I think you'll just see more and more of everything being virtualized. Which means there's more pressure on those old models, and without that revenue, they end up dying. Which is why you see a lot of commercial real estate sort of up for grabs at the moment. Eventually I think experience returns, but it probably doesn't look like it used to look like before in the past. It's probably some sort of hybrid of that. But again, prognostication is hard, but it's clear that we are going through an acceleration of digital transformation and that if you don't offer a digital model then you're kind of dead. And I think finally, one last example I'll give to you, and that is even like this concept of Apple Pay now on e-commerce. If I'm doing online shopping on my phone, I don't even want to put in my credit card anymore, right? Six months ago, that was the thing. You have to put in your credit card and you just dealt with it. Now you can click a little button and Apple Pay will fill out all this stuff and it makes it really easy. Frictionless, right? And so now within a very short amount of time, I'm now conditioned to say like, well, if it isn't easy, if you don't make it easy for me, I don't even want to do business with you anymore. And so I think those are the type of trends,  removing the friction and using e-commerce and digital to really try and make things effortless as possible, especially on your customer, and to actually give them what they want, I think is, is just as a mega trend that is, is in no sign of slowing down.

Kevin Galang:  All right. Let’s take a minute and reflect on what we’ve learned this season.

I know it’s cliche, but the saying “the only constant is change” is pretty accurate. Whether we like it, or we’re ready for it, change is always an imminent possibility.

And yes, change is often terrifying, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a detriment. In fact, change is often advantageous. And as I’ve learned while hosting this season there are always experts available to help even in the narrowest of niches. 

Although they had their own area of expertise, each of our experts followed a consistent pattern in their approach to managing change. Find the solution, devise a strategy, and execute the steps to move forward.

That’s a big reason why we structured season 3 the way we did, to empower you to face whatever changes are coming your way. And so you can revisit these conversations whenever you need a refresher.

As you navigate the change process, there are a few crucial things to remember from this season. 

As we mentioned in episode 2, people are the heart of your organization. When you’re in the middle of a massive change, it’s easy to focus on the processes or technology. But without the people — your team, your customers, and your partners — your organization wouldn’t be what it is today, or what it could be tomorrow.

Speaking of technology, remember that it’s simply a powerful tool, not a magic solution. And like any tool, it’s impact is in how it’s used. So use it well.

Finally, we can’t predict the future, but we CAN prepare for it. Focus on the fundamentals, put the right people in place, and be willing to change, and you’ll be ready for every possible tomorrow. 

Thank you for joining us for Season 3 of Agents of Change. We want to know what you thought of this season, so send us your feedback at [email protected]

Episode 5: Artificial Intelligence: What is Reality?

What comes to mind when you hear AI? Thanks to Hollywood movies like Terminator and iRobot, there’s a wealth of menacing imagery associated with the term. While entertaining these aren’t an accurate picture of AI in the real world. As businesses embrace digital technology, AI is becoming more necessary for success. Yet, there are misconceptions abound, and leaders often don’t understand it well enough to implement it in their business. In this episode, we’re going to examine what AI is, what it’s capable of, and how it’s being applied in today’s business landscape. Experts featured are Ajay Dawar, Product Executive at Conga, Jason Gabbard (gah-BARD), Head of AI Strategy at Conga, Dan Hopkins, Senior Director of Applied AI at eightfold, and Carl Harkness, Contracts Manager for Nimbus Therapeutics.

Episode transcript

Dan Hopkins: What are you waiting for? Right. I mean, it is here. If you are not using AI today or exploring the use of AI, you're going to get left behind.

Kevin Galang: That’s Dan Hopkins, talking about the crucial role of AI in preparing for every possible tomorrow. Being ready for a rapidly changing landscape means embracing technology  to drive business forward. 

I’m Kevin Galang and this is Agents of Change, an original series by Conga.

Throughout this season, we’ve been discussing several topics, all aimed at empowering you with the strategies and tactics to be ready for whatever tomorrow brings. To name a few, we’ve covered processes, having the right people in place, and digital transformation. In this episode, we’re talking about AI, or artificial intelligence. 

As businesses embrace more digital technology, AI is becoming more necessary for success. The problem is, misconceptions about AI abound. And leaders don’t often understand it well enough to implement it in their business. We’re going to examine what AI is, what it’s capable of, and how it’s being applied in today’s business landscape.

Joining us on our journey is Ajay Dawar, Product Executive at Conga, Jason Gabbard, Head of AI Strategy at Conga, Dan Hopkins, Senior Director of Applied AI at Eightfold, and Carl Harkness, Contracts Manager for Nimbus Therapeutics. 

Let’s start with a simple question, what comes to mind when you hear AI? If you’re like me, you immediately picture creepy murder bots and over-invasive data collection. There’s definitely a lot of menacing imagery related to AI thanks to Hollywood movies like Terminator and iRobot, and even a few friendly versions like Iron Man’s AI-powered butler Jarvis. And during my conversations with our experts, these images kept resurfacing.

But these images have little in common with the AI we’re seeing in business technology today. Believe it or not, AI is already part of our everyday life, often in ways we don’t even notice. For example, if you go to our website, you’ll find a transcript for this podcast; guess what: it was created using AI. Clearly not a murder bot.

To level set, let’s get an accurate picture of what AI looks like in the business world. Here’s Carl, Dan, and Jason sharing their definitions. 

Carl Harkness: Artificial intelligence is a computer's ability to make educated decisions based on a perimeter, a whole situation of answers that we've given it. It's not an ability for something to learn on its own without any previous information, previous background. It's really just trying to make educated decisions based on something that we've instructed it to be able to do.

Dan Hopkins: A computer is intelligent to the extent that it does the right thing rather than the wrong thing. So what that means to me is that AI is not one set of technologies, but rather a field that studies the general problem of creating intelligence and machines, not a specific technical product.

Jason Gabbard: Artificial intelligence really is, is a field of study. It's a field of computer science in which scholars and practitioners are really looking at what causes computers and machines to exhibit intelligent behavior. And oftentimes in the popular press, you'll see that term confused with machine learning, used interchangeably or machine learning being used synonymously with, with AI and it's not quite accurate. Machine learning is really a practice in that field of study. So it's one of the techniques that we use to try to turn in computers. To exhibit intelligent behavior.

Kevin Galang: In sum, AI is concerned with a computer’s ability to make decisions based on a set of parameters. With that in mind, what are the potential benefits of applying it to business? Ajay and Jason point to AI as a tool to process vast amounts of data.

Ajay Dawar: The benefits of having AI are very necessary. So if you take a step back and you think about what happened back in the late ‘90s, when there was a boom, and every single company started getting a website, and then the social media booms with Facebook, a lot of information became digitized and it started growing exponentially. And the only way we could make sense out of all of that information and do something productive with that information was through these AI technologies. So it almost became necessary to have these, so that we could make sense out of it. The great example is Google search engine, right? There are tons of algorithms that could go into the Google search and in, but a lot of them are based on statistical learning and solve them. And we couldn't do who will search us effectively if not for these technologies. Same thing. If you think about Pinterest, if you think about our ability to search through the internet, based on an image, like when you say, Hey, I'd love to see a really interesting designer coffee table, but I don't want to pay that much and I want to search based on that image. It can't happen without AI. And of course there are many other many other applications related to that in the business world as well, like fraud detection. If you look at what's going on with mobile payments and how mobile payments have exploded well along with mobile payments exploding, there's also an increasing risk of fraud. And we'd love for ourselves to be protected from that product. And a lot of the technologies that do this for prevention and detection in real time, our AI technologies. So I think what's happened is this, this completely digital way of living in the last 20 years and the AI technologies are almost necessary. For us to live in this digital world in many ways for us to be, to make sense of it or to be productive with it, or to protect ourselves from it. 

Jason Gabbard: We both work in a world with knowledge workers and people that spend a lot of time in offices or used to spend a lot of time in offices and at desks.  And, you know what we seek to do in many situations with knowledge workers is really automate routinized tasks. So we kind of take a look at what it is that the knowledge worker does on a daily basis. And if we can identify something that is being repeated frequently and is not a high value or sort of high intellectual task, then we'll try to automate it. And so that automation and time-saving would be one benefit in the workplace. I think another, which is often overlooked, is really generating insights. You think about the technology at play here and what's driving a lot of this stuff. And a lot of the advancements is that computers are really good at processing vast quantities of data, obviously much better than we are as people. Allowing computers to take a look over a large population of data and produce insights and identify patterns, that's something that we're just not really skilled at doing. That's one of the major benefits of AI. And we've seen that with companies that worked with the government to sit through extraordinary amounts of data to potentially identify people that are trying to commit crimes and fraud—even even foreign fugitives overseas using mass quantities of data

Kevin Galang: For Dan, AI serves a similar function, but he frames it in a way that clarifies it a bit more. 

Dan Hopkins: AI in and of itself allows us to really understand our world and in many different ways. It allows us to solve problems without us really explicitly defining programs or writing programs to try to model our own world and in software. And instead allow a program like AI to be able to, learn or interpret or decipher patterns and basically structure itself to create some meaningful outputs. 

Kevin Galang: Before we jump to the business applications for AI, let’s take a moment to talk about some of the misconceptions. Ajay was quick to answer when I asked him about them. 

Ajay Dawar: One of the biggest misconceptions is that it will replace people. Immediately in the near future, I think it's a misconception. I don't think that the AI technologies are at a point where it will replace certain people in our population instantly, like tomorrow. It's not at that point. I think the second misconception about AI in certain domains is that if we delivered AI as a piece of technology, that will magically solve certain problems. Let me give you an example. There are a lot of people who want to come into businesses and say, Oh, let me use AI to help you figure out what customer segments to go to target and how, and I'll push a button and a fantastic answer will pop out. And I think that's another misconception around AI technologies that they will, that they will give you these answers instantly. They will magically solve certain, uh, certain multidimensional problems, problems in every single domain.

Kevin Galang: Ajay makes two important points here. In any discussion of AI, whether in movies or in business, there’s always a concern it will replace humans in some capacity. Based on what’s being shared here, that’s simply not the case as it applies to the real world. And in that same vein, it’s important to call out that AI isn’t a silver-bullet solution. 

For Jason, the misconceptions surrounding AI take a rather different direction. 

Jason Gabbard: We still have a big gap between expectation and reality. The press enjoys writing about AI. And so therefore people expect that kind of huge development on a yearly basis and that’s just not the case. We're in this tough period where probably seven or eight years ago, we had some pretty monumental developments in AI and especially in some of the areas I work in with natural language processing. You probably heard about some of the work Google was doing with some of their neural networks. And so we had pretty, I don't know if seismic is the right word, but pretty substantial gains. In the field of AI seven, eight years ago, and since then, it's really been kind of a slow grind to perfect the techniques and more of what we're seeing is really. The application of some of those substantial gains to different industries like contracts, like generating text and analyzing text and some of the speaking assistants, the voice assistants that you see with Google and Amazon. And so I think the misconception is in the market, right? They center around that misunderstanding of how slowly we're progressing with the technology. So managing expectations is critically important in the field right now.

Kevin Galang: Interestingly, many of the drawbacks associated with AI can be traced directly to these misconceptions. The difference between expectations and reality leads people to rely too much on AI. Jason continues.

Jason Gabbard:Over-reliance on the technology and especially in the context of not managing expectations, that is potentially extremely deleterious for a business. When you're not carefully managing these systems and when you don't have good protocols in place for the failure scenarios, that's when things can spiral out of hand. You heard about some of those, the stories down in Arizona where there was a test pilot and the computer was doing most of the work and the computer was so good and it's true that 99.9% of the time, no human intervention was required. And it wasn't at all predictable when that intervention would be required because we didn't really know the failure or break points system. And so expecting a human to jump into a situation like that, where it may be 100th of the instances when they need to respond and not putting any predictability or insight as to when that might occur, asking a human to jump into a situation like that is extremely dangerous. And in fact, in some of those situations, we all know the potential repercussions of asking them to do so. So I think it's important that we not over-rely on the systems and equally important that we understand. What the limitations are and when they might break down so that we can think more carefully about that human computer interaction.

Kevin Galang: For Dan, AI’s biggest weakness is not so much the technology, rather it’s how it’s applied — or more accurately stated how it’s misapplied. 

Dan Hopkins:It's really sort of an imperfect science in some regard. So you just have to be purposeful in designing AI today because if you design AI for the wrong use case or you're over-reliant or overconfident on AI, then depending on the use case and how you deploy it, that could be problematic, which is why also full automation of AI right now is not a hundred percent there or where it should be. And augmentation is key, right? Getting those insights of what AI is providing you, but ultimately like the human is in the loop. The human is making those decisions.

Kevin Galang: So if the primary drawbacks are misunderstanding and misapplication of AI, what are some of the ways AI can be applied correctly to move business forward?

Dan Hopkins:I think of it really in three ways and really those three ways of how to use AI are centered around assisting, automating, augmenting. Assisting just helps us do a task, just kind of helps us get something done. A good example of that might be like your Alexa, for instance. I just want to ask a question, I get the results. It's assisted me in my information search. Another analogy is you might have cruise control, right? That's another example of a system not necessarily driven by AI, but for the analogy, think of it that way. Right? Is that I just turn it on. It's helping me drive the car. I'm not really doing anything. It's kind of just helping me do that. It's maintained a certain speed. For an augmentation, this is really sort of working with humans so that you can have better decisions, better outcomes, that you're kind of working hand-in-hand with the AI. And I think this is primarily where AI is most interesting and impactful today is through augmentation. Going back to the self-driving car analog, this is where, you might have sort of a lane-adjustment technology, where if you start to veer, your hands are on the wheel that kind of nudges you back, or maybe it's even GPS, which is helping you get to a specific destination. It's working with you to accomplish your task. Then the third sort of way I think about it is through automation, right? So this is sort of the hands-off-the-wheel, example where it's the complete self-driving car that gets me from point A to point B.

Kevin Galang: Assisting, augmenting, and automating. Notice how each of these functions focus on humans as the beneficiary. I asked Carl for a quick example of how they manifest in the real world, and his answer was literally in the palm of my hand.

Carl Harkness: A big one that people seem to forget often is the advent of the smartphone. We carry these supercomputers around in our pockets that, it's not specifically the chips in your smartphone and your iPhone or your Android or whatever you have that's doing most of the computing, it's the entire cloud network that helps predict information for your area. So let's say you're looking for a restaurant in your area. The AI that's built into the certain apps might already understand your preferences where you might not be a fan of seafood or something like spicy Indian food is not something that you really enjoy, but it knows that you really like Italian or or Tex-Mex. So it'll predict and give you options immediately for the things that you like. And that is a version of AI because it understands what your preferences are. You've been telling it for awhile, from all of your choices that you've selected, that this is what I enjoy. This is what I prefer. So it will give you information based on your previous choices.

Kevin Galang: And, as Jason points out, AI is around us everyday, often we’re just not paying attention to it or even aware of it.  

Jason Gabbard: Reality is there's some pretty cool stuff happening every day that most people aren't paying attention to. Just to name a few, let's start with something that's kind of old hat at this point and taken for granted, but spam filters. When email was becoming very widespread and spam started to take hold, people would just put rules in and they'd say, hey, if it contains the word promotion or discount it's spam, or if it contains profanity it's spam. That's obviously a very naive way to filter email. You could think of a million examples why that wouldn't be the case, you know why that would work out so well. And so over time, these spam filters were really built based on human interaction, just as I mentioned a minute ago. So, someone would manually go through and tag about email as spam or not spam. And you do that a few hundred thousand times in the computer, all of a sudden can learn from the pattern of your tagging. And so those are now really well developed that I would say based on my experience, they work. They work pretty well. And I tend to rely pretty heavily on them. I'll oftentimes don’t even check my spam filter anymore. Some others that may not quite jump out or quite scream at you would be the recommendations on Netflix. The way your Netflix looks when you log in will be different to the way mine looks and it will be based on what you've watched in the past, how long you watched something, what you've previewed, etc. So all your interactions with the system are being recorded and accounted for. And that helps to surface a better kind of user experience and a better set of content for you. Also recommendations on your phone. I get pop-ups on my Google phone every day in the morning, I'll get a curated news feed. I don't get other suggestions for people in places that may be of interest to me. And that's all done through an AI engine and something slightly more complicated would be mapping and routing system. So when you call an Uber that's AI at work. It's um, checking your route, checking your location, traffic. I mean, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of variables that go into the selection of a car and the route there.

Kevin Galang: All right let’s dial in here and see how this can benefit businesses other than Netflix and Uber. Here’s Ajay’s example.

Ajay Dawar: If you think about AI and then the problem, then it's a technology in search of a problem, which typically does not yield success, but if you have a problem and you said, can I solve it in a much more effective way using AI, then you're onto something. And I'll give you a great example of this in the world of contracting. This is business-to-business contracting as an example. There are businesses where the legal team has to go through thousands of contracts and every single line and every single town. And there's not enough lawyers you can hire or enough time in the day to be able to do that effectively to achieve a certain business outcome. Then COVID-19 hit and almost the entire legal community was rummaging through contracts looking at force major events. What the lawyers were really looking for is what are, have we protected ourselves when something unforeseen happens? It's very hard for companies to go read through every single line of a contract to figure this out in the timeframe needed. And that's where an AI comes to the rescue. So there's a problem to begin with. An AI can come in and say, all right, I can give you examples of the kinds of clauses and languages that you're looking for. I will learn. And then I will go back into your millions of contracts and I will automatically back them, match it and show it to you. And that will reduce the amount of time it takes for you to go through the complex and you can make a business impact very quickly. That's an example that tends to be much more successful.

Kevin Galang: The fundamental thing to take away from Ajay is that AI works best when you have a problem you’re trying to solve in a more efficient way. If you approach it from the other direction–starting with AI and looking for a problem–you’re probably just going to make a mess of things.

Let’s take a second and picture this scenario: Imagine a company is considering a particular problem, and AI seems to be the most efficient solution. How do they know if it’s truly appropriate? Here’s what Ajay advises.

Ajay Dawar:The first thing they have to ask is, are they trying to make a probabilistic decision? Are they trying to make a software learn from the data and do they think that they have enough of the right data in the right format for the software to learn in a reasonably accurate way? And they should ask these three questions first before jumping into the AI, otherwise you kickstart, you go down the route, you, six months later, you find you don't have enough the right data.There was lack of clarity on the question that was supposed to be answered to begin with, or the problem we wanted to solve to begin with, uh, as an example, right? If someone says. I want to make a simple forecast of how much you are going to sell next year. You look around and you say, do we have enough forecasting models out there which are not AI-based that have done pretty well? And do we have the infrastructure put in place? Well then keep using it, because those have done well.

Kevin Galang: The insight to take away here is the clarity Ajay mentions. This relates back to our episode on digital transformation, where we talked about the importance of knowing the outcomes you were trying to achieve. For AI, it’s not just about the outcome you’re looking for, it’s about making sure you have a clear question you’re trying to answer. 

For Carl, the difficulty of implementing AI lies in the human-AI relationship.

Carl Harkness: Implementing AI into a current landscape of the company is certainly going to be difficult because you don't want to replace human beings, unless it really is something that is completely outdated or those talents are more useful elsewhere and there really is no other option than to replace, but to supplement the human element is I think one of the more important aspects of implementing AI into a company. To be able to give a human being the resources of supplementing instead of one person being able to have the intelligence of three people, making certain business decisions, not necessarily all decisions, but certain business decisions or even scientific decisions so that you don't have to waste those man hours and even funds. So it is a delicate balance of being able to understand when is a human interaction more important and more beneficial than getting data from a system.

Kevin Galang: Before we get into some concrete implementation advice, let’s take a moment to talk about what to do if you’re still on the fence about integrating AI into your business processes.

Carl Harkness: For the most part you were using artificial intelligence unless you are completely off the grid and working with a paper and pencil,  you most likely have some kind of AI given to you in some manner, whether it be something as old as QuickBooks, helping you with accounting software or using a phone-call routing system, which can identify which person is most appropriate from a phone bank, or who is available from the phone bank. There's so much quote, unquote artificial intelligence that's already implemented in most technology that it's kind of hard to realize how much we would have to remove if we want it to exist in a no-AI environment as people in business nowadays. I think it really does come with that. The AI is something cutting edge. It really is something like, as you said, from Hollywood movies, you know, Terminator, Skynet, all those types of movies where somebody can tap an ear piece and then have essentially a human being, talking to them and making these decisions. And perhaps those decisions are not helpful from Terminator or if you're referring to a more friendly AI like, the AI from from the Marvel movies that Ironman was using,  it really is like a human being, like a human interaction, but that type of, general intelligence to make not only educated decisions, but emotionally based decisions doesn't really exist yet.

Kevin Galang: Dan puts it a little more bluntly.

Dan Hopkins: Uh, what are you waiting for? Right. I mean, it is here. If you are not using AI today or exploring the use of AI, you're going to get left behind. Look at the companies that really have adopted a digital-first or at least an e-commerce presence, especially during this pandemic, those are the ones that are thriving and succeeding right now. If you had a time machine for the businesses that really are sort of behind the eight ball and you could go back five years, don't you think they would do that? And so I think what you're seeing is the companies that really invested into sort of additional presence or e-commerce that are best well-positioned for this world in which we live right now. And, you know, I would argue that COVID has really only accelerated those trends, but we were moving to those trends anyway, and sort of the ones that haven't are the ones that are or were going bankrupt or going out of business or at a tremendous disadvantage and they're having to react. So I think that there is a strategic imperative and an existential real threat of not adopting AI. In a lot of ways because your competition is and you're seeing that the companies that are using AI successfully and the companies that are able to understand the value of their own data and make sense of it are the companies that are going to win in the future. And those are the companies that are going to be much more nimble. They're going to have better insights. They're going to be able to make better predictions, which is really what it's all about, right? Making predictions and being able to sort of move and align with the demands of their customers versus the companies that can't.

Kevin Galang: Ok. Time for the good stuff. Let’s say you’re ready to implement AI into your processes. I asked our experts for some advice and here’s what Ajay and Carl had to say.

Ajay Dawar: First thing is, having a very, very clear definition of the problem they want to solve. I used to say 1080p high definition, but now it's the 4K high definition version of the problem. So as an example from my own domain, which is around B2B contracting, it's not enough for an organization to say, can we have some AI to give us some insights on the contract? That's not a very well-defined statement of the problem. A more, better definition of a statement of a problem might be, give me use of technology to figure out what obligations are we committing to two counter parties in our contracts? Now that's slightly better. And even better one would be given, we figured out what  payment obligations are we committing to in our contracts? So the more sharply defined the question is in the problem we want to solve, the better, the chances of success and also the better, the chances where you will quickly figure out whether it's a solvable problem or not, and you will cut your losses and move on. So I would say that's the first one. The second one is making sure that the data that is needed to address is somehow available in one form or shape. Third thing I would say is take care of privacy and handle the data responsibly because it doesn't matter whether it's B2B or B2C, you are gathering customer data in some form or shape. And when you, when you gather and centralize customer data in one single place, it also becomes the single point of failure. And a great place to hack, by the way, it's a great place for hackers to hack because they can get access to a ton of rich data instantly. So it's important to have some kind of security and privacy-related safeguards around these products. 

Carl Harkness: Certainly evaluate what needs to change and what can be changed. What is the easiest thing to be able to shift from a human interaction to a computer interaction, understand what really needs to be adjudicated by a person with qualifications, and can't really be left up to software prediction. Being able to understand where that line of, necessarily human interaction or at least being able to supplement that human interaction exists, and trusting that the artificial intelligence that is available is not going to entirely replace, or it's not intended to entirely replace a human being. That it is merely an assistive tool, to be able to make not only business easier, but business smarter and more successful.

Kevin Galang: Understand the problem, and what actually needs to change. Like we discussed with digital transformation, don’t go around adopting AI just because you can or because it sounds flashy. You want to make sure you’re doing it well and for the right reasons. So how do you know if you’re doing it right? Ajay sums it up nicely. 

Ajay Dawar: AI is useful when it's not in your face. It works when it feels like magic. That's when it's done right. And that's why I come back to the Google search engine example. You go to the Google search engine, you look at the results and you go, huh? Yeah. This is exactly what I was trying to find out. Then I'm glad I found this out. And that's what you expect. You see this, often in the pictures that you take on the Apple iPhone or the Samsung phone. The image comes out, you take the image and a lot of how these tiny cameras are able to create great pictures is because there are these algorithms that fixed the image in the right way. They make up for the fact that we are not the professional photographers and it just works like magic. And I think that's when you've done AI right. Where it's not in your face, you don't even know it's there and it's working beautifully.

Kevin Galang:  All right, what should you take away from this episode?

First, make sure you have a clear definition of the problem. This may seem redundant after our episode on digital transformation, but it’s not quite the same. Where digital transformation is concerned with outcomes, implementing AI is concerned with questions. Understanding the questions you’re looking for first / becomes the key to long term success.

Second, stop waiting. AI is here, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Why not embrace it and find ways to leverage it so your business can be ready for whatever comes next?

Finally, make it invisible. AI is at its best when you don’t notice that it’s there, when it seems to work like magic, as Ajay said. So, find that magic feeling, and you’ll know you’re doing it right.

Episode 4: Digital Transformation: What’s the new normal?

As digital transformation in business has progressed over the years, many leaders were hesitant to embrace the change. In a post-COVID world, the need for companies to rapidly adopt digital transformation has become even more urgent, yet many leaders have been slow to accept this digital must environment. 

In this episode of Agents of Change, we’re examining how to implement a successful digital transformation–no matter the industry– while uncovering the ways to get buy-in from both leadership and employees in the process.

Joining us on this journey is Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga, Eric Carrasquilla, SVP of Product at Conga, and Vanessa Grant, Salesforce Analyst for Ciberspring.

Episode transcript

Ash Finnegan: Digital transformation is all about using technology to drive real business outcomes. So it's vitally important businesses don't get caught up in technology and understand what it is their business needs to achieve. Then they find the best technology to help them transform that process to make them more efficient and effective.

Kevin Galang: That’s Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga, talking about the importance of digital processes in preparing for every possible tomorrow. Being ready for a rapidly changing landscape means embracing technology as a means to drive your business forward. I’m Kevin Galang and this is Agents of Change, an original series by Conga. 

In episode 3 of this season, we talked about how COVID forced many of us to work from home / and what this entails for both the employee and the business. Another reality forced upon us due to COVID is the need for companies to rapidly embrace digital transformation.  

Prior to COVID and even now,  many leaders are hesitant to embrace this digital must environment. So in this episode, we will examine how to implement a successful digital transformation no matter the industry while uncovering the ways to get buy-in from both leadership and employees in the process. While COVID is forcing the digital transformation hand if you will, change is still hard no matter what it is. 

Joining us on this journey is Ash Finnegan, Digital Transformation Officer at Conga–you heard from her at the start of the episode–Eric Carrasquilla, SVP of Product at Conga, and Vanessa Grant, Salesforce Analyst for Ciberspring.

While “digital transformation” feels like a buzzword, it’s one worth defining as we dig into the content. Here’s Eric Carrasquilla, and Vanessa Grant.

Eric Carrasquilla: It's using digital technology to either create something new or modifying one of four things, either something process related, something business model related, getting into a new domain or something cultural or organizational.

Vanessa Grant: I consider digital transformation to be taking a process that right now is either partly or completely manual and then digitizing it. So increasing visibility, reducing user error, improving analytics. 

Kevin Galang: Vanessa sums it up simply, digital transformation is taking a manual process and digitizing it. Note that she doesn’t say anything about the transformation fixing broken processes, but Ash brings up a valid observation that’s worth honing in on.

Ash Finnegan: Digital transformation means lots of different things to different businesses. Digital transformation is all about using technology to drive real business outcomes. So it's vitally important businesses don't get caught up in technology and understand what it is their business needs to achieve. Then they find the best technology to help them transform that process to make them more efficient and effective. If you take a bad process and apply technology, you're just going to get a faster, bad process.

Kevin Galang: Digital transformation alone cannot fix a broken process, it will just make that broken process move faster. When considering making a shift, there are many things for leaders to consider. For one, it’s looking at where processes are currently failing. But don’t just take my word for it. 

Ash Finnegan: It's normally something that's not working with any business. So normally this is something that will drive a business to make a decision that something needs to change. It normally starts with something not working so it's normally a reactive thing rather than a proactive thing. I think businesses know they need to stay competitive. I do think the term digital transformation is becoming quite a buzz word so businesses feel they need to do it. But that's not really what drives the business to do it. I think it is the fear of falling behind, it’s the fear of being superseded by somebody that may use technology to access their customers faster. 

But I really do think it starts with something in the businesses just taking too long; it's causing frustration and they can see there's technology on the market that can help them do it better. So I do think it's a combination of some people in the business will be very keen to change because they love technology, other people will be frustrated with processes, or digital transformation enforced upon a company because the competitors are starting to do it.

Kevin Galang: Perhaps you can relate to what Ash is saying here. Have you felt pressure to embrace a project because you’re afraid of falling behind competitors? You’re driven by fear rather than necessity?

For Vanessa, the drive to pursue digital transformation was all about solving a specific pain point. 

Vanessa Grant: Frustration. That's usually a key driver. It really depends though, honestly, where the pain is coming from. A lot of times it'll be new leadership comes in. And so they have experience at previous organizations where they saw things done better. Sometimes you have new employees come in with fresh eyes and they go, “okay, well, they start asking those questions. Why are you doing things the way that you're doing it? Maybe we can think of a better way.” 

In my case, I feel like my journey into digital transformation was often pushed by laziness. I was spending a lot of time doing things that I thought were tedious and I thought there were better ways to do them, and I wanted to focus my time on more interesting projects or more interesting work. It's the pain of not being able to see what the real time health of your company is a lot of times. But I think it's also frustration when you have employees that are constantly getting frustrated because something's not happening the way it should or something wasn't entered properly. You end up with people that are very frustrated with their work and they don't want to spend all their time fixing errors. You want to spend time moving your company forward.

Kevin Galang: Vanessa touched on something key here: moving your company forward. That’s really the best reason for embracing this new normal. And what leader doesn’t want to do that? So why aren’t more businesses jumping to implement digital transformation projects? And why are so many good leaders resistant to the change? Eric had some interesting thoughts on the challenges. 

Eric Carrasquilla: In a lot of cases, what you're trying to do in a digital transformation is something transformational. That's why it's not, you know, a CPQ project or a website or whatever else. You're trying to do something more broadly. And when you do that more often than not, there's something that breaks organizationally. Something needs to be a bridge across two or three departments of looking at something. In the case for Conga, what we do with our role in digital transformation is looking at things like Quote-to-Cash, which would span multiple departments. 

So part of that is not just going through and making sure that you have the process and technology in place, but also the people. Is there something where you need to change organizational structure to reduce friction with this new system that you're putting in? Do you have the right DNA profile of people that will be part of that organization going forward?The kind of people that you would look for on an auto manufacturing line are going to be very, very different than the people that are going to be working in retail at Disney or check in at a Four Seasons resort. I'm giving two deliberately extreme examples, but that's something that I see quite often, people don't put enough thought into it. It’s more around, what's the software we buy, how do we cram it in versus all of the rest of the points on the value chain?

Kevin Galang: This emphasis on people seems to be a recurring theme this season. In episode 2, they were the key to driving change that would keep your company agile and ready to adapt to new situations. In episode 3, they were the key to making the remote work environment successful. 

As Eric points out, when it comes to digital transformation, it’s about having the right people in the right place. And for Ash, there are two points to successfully managing the people involved.

Ash Finnegan: One of the big things is always getting sponsorship and for me, anyone that's running the project. I see it twofold. I think it's very important to get the buy-in from the executive leaders, but it's also very important to get their buy-in from the front line. Managing both can be a very challenging piece. I always recommend that the executive level always have at least one key sponsor. Somebody who really understands what you're trying to achieve, the real benefits in the outcome, and for somebody that can help you communicate that to other senior teams within the business. Someone that has a strong voice and has authority and is willing to work with you to make sure the outcome is really understood and what it will take to make the outcome a success. And then in the background is vitally important that you get a true understanding of the impact it will have on your front line. Because when leaders also hear that teams can see this as a good thing, it also helps them make the decision faster.

Kevin Galang: I asked Vanessa how she approaches getting leadership on board with a needed change... a change they may not be aware of. 

Vanessa Grant: When you're talking to leadership, it's really important to sell the vision. You want to sell the vision of happy employees and also you want to sell the vision of how this is going to bring money into the company. Ultimately, it tends to be really challenging to convince leadership to spend a lot of money and time on non revenue generating initiatives. So if you can sell that vision that people are going to save time so they're going to have more time to spend on those revenue generating initiatives, spend more time on their jobs, have the information that they need to do their jobs better, and give them a sense of what that return on investment will be, I think it's a lot easier to get leadership buy in on your projects.

You have to sell your project. You can have a big pain point or see a pain point in another division or another team and want to fix that. But you wanting to help people is not necessarily the best selling point. When you're talking about business and business ultimately is about how do you generate the most revenue with limited resources? So if you can, if you can market it to your leadership in a way so that you focus on the things that are important to them, I think it's a lot easier to sell your project ideas.

Kevin Galang: So if you’re thinking that a digital transformation might be the way to go, where do you start?

Ash Finnegan: Don't start with the technology. Don't start with demos. Because what ends up happening is you'll come overwhelmed with lots of features and functionality that you probably forget why you were starting or what you were trying to improve. So I always recommend to stand back from your business. Have a good review of who your business is today. Where the challenges are, what your business wants to be called? You know, you need to build something that's future proof. I always recommend bringing in an expert because an expert will help you understand and maybe questions some of the things that you wouldn't normally question yourself. 

So when it looks where to start is to understand where the problem is, where it sits in the whole process. So never build digital transformation for a department – you must build for the business. So even if you're fixing one component, you do need to stand back and look at it end-to-end. I would always recommend to look at where you are having the most pain. Have an outsider come in and assess that with you and question why you do things the way you do today. And also the expert will able to tell you are you taking on a very big piece at the start and should you start off in smaller, incremental fixes? 

So for me, it's all about really understanding the business, simplifying the process. That's actually where the pain points sits , look at where that fits and where in the overall process. In bringing in an expert, it can help you understand it better and smarter way of doing it. And also making sure that you start with simple, small steps and you don't try to change everything at once. And I do think definitely bringing in an expert, someone who has experience in transformation can definitely give you a good indication of where to start based on experience and when it comes to digital transformation experience is vital.

Kevin Galang: Don’t start with technology, start with people. I feel like I’m repeating myself here, but the importance of this can’t be overstated. As we said in a previous episode this season, “People are the heart of your organization.” So why wouldn’t you start with them when trying to accomplish a significant change?

Of course, every change project has pitfalls, and far too many fail because of them. So how can we increase the chance of success? For Ash, it’s all about getting your people involved early in the process. 

Ash Finnegan: People race to technology. They'll watch demos, get lost in all the features and functionality, and they probably use features that their business is not ready for and they don't actually solve the problems the business have today. So starting with technology, I think is a fundamental error. The second one is cultural transformation. Remember, you are not just changing technology and process. You're changing the behavior of people and in order to get them, it's vitally important that you get them involved at the start of the project. Take the time to understand where the pain really is, not just where our executives think it is. Speak to the people that do the job well, understand where the pain is, understand why they do the things they do today and the outcome we're looking to achieve. Then it's your job to look at that, simplify it and apply the technology. So not getting people involved too late is a problem and starting with technology too early is a problem. 

Kevin Galang: Notice what she says here; you are changing the behavior of people. For as much as we’re talking about technology, it really begins and ends with who will be using that technology. If you can get them engaged early on, you’ll have a much smoother transition to your new process. 

Switching gears here, if you successfully navigate digital transformation, what might things look like on the other side? What outcomes and benefits can you expect?

Ash Finnegan: The outcome of actually having run a project and seeing the success for the things that were fundamentally important to me was cross teamworking and visibility. The conversations we were having before the digital transformation program versus the conversations after for our project were very different. Before the project, it was what dates  are right, where are we with this? There was a slight blame culture in the business to now the teams were looking at the same data. Yes. They might be still having the same debates, but it was about what to do about the numbers, not what is the right numbers and getting that visibility, transparency and teams working, whether it's finance, working with sales, working with legal, having that cross team working structure really, really helped. And our digital transformation project is all about creating visibility and bringing teams together. And for me, that was the fundamental success we have. Yes. There was always room for improvement because digital transformation is constantly evolving, but having the right data and the right teams working together across departments was a huge success for us.

Kevin Galang: I asked Vanessa for a concrete example.

Vanessa Grant: I was consulting at HydraFacial company and basically when I got in there, they had their contract templates on Microsoft Word. They had four templates that were 90% the same, and that 10% maybe had a different product or a different clause in it. They were basically creating their opportunities in Salesforce then leaving Salesforce to go into their e-signature solution. Basically they were filling out the forms for the information that they needed to complete the document and then sending it for e-signature and then going back to Salesforce to type out the rest of the information. So there was a real disconnect between the CRM and what was actually getting signed and on top of that, because the approval processes weren't built into Salesforce, the COO ended up having to sign every single contract. He was the last person to sign just so that he could give it a once over and make sure that we agreed to the terms. 

And that obviously was not the best use of his time, especially when you're looking at the end of quarter and signing over a hundred contracts electronically during that last week. Obviously with that volume, you can't ensure that everything is as it should be and you can't be as diligent about it as you want to be. So, when I got brought in, I worked really closely with the Salesforce administrator and we had a dev on staff. One, we transitioned the team to lightning with guided paths, which was great. Two, we threw in Salesforce approval processes and that immediately took the COO out of the equation so he could sleep easy at night knowing that nothing was going to get signed without all the proper approvals. And then I ended up bringing Conga Composer into the situation so that one, the documents could look a lot neater. When you're typing things into an e-signature solution, there's a lot of design limitations that you have when you're just entering data into an e-signature solution. So being able to work entirely in Microsoft Word to generate a contract using Conga Composer was great. 

And then also without having the salespeople leave Salesforce to go into the e-signature solution, we were able to one, get those fields that they were previously entering into the e-signature solution as fields in Salesforce that they could type in and then dynamically bring into the document. Then again, with the real time analytics and understanding the real time health of the business, you could see in Salesforce at any given time, which contracts were generated, what they said, what the status of them were. And then of course, you know, we connected it to the e-signature solution, ultimately, and it wrote back to Salesforce. So the document would always be saved, the date the contract was signed was created as a field in Salesforce. It was beautiful. It really standardized the process and made it simpler so that salespeople couldn't leave Salesforce, but we didn't want them to leave Salesforce. We wanted them to stay in the CRM, get all the information in there so that we could receive it and really standardize those processes. So we weren't so concerned about some road claws getting in there because we couldn't see what they were typing in the e-signature solution. Plus if they needed to make a small change, it was a lot easier to just adjust a field in Salesforce and regenerate the document, rather than having to again, go through the whole e-signature form again, to retype everything, because you got an email address wrong.

Kevin Galang: If you’re still hesitant, listen to what Vanessa says about where that mindset might lead you.

Vanessa Grant: At this point, if you aren't focused on digital transformation and aren't focused on improving your business processes, unfortunately you're just going to get left behind. It's not enough anymore to have a good idea. You need to operationally be able to keep up with your competitors. And honestly, you're not going to make really good business decisions if you don't understand what's going on in your business. If there's an entire process that you don't have visibility into, you're going to have a really difficult time making informed decisions. I think particularly in this age of COVID where it takes 10 minutes just to open up an Outlook calendar so you can find the 15 minute slot where somebody doesn't have a Zoom already scheduled so you can actually speak to somebody in person. If you don't have that visibility into what that person is doing if you need information from them, it gets really complicated to do your job sometimes. Especially these days, you can't rely on having to ask somebody, “Hey, how's that thing going?” To have that visibility into, “Okay, I know what the status of this particular process is. I know how, how many of these we have, I can find the documentation that I need. I can look up things really quickly.” All that will make this run faster generally. Also keep those conversations when you do actually get to connect with an employee or a coworker to be much more meaningful rather than, “Hey, I need this information. I need this data point that I can't find.”

Kevin Galang: I hope you hear the warning in Vanessa’s words here. As with any significant change project, digital transformation can be daunting, but ignoring the need for it could be disastrous for your business.

Alright, before we wrap up this episode, I want to leave you with some top tips from our experts on what to do as you begin any digital transformation journey. Here’s Vanessa, Eric, and Ash.

Vanessa Grant: Having a clear understanding of what your business processes are is really the first big step and then understanding what needs to get accomplished for that process to take place. And then looking at it, not just as a process, but also looking at the handoffs. What triggers that process to begin and then what's the handoff after that process is over? And then looking at the entire business and seeing, okay, where could we make improvements? Where in those processes is there no visibility? Where in those processes do we have pain points? Talking to people I think is incredibly important. You need to talk to not just leadership. You need to talk to the people who are on the ground every day, doing these things on a day to day basis because you're going to get different stories. And then if you have that bird's eye view, I think it's a lot easier again to organize the projects in terms of business value and then get an idea of once you come up with what the possible solutions are, figuring out what the level of effort would be to solve those problems, get them organized, and then create that governance and start working.

Eric Carrasquilla: What's the spark for your digital transformation? Is it board pressure? Is it getting into an adjacency? Or is it COVID-19? I think there is absolutely no going back from the shifts that COVID has sparked off, specifically things related to friction in commerce and the removal of those. So being able to do things a lot more zero touch, whether it's payment or interaction or self service or digital commerce or whatever it is that you want to call it. Access to things on mobile, being able to have collaboration of people through Zoom or in Google docs and the application of that in business of how you get a quote through the system or a contract through the system. 

That's not going to be so novel going forward. So I think there's still pockets of uniqueness and innovation that you can do through digital transformation. But I think for so many companies right now, it's we need to do this transformation or we're going to get left in the dust vis-a-vis our competitors. Nobody picks up a newspaper anymore, but digitally pick up a newspaper, read some of these annual reports, see where all these other companies are investing. Morgan Stanley, one of the research reports that they did around e-commerce in general and a lot of these technologies related to digital transformation and seeing n their estimate, there was a two to three year pull forward of investment acceleration for items in this space specifically because of what happened through COVID. And I don't think there's no going back around this. So I'd say accelerate or you're going to get left in the dust.

Ash Finnegan: You've always got to stabilize the current situation. I always say successful people will base their decisions on where they want to be. Well, successful people will base their decisions on the current situation. So the advice I would always give, it's very easy to get caught up in day-to-day, keeping things moving. What I find helps is if you create a team, that has the time to walk away from the day-to-day situation that can have a focus on future state to ensure that you're building, not just dealing with today's problems, but you're actually preparing for what tomorrow could bring. So I think the best advice I could give to a business is you need to give people time to also work on future state, don't just get caught up in your current situation and respond to what's happening today. Because what you'll probably find is that it's best to give people time to plan for the future. And they can only do that if you give them time.

Kevin Galang: So let’s sum up what we’ve learned in this episode about embracing this new digital must world.

First, examine your business and know the outcome you’re trying to achieve before you start. Digital transformation is the hot new thing, but you shouldn’t start a project just because everyone else is.

Second, start with people, not the technology. You’re not just changing technology and processes, you’re changing how people do their jobs. You’ve got to get your team involved in the process early on if you want the best chance of successfully implementing digital transformation.

Third, understand that digital transformation will not fix a broken process, it will only make it faster. Don’t expect digital transformation to magically solve all the problems in your business. It can, however, remove obstacles in your business and help you achieve your goals while preparing you for whatever happens next.

Episode 3: Working from home: What do we all really need?

What was your perception of working from home pre-COVID? For businesses, the prospect of working from home was often seen as impossible, for old and new companies alike. Logistical concerns like efficiency, productivity, and security stood in the way. Being ready for a rapidly changing landscape means adapting to new situations previously thought impossible. In this episode, we’re debunking the misconceptions surrounding WFH while hearing new perspectives on why it was seemingly an insurmountable possibility.   Joining the conversation on what the reality of working from is actually like is Richard Robinson, Principal Sales Engineer at Conga, Dr. Julie Hanks, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, Susie Hayman, Owner and Founder of In Your Business, and Lori Ramas, a Systems and Social Media Specialist for Ask Relezant. We also feature previous guests Nickki Gibeaut, Senior Salesforce Administrator, and Anokhee Mehta, Manager of Product and Pricing Systems at Ross Video.

Episode transcript

Dr. Hanks: The stress level for everyone is very high. Being together 24/7 is not something that we're used to. We're used to kids going to school, parents going to work, or kids going to childcare. And now our paths are crossing 24/7 and that creates a lot more conflict in families, a lot more frustration. Parents are trying to work, keep their kids quiet, get the kids to do their schoolwork… it’s just a lot more conflict.

Kevin Galang: That’s Dr. Julie Hanks, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, talking about some of the challenges we’re facing in this new work from home environment. Being ready for a rapidly changing landscape means adapting to new situations that were previously thought impossible.

I’m Kevin Galang and this is Agents of Change, an original series by Conga.

In our first two episodes of Season 3, we talked about how to think about preparing for the future, leaning into business processes and the people who make up an organization. In this episode,  we’re talking about something all of us have experienced this year with the onset of COVID - working from home and the realities of what it means for businesses.

To guide us on our journey, we’ll hear from Richard Robinson, Principal Sales Engineer at Conga, Dr. Julie Hanks, Owner and Director of Wasatch Family Therapy, Susie Hayman, Owner and Founder of In Your Business, Lori Ramas, a Systems and Social Media Specialist for Ask Relezant, and returning guests Nickki Gibeaut, Senior Salesforce Administrator, and Anokhee Mehta, Manager of Product and Pricing Systems at Ross Video.

As we dig into the topic, here are a couple things to think about, what was your perception of working from home prior to COVID? What did you think of your friends, or maybe even colleagues, who worked remotely? As Susie Hayman, Owner and Founder of In Your Business, puts it: 

Susie Hayman: Pre pandemic, generally the people who worked from home were the small business owner, the solopreneur, or maybe the business that had one or two employees.I think it was probably the contract worker, maybe the writer, the editor, the blogger, or the podcaster. I think that they were specific professions that worked from home. There were always things that could be done remotely if necessary. However, people didn't do it on a regular basis like they're doing now. And then the other people that worked from home pre pandemic or the temporary workers.

Kevin Galang: For businesses, the prospect of working from home was often seen as impossible, and not just for the old, blue-chip companies, but for many modern companies as well. Perhaps some companies cited tradition when refusing to consider a remote workforce, but others had logistical concerns like efficiency, productivity, and security. And there were many misconceptions when it came to people’s understanding of remote work. To give perspective on those you’ll hear from Dr. Julie Hanks, and Richard Robinson, Principal Sales Engineer at Conga. 

Dr. Hanks: The assumptions were that that's what people who don't want to get childcare do, that it's kind of what slackers do. I don't think it was highly respected and I really think that's changed.

Richard Robinson: Work from home sort of had this connotation of either sort of special treatment or jobs that weren't so great, certainly from a pay perspective or from a sense of  high level within a firm. So I think there were all these conceptions of work from home, which wasn't as prevalent. So it was always these special cases and nothing like today where pretty much anyone can be seen working from home, especially during these times. People think it's just easier. And you think about the idea that the grass is always right? 

People see people work from home and say, “Oh, you can be wherever you want. You don't have to work as much. If you want to go take a four hour break, you can. No one's looking over your shoulder.” So I think a lot of people can see working from home as this way of doing less work. And having more freedom to watch Netflix between meetings and that sort of thing, where it's absolutely not that way at all.

Kevin Galang: It might seem strange to think about pre-COVID perceptions of working from home, since we’ve been in the thick of it for so long now. Yet to move forward, it’s important to look back and understand the stress many felt when having to suddenly go remote. Lori Ramas of Ask Relezant shares her perspective. 

Lori Ramas: I actually don't think there was a lot of understanding around it. And I think there were more misconceptions than anything. I almost wonder if work from home had a little bit of a negative connotation to it, like maybe it implied or suggested people couldn’t work without an office. And maybe it wasn't totally okay. I don't remember it ever really sounding empowering the way I heard people talking about it. Maybe people wondered if it was a cop out a little bit, like other things are more important so therefore they couldn't be in a traditional office setting.

Kevin Galang: For Susie Hayman, the standout misconception is the belief that it would be easier. As we’re finding out, that isn’t necessarily the case. 

Susie Hayman: The person that normally worked in an office setting probably thought, “Oh, I can work from home. I don't need to get dressed, I can stay in my pajamas all day. It'll be easier and I'll get a lot more done. And I think that's completely been overturned because people are having problems with their work life balance, with setting boundaries, with focusing, with keeping to a schedule, all of those things that I think an office helps one do in a lot of respects. Even  though you may have distractions in an office there's so many more distractions when you're working from home.

Kevin Galang: If you joined us for episodes one and two, you’ll remember Nickki Gibeaut, Senior Salesforce Administrator. She was on the receiving end of these misnomers.

Nickki Gibeaut: If you hadn't worked from home before, I know a lot of my friends who have never worked from home, and if ever they heard that a day I was working from home, they saw it as easy peasy. “Oh, that's cool. You get to watch TV or let's go meet up and do this.” They didn't really understand that there's still work to do or you still need to be aware of things.

Kevin Galang: Now we’re not saying any of these perceptions or objections to working from home are bad or even unreasonable. The reality is, the challenges presented initially, didn’t suddenly go away once everyone went remote. 

We alluded to one of the biggest challenges earlier, which is the impact this new work environment has on work/life balance. For some, like Richard, the shift felt like the “life” part disappeared.

Richard Robinson: I've always been somewhat of a workaholic and I've always traveled a lot for work. So working remotely has been a part of my life, even if I was a declared office worker. But when you have that ability to actually do a hundred percent of your job from home, you have a tendency to actually work more after hours, maybe work on weekends as well. Cause it's not the sense of I'm in the office 9-5 and I must get my work done here. It does open the door a little bit. Maybe for some procrastination, maybe moving some things around in your schedule. So you can have the 10:00 AM doctor's appointment without asking for permission, but then you find yourself possibly at 8 or 9 o'clock at night doing work when otherwise you wouldn't be.

Kevin Galang: This tendency is even worse for those with families. Dr. Hanks has seen first-hand what being together 24/7 can do to your productivity and stress levels. 

Dr. Hanks: The stress level for everyone is very high. Being together 24/7 is not something that we're used to. We're used to kids going to school, parents going to work, or kids going to childcare. And now our paths are crossing 24/7 and that creates a lot more conflict in families, a lot more frustration. Parents are trying to work, keep their kids quiet, get the kids to do their schoolwork… it’s just a lot more conflict.

Kevin Galang: For Susie, the word balance may not even apply.

Susie Hayman: It's really difficult to create a work life balance when you're working from home. Because in many cases, there is no balance. And just because your office is several steps away, doesn't mean you need to be there all the time. And just because your family's home doesn't mean you need to jump when they want something to eat. It's a constant tug of war, back and forth.

Kevin Galang: Susie makes a crucial observation here – in a work from home environment, there often isn’t any balance between work and life. Rather / work just feels like life - and there is no true separation. This feeling can ultimately lead to other problems like burnout, increased stress, and an overall decline in mental health. Which, as you can imagine / is damaging to productivity levels and sustaining quality work. 

As we talk about challenges, the businesses themselves faced new obstacles from a pure logistical perspective: permissions and security.

Before COVID, when companies maintained an office, access to the network was controlled through physical entry and exit to the actual building. With employees working from home, this layer of security disappears. The very nature of a remote work environment means companies no longer have full control of the environment their employees work in. Which means controlling intellectual property and access to proprietary information and systems is much more complicated. 

Richard Robinson: There's always a balance between hard firewalls access controls and the ability to work mobily. So a lot of what you'll find in a work from home type of situation, or remote workforce type of situation, where you need to have more centralized tools is the idea of devices not being company owned or company administered. I, for one, use a couple personal devices as well. I use the phone, I use iPads, I use desktops that I've built. And there are certainly mechanisms that allow you to control access. You’re able to use things like zero trust authentication, single sign ons, and the like in order to allow us that bring your own device mentality, but still make sure that you have a lockdown on intellectual property, data access control, and things like that. 

It’s not going to be something that's going to be spread across all of your employees, that everyone gets the same access. You're certainly going to take some of your most important IP or some of your most important data and have that control by a subset of your employee base that absolutely needs access to that.

But it's going to be a constant balance, especially with a decentralized workforce of how do we get everyone access so they can work just as efficiently in an office, but also how do we control all of that information when we don't have the ability to look over everyone's shoulder, make sure we're constantly logging every click and keystroke that they're making. Because if you go too far on one side and you cut out efficiency and people aren't as productive and on the other side, you do open yourself up to those types of losses. 

Separately in data breaches, it's really looking clearly at the provider that you choose, especially in cloud providers, there's a myriad of different ways that someone can access, usually a number of providers involved between the vendor producing the software, and then the fact that it sits on a server that that provider doesn't own but they rent from AWS or Azure or one of the major cloud providers.

So coming up with a very sound information, security protocol of what exactly does it mean to be secure, what does it mean to be compliant? Whether it's ISO, whether it's SOC, whether you're doing independent third party penetration tests, there are certainly best practices in the IT world to make sure that your information security is top notch and constantly evolving as new breaches and new risks come about in this ever changing technology world.

Kevin Galang: These are valid concerns, but as the work from home environment has become the norm, companies are adapting and adopting new technologies to help them answer these challenges. Some businesses are actually finding that work from home is not only possible, but perhaps more productive than their previous in-office arrangement.

So, if working from home is going to be the new norm for the foreseeable future, issues like burnout and increased stress could become more prevalent as well. Here’s Dr. Hanks:

Dr. Hanks: It just seems like there's constant, everybody's working constantly or with kids constantly. And there's not this time to take care of your own personal names and that leads to burnout. Some of the signs are difficulty concentrating, irritability, or a short fuse, not eating or sleeping well. So if you feel like you're just off or you're constantly thinking about work or you can't turn it off, those are some signs to watch for. Physical signs, you know, may be tightness in your chest or muscles, geeling just totally overwhelmed, or feeling really disconnected from your emotions. Those are all things you can watch for.

Kevin Galang: I asked Susie to tell me the most common reasons people were reaching out to her for help.

Susie Hayman: The most common reason is being overwhelmed. They don't know where to start. They don't know what to do. Another reason is they're having trouble focusing on things that they need to get done because there's so many distractions. There are more distractions at home than there are at work.

Kevin Galang: Lori shared a similar observation. 

Lori Ramas: What I've heard people talk about the most is not being able to focus on whatever the task at hand might be. Especially when we also have children who are home. So the layer of education has now shifted from being something that's incredibly important to something that they are now fully responsible for as a parent and as a professional. And so in my networks, I hear about this all of the time, the pitfalls of getting distracted. I mean, having boundaries, right? When you're on video calls, podcasts, zoom calls, interviews, and someone needs you at home. What do you do?

Kevin Galang: What do you do? With all the distractions, stress, family dynamics, and other challenges we’ve discussed so far, how do we move forward in a world where working from home is the new normal?

Let’s address some of the business concerns first. What are the tools that have helped businesses navigate the remote workforce environment? I asked Richard for his take on how to approach the numerous technologies that have emerged.

Richard Robinson: Since I'm on the sales side of the world, CRM is one of the biggest. And everyone has a different way of selling and they have different ways of measuring pipeline, measuring what's commit, all the different people helping a deal. The last thing you really want to do is compromise the way you think your business best operates because your tech solution cannot deal with it. It's not a great way to run a business and honestly, what, do your technology solution developers know about how to run your business? 

So you should really be looking at something that can take your business process and run with it and give you the flexibility not only to implement your process with no compromises, but also possibly either make the process better or be elastic for when that process changes. When you look at some of the providers that are out there especially in CRM, they are pretty much a sandbox. And they say you can have any workflow that you want, you can have different types of users with different levels of permissions, you can have your own custom fields, use your nomenclature. They really want to make it part of your process, which goes back to the idea of being intuitive because now it's using your nomenclature and the way people know things run in your business, just through clicks, as opposed to talking about it. 

And then when you look at some of the middle office solutions that are out there, especially in CPQ, CLM, billing, those are solutions I  deal with on a regular basis as well, both because I'm selling, but also because I sell them products. Those are the types of solutions that also should follow a very business oriented process, not a tech process. We need to contract in a certain way. We need to sell in a certain way and propose a certain way. I am not going to change the way I sell products because a tech solution is going to limit me on what I'm doing. We know the best way to sell our products. And if something can’t conform to that, it's going to limit our business. 

And so those elastic types of solutions, although may be more expensive to implement  in the beginning are going to have a much larger ROI and downstream because you're able to run your business and have best in class technology, as opposed to trying to go out of the box with technology at the compromise of your ability to sell at your best.

Kevin Galang: The insight from Richard is that tech should be a tool, not a liability. Meaning, it shouldn’t make you change the way your business operates. Rather, it should help you do it better. 

Richard Robinson: We've been on this kick for as long as I've been a professional, so decade and a half to two decades where, everyone's going to travel less, everyone's going to do more remote meetings and Polycom, Zoom, WebEx… these were all solutions that were up and coming, but we never really replaced the in person meeting until we were forced to. And I think it's become a little obvious that solutions like Zoom, e-signature, collaboration platforms, are certainly going to be at the forefront of everyone's mind because now we have this forced experiment that we don't have to be in front of people physically to do things because we don't have to get a signature in hand. 

We can do a lot more things over technology and the more things that were in person that can be replaced by technology, I think we're going to be at the forefront of this transformation. From going into an office oriented environment to a cloud based or remote based operating environment where we're going to communicate through our computers and not communicate face to face. 

So when I look at the technology that's out there today, it’s what is making the substitution for my ability to talk to someone in person or passing off my job over to somebody else and putting it on their desk for them to work on or having to go get a signature or half having to put a conference call together where I don't have a conference room available? Those are really going to be some of the core elements into driving this new normal. 

Kevin Galang: And of course, there’s the issue of training employees on new technologies and tools in a remote environment.

Richard Robinson: Above all else, everything has to be intuitive. You really run into an issue where you try to build something so custom built or purpose-built for doing something and you completely take out the user experience when it comes to the consideration of that solution build. Training only goes so far. You know most of us probably don't remember half the stuff, if not more, that we were taught in high school and college. And then as we become adults, we retain less information. That's just, unfortunately our biological makeup and some of the trends. 

So you want something, I think, first and foremost, to be intuitive. So if I forget my training, I sort of have the gist of it or I can walk through a solution hopefully by clicking around. And even having a solution that narrows the options of the ability to mess up and really shows me the only things I can do with each of those clicks sort of a right path. Training itself, I think is around a multifaceted approach of multimedia, whether it's documentation, along with video, along with PowerPoints. Not only do you want the training to come in many different flavors so that people who learn differently, whether it's by example, whether it's by structured training, have the ability to access that type of information, but it has to be easy to access. So if I have to go dig into the depths of a system I've never touched before, or I touch once a year, I'll get fed up, throw my hands up and then just go to a different division that I can ask to do it for me. And so being able to have it part of a more intuitive centralized place is one thing. But above all else, it has to be intuitive or the training is just going to be completely worthless.

Kevin Galang: So as businesses begin to adapt, how might this change the landscape going forward? 

Richard Robinson: It has huge ramifications across how we not only set up companies, but also how we handle things like business continuity plans. And how do we perform talent searches? You think about a lot of what was traditional, especially in tech and banking where I come from, it was live in Silicon Valley, live in Seattle, live in New York. All of these places have seen huge increases in cost of living because you had the be in that area in order to get the best jobs and in order to make a name for yourself in those industries. And as we go into a more remote workforce, not only does it allow the talent pool to expand to pretty much anyone in the country, but it also allows businesses to save money a little bit on payroll by having costs of living adjustments for hiring someone in the Midwest to do the same job as someone that would be working in Manhattan. 

And also from a business continuity plan that has historically been really focused on regional disruptions so a earthquake in California or a hurricane in the South. The pandemic has really made us look at what dies business continuity looks like on a global scale so that if my New York office shuts down or if we can no longer go into the office in Florida, can my remote workers spread across the country takeover? And therefore we can diversify the risk of acts of God and natural disasters because I have a remote workforce that's just as effective, if not more, than being centrally located in a few offices.

Kevin Galang: I asked Susie to share her perspective on the future of business, and she had some interesting thoughts.

Susie Hayman: Businesses are having to reinvent themselves as they want to survive. And I think working from home has already become the new normal so that most of who are doing it now, are probably not going to want to go back to a different way of working. They are going to have a harder time adjusting to it, especially those people who have not gone back yet or, or who are going to work remotely through the end of the year. Well, that's another four months, four and a half months. 

And I think technology is going to continue to be part of our lives both personally and professionally. As companies have moved towards a remote workforce, they realized that it's working well for them and they can be successful without the office expense. And they realize they can get the work done now. And I think workers have realized also that as a remote worker, they can live anywhere and get their work done when it works for them. So these companies who are saying, “Hey, it works. Joe Smith can live anywhere in the world if he or she can work remotely.”

Those businesses who have realized that they can work from home and they can be effective and they can get their work done, they're going to continue to do that as long as it's beneficial from a cost perspective for them. I mean, why would you pay for rent in a big office building if you don't need to? Especially if only half your people can go in at one time or whatever.” 

Kevin Galang: At Agents of Change, we’re all about seeing businesses reinvent themselves and adapt to new challenges. So, as the people on the front lines driving that change, what can you do to adapt to this new work from home environment?

For Anokhee and Ross Video, it’s all about family and looking out for each other.

Anohkee Mehta: This time has forced us to look within our home and look within our family and support each other more than ever before and also find ways to do all of the things we do in our normal days with that particular group of people. So Ross really does have a family culture, very supportive culture. And that's been really key to us weathering the storm, not just weathering it, but actually thriving in it and been able to support each other. We have been able to share around resources, there are certain, obviously certain parts of the business that have become much quieter because of the pandemic. Other parts of the business have had the volume of work increase and we've been able to dynamically transition to that and shuffle people around. 

Again, the communication thing, right from the top we have had excellent communication on the decisions that are being made. People have had to do some compromise, but they're well aware of what their compromised contributes to the overall company and taking that approach of focusing on the better good of the company and the group and not just taking an individual approach, I think has really helped us thrive over the last few months.

Kevin Galang: For those who are still struggling with working from home, you’re not alone. According to Nickki, the key is to stay connected. 

Nickki Gibeau: I really like what my boss has done on our team. He does a check in every day abd we have a set time where we have a 30 minute and it's no work talk, it's a check in for our team. You don't have to be required, but we all still do it. And it's just to talk about our day, how are we feeling? Do you want to talk about, what you've been doing or how your kids are, how chaotic it is working with your kids also in school, on the computer? I do know that there are some people out there that maybe don't have that. And our company has been, our leadership has been telling us, make sure you reach out to those that maybe live alone or don't have a strong team, or maybe you just feel that they need a reach out. Just reach out and just say hi. For me, I've been trying really hard to stay connected not only with my teammates although we constantly talk, we have a good relationship, which helps. But I also try to do Zoom calls with my friends and we’ll have happy hour nights, we'll do video call nights and just talk and interact and see each other's faces. 

If somebody is really struggling,  you gotta reach out whether it's a family, a friend, or a coworker, and just try to keep that personal connection along with other human beings. Because even though you're remote and there's technology and TV and internet, you do lose a sense of connection with the human being around you. So I think by having that phone call or stepping outside and staying distance from a neighbor, but talking to them while they're over in their yard and your yard, it really does make it better and makes you happier to be able to just have that five minute talk with an actual human being so that you don't feel alone or feel so closed off from the world.

Kevin Galang: The interesting thing is, those connections don’t always need to have an agenda, or even be business-focused. As Lori states: 

Lori Ramas: Stay focused on asking questions.  I feel like questions are where you get a lot of magic things that you never would have even considered. Start to come up and try collaborating with people that maybe you don't even know. You know, you've met them on Facebook or they're in a similar networking group, set up a call. You don't have to have an agenda. You can just get to know people. I've had the coolest things come out of conversations like that. And I have learned a lot personally that way, too.

Kevin Galang: We talked earlier about distractions, stress, and the other challenges that arise when working from home. Luckily, there are ways to combat them. And it starts with boundaries. 

Lori Ramas: Setting boundaries and expectations right away, just like you would for a client or an employer with your children and your spouse. And so again, making it age appropriate, whether it's something you do with colors so they can look up and understand, “Oh, it's the green time it's playtime” or having your child feel empowered to set up their day with you. You go through their calendars together if they're a little bit older. Not being afraid so stick with whatever you said, if it's no it's no. If you said you're not available until 4, you're not available until 4. 

And then I think the other thing that I find is missing, again, both personally and professionally, is the structure to fulfill those things. So if you're not available, giving your child and family things they can do and accomplish or things that are appropriate for them to be doing until you're done. And not just one thing, cause I've seen kids fly through something real quick that you thought would be a one hour event because they're so excited to see you and then they are thinking they're done. And so you're done. So I just kind of call them structures for fulfillment, having structures in place that allow both parties to fulfill in whatever that activity is until the appropriate time.

Kevin Galang: Susie offers a similar bit of advice:

Susie Hayan: You really have to set those boundaries and have a designated space to work a time to work. Many workers have shifted from temporarily working from home to permanently working from home now so they've purchased new furniture, they've upgraded equipment that will increase their productivity and focus. You need to have a schedule as if you're going into the office. And decide when you're going to turn off your electronics. That's a huge one. It was hard enough when we were working outside of the home, now working in the home I think it's even more difficult to determine or to make yourself turn it off or know when to turn it on. And I think lastly, you can't be afraid to ask for help.

Kevin Galang: And for Dr. Hanks, maintaining relationships is key.

Dr Hanks: I don't think we can overemphasize the importance of relationships outside of family… of connecting with friends, of connecting with our kids, connecting with peers, even if it's virtually having that support system really buffers our stress. And it's easy to feel closed in and isolated from people. But social distancing is really physical distancing. It's not social distancing. We should not be distancing from our social support. And we're wired for that connection with other human beings and that actually buffers our stress and helps us to thrive. So physical distance but don't social distance. Keep the friends you have. There are restaurants that are open, are there theaters where they do social distancing or be creative and go to the park, still connect with people that you care about. That just makes us happier human beings.

Keving Galang: In addition to the relational piece, Dr. Hanks believes self-care is crucial to successfully navigating these changes.

Dr. Hanks: It's important to have time for self care still. So that may be, get up from your desk, go for a walk, take your kids to the park. 20 minutes, do something outside, something that you enjoy. In the evening, take some time to read a book. Just something that you enjoy.

Mindfulness is a really important one. We use cognitive behavioral therapy. So that's examining your thoughts and how your thoughts are impacting your emotions. We help people look at what beliefs and thoughts do you have about your situation and how is that? Making you feel better or worse about your situation? We think all day long and we don't recognize that we do and that we tend to just believe everything we think, and we don't examine it. And so we help clients examine that. And then decide, like what do you really want to believe? What would be helpful to believe? Then you can say, “Oh, I'm anxious because I'm thinking that I'm not going to pull this off and it's going to be a failure.” Is that true? “Well, I don't know. I won't know until it happens.”So is that serving you? No, it's not serving you. So you may want to kind of take that thought and go, “You know what? Thanks but no, thanks. I'm going to put you aside here and move forward.”

I really suggest to a lot of my clients to use a mindfulness app and you can have your kids use it too. Put on headphones and take 10, 15 minutes and do some mindfulness exercises. And if you have kids at home, have them do it too. Practicing mindfulness - there are so many benefits on so many levels for practicing mindfulness. So that's a really quick thing. There's free mindfulness exercises on YouTube and find things online. So that's one thing. Another thing that just sounds really basic is have meals together, have family meals and make sure you're safe. Still like eating healthy. I'm drinking lots of water. Some of the basic physical things are key.

Kevin Galang: Despite all the challenges and adaptations that are taking place, there is certainly cause for optimism in this new environment. For Lori, the possibilities are what makes this new normal so intriguing. 

Lori Ramas:This is particularly exciting for me to watch. You said something similar before, it's like watching people wake up to what is possible and it's really talking about what is possible when we're leveraging tech. Because technology is the main thing that allows us to be remote. And I know I'm not the only one who's seen greater productivity. So I think we can start to counter a ubiquitous understanding that there will be greater productivity. It will cultivate more focus. And I do believe something we'll start to see is a shorter work day and even a shorter work week. I think that companies, whether you are a solo entrepreneur like me and most of my clients or a larger company, will tighten processes. I think it's more important than ever that there's the fluff it's cut out because we all understand that really what we're trying to do is produce a result for someone or some company. So I think results are going to really start to flow. And I think the thing is that people will start to focus more on people and processes and a little bit less than all the other stuff that takes us away from those things. So I think we'll start to see relationships and overall happiness and satisfaction start to go up. And again we already know this when you're happy, usually productivity increases.

Kevin Galang: According to Dr Hanks, if you want to be successful in this new work environment, you must first define what success is for you.

Dr. Hanks: So as a business owner  success is being effective with our clients, helping them get through the challenges that they're facing. So that's one aspect. It's also having happy employees who are doing satisfying work and who have control over their schedules and who are making enough income to have the life that they want. And then there's also are we profitable? Are we doing well financially as a business? So those are how  I measure success. 

We help clients define success for themselves based on what they value. We all have different values and so what success looks like for one client is going to be really different than another. And just think, “Are you living and creating the life that you want?”  That's success. And if not, how can we support you in doing that?

Kevin Galang: For Anokhee, the key to navigating these challenges comes down to one simple mindset.

Anokhee Mehta: Stay positive. I think it's really important in a situation like we've been through for business leaders to set that direction. Oh, there's a lot of anxiety and a lot of unknowns and people are going through really unique situations that you can't even imagine. And when the business leaders are positive and calm and confident, that really does make a difference. So leading by example and setting that very positive stance, I think is incredibly important.

Kevin Galang: To wrap up this episode, let’s highlight a couple of key points that you can start to take action on when we’re done.

 First, set boundaries. Designate a time and space for working, and set expectations for your family members and even colleagues regarding those boundaries. The importance of setting boundaries and sticking to them cannot be overstated.

Second, stay connected to your social supports. Whether it’s a zoom call or a physically-distanced outing in the park, do what you need to to maintain those relationships that support you. 

Third, define what success looks like for you. As Dr. Hanks said, this is key to creating the life that you want. 

Finally, stay positive. Transitions like we’re in now are temporary, so keep calm, and confident, and press on.

Episode 2: Preparing for Every Possible Tomorrow: Part 2 - The People

The heart of any organization is the people who interact with it – employees, customers, partners. In part two of preparing for every possible tomorrow, we are talking about who makes up organizations while remaining customer-centric.  Being ready for a rapidly changing landscape means empowering agents of change by having the right people in place. To highlight the importance of keeping the culture intact and maintaining relationships within the organization, you’ll hear from experts across industries.  Joining the conversation is David Murphy, Chairman of Conga, Corey Iken, Director of Business Intelligence at EyePromise, Nickki Gibbeaut, Senior Salesforce Administrator, Anokhee Mehta, Manager of Product and Pricing Systems at Ross Video, and Frank Holland, CEO of Conga.

Episode transcript

David: you have to be adaptable. When an instance like this year happens. You can really tell the difference between a leadership team and a set of people that get right over for the challenges and to the root causes or the root things that need to be different. 

Kevin: That’s David Murphy, Chairman of Conga, talking about the type of culture that will help businesses adapt and succeed, no matter what happens next. Being ready for a rapidly changing landscape means empowering agents of change by having the right people in place. 

I’m Kevin Galang and this is Agents of Change, an original series by Conga. 

Last episode we talked about the processes to help prepare you for the future. Thanks for joining me as we continue part two, we are talking about the people who allow businesses to remain agile while focusing on the customer first.  

Much of this success is determined by the culture established in your organization. A culture that enables your people to adapt and pivot gives you the flexibility to accomplish whatever the future may bring. 

Along the way, you’ll be hearing from David Murphy, Chairman of Conga, Corey Iken, Director of Business Intelligence at EyePromise, Nickki Gibbeaut, Senior Salesforce Administrator, Anokhee Mehta, Manager of Product and Pricing Systems at Ross Video, and Frank Holland, CEO of Conga. Some of these names are familiar if you joined us for part one. If not, I’d invite you to check it out.

For decades, business has been done in person. Deals were closed with a handshake. Sure, there was paperwork involved but the connection took place together. New customers were ready to buy and the existing customer base was relatively stable. With the onset of COVID, business as usual potentially changed forever.

Now,  in a world of remote work and social distancing, deals have to be done virtually. Customers are more hesitant to buy or make any type of change, creating more unpredictability across industries. Candidly, no one is unaffected.  Yet, business marches on and major deals still happen, including the merger of Conga and Apttus. So to say we understand puts it lightly. 

While I’ve painted the high level impact, let’s dig deeper. How did businesses really adapt? Let’s hear from our expert, David Murphy, Chairman of Conga. He offers a unique perspective shedding light on the new normal for board meetings.

David: I obviously participate in a number of board meetings and other executive discussions with the ability now for everyone to see each other quite a bit more intimately, I'd say than even most conference rooms. And I do find that the level of attentiveness and engagement is higher. What you miss are the informal discussions that happen outside of the meeting at breaks, you know, kind of at the beginning and end. That's the part that I think creates the interpersonal kind of connective tissue that you've got to still go make sure things happen. And that needs to happen more in a one-on-one now. There's a lot of times where there are existing relationships or other people that know each other very well. And what I found is that we can use the technologies that are available like Zoom, WebEx, and others quite effectively. But  in a lot of cases, we're seeing some really interesting business get done completely virtually. And I think  I have an almost a year generational shift in how people can trust and work together. So from my standpoint, the actual work effort is essentially the same. It's primarily though in interpersonal and trust-based,  set of decisions that require a bit more time now, a bit more one-on-one time now. But, I find that these new technologies actually at times provide greater intimacy and have been helpful to accelerate a business at the boardroom and business and all the kind of deal making that we do.

Kevin: Technology is enabling business to get done, it allows for more one-on-one relationship building that eventually leads to making big deals happen. While technology creates a bridge for connection, it still comes down to the relationships. People do business with people no matter how it gets executed.

And for Nickki Gibeaut, a Senior Salesforce Administrator, the virtual workplace has advantages if you look past the obvious challenges. 

Nickki: So then I think about having those in person, you need some handshakes to seal the deal, you have person to person face to face, you can read their mannerisms, their facial expressions. You can kind of see how the talk is going. Is it going in the right way? Is it starting to go sour? Maybe you need to adjust or change. So definitely with the COVID it's been hard because a lot of stuff is now virtual, but the nice thing with virtual is you can still have those face to face meetings and having a virtual meeting with a video to talk. So you can kind of see that, but also you have to be mindful with virtual because you don't really have that sense of being in the room and really feeling if it's going well or not, when you're in there person to person talking. So you have to be mindful of your mannerisms, your reactions, how you state things, how you approach things as well as being aware of that on the other side. So I think today it's just, it's really trying to cultivate that personal in the boardroom experience, but virtually which is not always easy to do. And a lot of people, like you said, with COVID are really learning how to adjust to the virtual lifestyle, but still making those deals and moving forward with their business. I think by also kind of personalizing and saying, “Hey, how's it going?” and then going into it from there.

Kevin: Let’s dissect this a bit. As an agent of change you naturally embrace going the extra mile, but have you thought about the way your virtual meetings are conducted at the level Nickki describes? When you start a virtual meeting, are you taking an extra moment to ask someone how they’re doing? 

To excel at doing business in a virtual world, the ability to personalize an interaction is essential. Again it goes back to the relationships you’re building. And you can’t just focus on the external ones, you have to turn that attention inwards as well. Which means protecting your people. I don’t mean health-wise, I mean protect them by providing a sense of security in the face of large-scale events like COVID. For David, this manifests itself as creating an agile workplace.

David: It’s really an important topic. We, across our portfolio of about 35 companies, really this year have seen a variety of different responses, in terms of the immediate need to work from home. The interesting thing inside of that is it actually opens up a discussion about how you can both provide safety, security, and a good collaborative work environment, but take advantage of a lot more flexibility. So what we have done and, you know, again, I think very much the case in Conga is to adopt at this point a dialogue on a more flexible work approach going forward. And ultimately I think that will mean that there will still be a set of physical facilities that we will want to, as the current situation has shown, make sure that we're doing all the things that we can from a health and safety standpoint, to create a safe work environment that from a health standpoint and from an interaction standpoint can coexist. There's a lot of different approaches to doing that as you know. And then in addition, and I think very importantly, we're giving teams the ability to flex to a work from home environment. And allow then a much more empowerment at the team level or the local level. And what we have found is that it's actually increased productivity. So that, I mean, ultimately the health concerns that have created a challenge in a physical environment are solvable and just get added to the things that we do from the standpoint of overall employee situation. But I think the transformation is more interesting because it is going to create and has already created a much more agile ability for people to work together and work together in ways that they hadn't previously, because we were so oriented towards physical office locations.

Kevin: Interestingly, we see this agility David is talking about play out for Corey Iken of EyePromise. If you joined us for part one, you’ll remember Corey is the Director of Business Intelligence there, and he has an interesting example of how the transition to remote revealed opportunities they didn’t know existed. 

Corey: For a very long time, we believed the only way to communicate or train a new customer, certainly assigning a new deal, but even doing that initial training with them had to be getting on a plane and going into their practice. Standing face to face with the entire group of personnel within the office and conducting a training right there in their practice. I think that what we have learned is we can accomplish a lot without ever leaving our living room with the ability to do a Zoom call and broadcast it, not only to the practice, but if somebody couldn't be at the practice that day, they can still get on the call from their home and watch the training and be a part of it versus being in the practice and forcing everybody to be there when it might be their day off is super beneficial. Not only is it a lot easier to get to as many people as you can, but it's certainly more cost effective. Our budget for travel, I can certainly see there's a need for being in practice and, and making those, those handshake deals. But I also see a value in reducing our travel budget and increasing our profit by being able to do some of those trainings, either from the sales reps home, or perhaps even hiring some internal trainers that will work out of our headquarters and be able to run some of those trainings on a regular basis.

Kevin: In the face of a potentially devastating event, Corey and his team were able to serve their customers better, while protecting their own business in the process. 

Anokhee: I think the notion of a closing the deal over a dinner or over a golf game has become more and more antiquated. Um, in our case, our customers are more informed than ever, and more sophisticated than ever. They're expecting personal attention, not just during the early stages of that sale, but far beyond that. And, you know, we initially started as a very transactional business, but we now have SAS products and we have many recurring revenue products. So it's more about keeping the customers and not just getting that first deal. So we've had to really think about how do we deliver a personalized experience at each part of that customer journey, but also how do we make that experience repeatable and scalable?

Kevin: That’s Anokhee Mehta, Manager of Product and Pricing Systems at Ross Video, who makes an interesting point. It’s not just about getting the first deal, but about keeping the customer long-term. This means adapting to the customers’ needs, and maintaining a strong relationship with them, just as David and Corey said.

Anokhee: A lot of our customers have been forced to rethink how they deliver their services and their broadcasts to their customer base. And we've had some very interesting requests in order to support that. So we have been standing by our customers. We've been innovating really quickly to try and meet their needs. Some of the innovation that's happened is going to turn into new product lines and new revenue streams for us, but being able to be flexible and really listening to our customers and understanding what they're trying to achieve and thinking outside the box on how we can make that happen. I think has been a really interesting result of the situation that we're in

Kevin: For Corey, meeting the customer’s needs meant losing some short-term revenue. 

Corey: We also tried to be customer centric and eliminate some of the fees that we have related to our equipment. So we have a lease fee that goes along with our equipment and we knew based on what we were seeing that really needed to be eliminated. And so we lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of the last couple of months in fees that we would have collected. And so not only do we lose business from product sales, but also from those fees as well.

Kevin: Losing revenue in an attempt to serve customers is a scary thing. But it might actually work to your advantage in the long run. Nickki had an interesting insight into the customer’s frame of mind when businesses are willing to make accommodations.

Nickki: So it's really kind of nice to be able to have that extended hand and feeling that you're not alone in this and that people are willing to work with you. So for me when I get that experience as a customer, when I'm talking to the business, trying to work something out, it makes me more willing to want to stay with them and make sure that once I'm back on my feet, you know, I can. Keep giving my business to them. 

Kevin: If you have the ability, making accommodations for your hardest-hit customers is a powerful incentive as business moves forward. 

Alright, these are some great insights, but let’s pivot a bit and really get into the tactics. What are some tangible actions we can take that will prepare us for the future? Well, it might seem obvious, but creating a plan is a good place to start. Anokhee gives a great example of how companies can prepare for whatever comes next.

Anokhee: We've learned a whole bunch of things. We've learned that having a plan in place is extremely important. A lot of companies have an emergency preparedness plan or a business continuity plan, but we've had to certainly be far as up very quickly. And I think that having a plan and thinking about scenarios and being prepared for different scenarios, even unlikely scenarios has really helped us. How to deal with this scenario as best as we can. First thing was putting together a team. I think it's important for every company to have an emergency preparedness and business continuity team that specifically looks at different aspects of the business. Both internal operations, as well as the external relationships with customers, partners, supply chain, and allowing that team to make decisions quickly and pivot if necessary. Communication I think has also been really key and so would that team in place. As decisions have been made and put in place, they've been communicating those out to the rest of the company. We need to make sure everyone is aligned with what that plan is.

Kevin: As we wrap up this episode, I want to draw attention to a couple of key points. First, having a plan in place will help you prepare for different scenarios, maybe not perfectly, but it will give you a launching point to move forward. 

Second, put together a team. We’re talking about having the right people in place, right? So why not put those people in charge of preparing for the future, and empower them to make decisions and pivot when needed. Doing so establishes the sense of security we all need, while creating an agile culture - one that is ready to adapt in the face of any crisis. 

Finally, as an effective agent of change, you have to be inclusive. Focus on the personal aspect of your organization, the people who are able to make change happen, and include them as you prepare for the future.

If you recall from part one, there was an emphasis on the business process, you can’t forget about part two which is the people - your team, your customers, your partners  - the heart of any organization. 

Episode 1: Preparing for Every Possible Tomorrow: Part 1 - The Processes

Every business has processes governing how it operates on a daily basis. They are the path created for your business to follow to move it forward. What happens when those well thought out plans suddenly become obsolete?  On today’s Agents of Change, we’re talking about how to approach your processes to prepare you for the future - any future. You’ll hear from expert guests, Frank Holland, CEO of Conga, Sunil Masand, VP and GM of Healthcare and Life Sciences at Conga, and Corey Iken, Director of Business Intelligence at EyePromise. 

Episode transcript

Frank: We could talk ad nauseum about numbers and the dollar signs that go in front of them and the percentages that go behind them. But when you know, no clear path is in front of you, you're at risk of letting the mercenary type culture take over. 

Kevin: That's Frank Holland, CEO of Conga, talking about the habits that will help businesses succeed no matter what happens next. Being ready for a rapidly changing landscape starts with empowering agents of change through solidifying processes.

I'm Kevin Galang, and this is Agents of Change, an original series by Conga. Thanks for joining me as we kick off season three of Agents of Change. Every business has processes that govern how it operates on a daily basis. From your method of gaining clients to how you hire for a role, everything comes down to a process.

There are various reasons for creating said processes. Sometimes you're fixing a past problem, or perhaps you're trying to make the present a bit less chaotic, but ultimately your processes are meant to prepare you for the future. They are the path you have created for your business to follow as it moves forward.

Now it's 2020. So we can hardly begin an episode about preparing for the future without addressing the elephant in the room – COVID. So what happens when current processes no longer apply to how your business operates and you're left with no clear path? The onset of COVID and the events that followed hardly qualify as unexpected, more like unthinkable. Who could have imagined that seemingly overnight, most workers became completely remote, our teams that were no longer together, and simple processes now required new technology to even function.

Yet, some businesses thrive being able to pivot rapidly. Well, what made the difference? The answer really comes down to two things: people and processes. We'll cover the people aspect next episode so don't forget to subscribe to hear that next one. In this one, we'll examine the processes that help businesses successfully navigate amidst the time of intense change and turbulence.

To guide us on this journey, we'll hear from Frank Holland, CEO of Conga, Sunil Masand, VP and GM of Healthcare and Life Sciences at Conga, and Corey Ikin, Director of Business Intelligence at EyePromise. Prior to joining Cona, Frank Holland spent 20 years as corporate vice president at Microsoft. He led key aspects of Microsoft's business expansion, like the customer facing due diligence process for their acquisition of LinkedIn.

Given his extensive experience leading global teams, I asked Frank to talk about the challenges facing businesses during a disruptor like COVID.

Frank: The software industry is I think ideally situated, like it or not, to handle a situation like COVID in a fairly elegant way because we don't have any factories, we don't produce physical goods. Our product is mainly intellectual property that you can store in the cloud and even sell in the cloud. Now, with that said, I think we still do face a lot of the same issues that any company in any industry would face around the burnout that we're starting to see people experience from being long-term, remote workers.

Well, initially we saw a spike in productivity for the first month or two that we went remote. But that spike has since leveled off and it's returned to pre-remote work levels. Being together physically is something that you just can't replace through Zoom or Teams or any other kind of video conferencing capability.

So those are the things that we're working on now – how to abate that sense of “you're on your own” and get people to the point where they do feel like they have some collegiality, even though they may be sitting in their kitchen while they're doing their job. 

Kevin: Even with cloud based products, normal processes that govern how a team functions have to change in a remote work environment. And you can't just replace those interactions with the Zoom call or a Slack message. 

Frank: I do a lot of, I bet I do 20 one-on-one skip level out a week with people just to check in on how they're doing because a lot of times people don't feel like they've got space to be able to make their issues known at a broad level. Being incredibly transparent with folks, you get the same thing in return so I try to use those sessions as a way to hear from people I might not through channels like surveys or the manager hierarchy or what have you. But I also try to create group versions of that where I'll do open mic sessions and maybe I'll say a few comments that could take 5-10 minutes at the very top of the open mic, but then I open it wide up to anything that's on anyone's mind. People can ask questions anonymously through chat features in some of these video conferencing systems or they can do it real time and I can put a face with a name 

Kevin: 20 skip level one-on-ones per week? That's a big time commitment for someone leading an international company in the midst of a crisis. But that's how important it is to adapt to the new circumstances COVID has created. The ability to adapt is one thing, but the willingness to do so, well, that's another. Sunil has over 20 years experience in building and scaling high performing sales, product, and delivery teams. I asked Sunli about the systems and processes that allowed businesses to succeed during the time. And his answer went in a completely different direction than expected. 

Sunil: You know, pandemic or no pandemic, if you think about some of the fundamentals that keeps the business strong and growing, it's the people, processes, technology, and core business and operating models. And also obviously the foresight and willingness and ability to pivot and drive change in these areas that I mentioned.

Kevin: Okay, okay. I know what you're thinking. Business fundamentals isn't exactly shocking and you'd be right. The interesting part is the willingness to change them when circumstances call for it, not to mention the ability to anticipate the need for change in the first place. Again, no one could have foreseen an unthinkable crisis like COVID, but it's a good example of fundamental business processes suddenly becoming useless. The foresight, ability, and willingness to drive change on these fundamentals are the key factors to how business can sustain during a storm. So how do you assess those key factors in your company?

There's some early indicators that will reveal how well a company is set up to handle a pandemic or other crisis. 

Frank: I think that the top one is making sure that you've got a robust culture. We could talk ad nauseum about numbers and the dollar signs that go in front of them and the percentages that go behind them. But if you don't have a deep appreciation for the culture that you have to create and a robustness around that North Star for how you make trade off decisions when no clear path is in front of you, you're at risk of letting a mercenary type culture take over. You've got people that are working remotely and if they don't have connection to the company that they're a part of and a way to feel that connection on a daily basis, why would you stay at this company versus going to another one? I think about long term planning, product roadmaps, and engineering innovation. I think about the way that we service our customers and drive adoption and help them resolve technical issues, sell to them, market to them... all those things matter. 

But if you don't have a robust culture to put all that on then you're going to wind up as a commoditized version and a shell of a former company that you enjoyed when you were able to drive collegiality in a real time physical environment. 

Kevin: Now, Frank makes an interesting point. In a remote work environment, the culture created by our people changes drastically. What was once a cohesive culture can splinter into dozens of home offices. If unchecked, this causes a breakdown in efficiency and prevents you from adapting your other processes to accommodate a crisis. Now, please humor me and let's linger on this topic for a moment. In each of the conversations I had with our experts, company culture emerges one of those key factors for navigating uncertainty.

Corey Ikin, if you remember, is the Director of Business Intelligence at EyePromise, a health and wellness company focused on enhancing and protecting iHealth. When their teams made the transition to working remote, they were prepared to make the transition relatively smoothly. 

Corey: We had set ourselves up as a kind of technology forward organization before any of this really took place. We had already brought in a high level CRM. We had started bringing in some additional technologies to help not only our end customer but their customer as well. So we were setting ourselves up for success prior to even knowing of such a pandemic taking place. When everything came down in  late February, early March we already had the systems in place to be able to take our daily lives and kind of convert it to an online virtual life.

Kevin: Despite being well prepared for the transition, they still encountered all the challenges you would expect. Traveling teams were no longer on the road and getting somewhat claustrophobic at home while on the other end, teams based at headquarters were now navigating the new work from home environment. So Corey and his team use their technology forward mindset to tackle these issues of isolation before they could negatively impact the culture. 

Corey: We've been using Slack, but we started using it a lot more. We created a whole channel around working from home and a lot of what you saw in there was my coworker who happens to be my dog. So my coworker sleeps all day and there's a picture of the dog napping on the couch or on the floor or my coworkers are my kids that never leave me alone. So it became this camaraderie of really getting to know your employees and their families. How many of them had dogs that I had no idea they had dogs. How many of them had three kids? And you get to see them more often, right? I know who their kids are, I know their names. 

Now you're getting a lot more of the personality, not only of the coworker, but also of their family because you're seeing them. So it's changed quite a bit that you can now have this relationship with your coworker. You get to know who they are as a dad, as a mom, as a pet parent. And it's really made you closer to a lot of them because of it. 

Kevin: As we heard from Frank earlier in the episode, combating the feeling of isolation requires intentional effort and it's an ongoing process to continually re-engage people.

Frank: You have to think about different ways to re-engage people. My leadership team and I have started doing non-work-related type initiatives, and I've been reaching out to my colleagues at other different companies, tech and non-tech, to figure out what they're doing. A surprising number of people have created trivia sessions or other ways to entertain themselves so that it's a little bit more lighthearted. Other people have come to me and said, “Look, I've just gotta have some flexibility in my schedule.” And I said, “Don't just block off a piece of time and commit to it, but signal that you're spending the next couple of hours taking your fifth grader through their lesson plan because they're remote workers, too.”

Broadcast that and help under other people understand that it's okay to do that kind of thing because we're now living at work is the best way to say it. And you've gotta have some empathy for people. 

Kevin: Empathy. It's not technology, but without it, you'll have a difficult time preserving a company culture that functions efficiently. With that in mind, let's talk about the changing needs of the customer. After all, they're being affected by the crisis, just like you are at your company. So we can't pretend that their status quo is unchanged. And for your company to navigate a crisis, your approach towards your customers is a key indicator of your success.

Sunil: We should be dissecting, examining, and seeing what our customers would need to grow their business and serve their customer success when the next adverse event hits. Then work on technology processes that can help with those future needs. So embracing a culture which puts your customer at first, not just for the current needs, but for their future needs and future unanticipated needs.

That's what I would want in the company culture in any business if they're looking to grow, serve their customers, and be prepared for anything that may happen in the future. 

Kevin: Anticipating customers' needs is an important piece here. It's a mindset that drives action and interaction with your customer on a regular basis.

Sunil: Look at the fundamentals. Does this company still have the processes and systems and operating model in place that can be agile? Has the business shown agility in the past, the agility to pivot and adapt to new processes and market forces? I would also look at who a business is serving. A lot of what we do depends on who we are serving and the outcomes that our customers are looking to achieve.

Kevin: Corey's willingness to communicate with their customers about what they needed and how they could be served better goes a long way to explaining why they were in the position to drive change in the midst of a crisis. So let's explore how they were able to accomplish this. 

Corey: A lot of what we're doing is just kind of keeping ourselves on our toes, but you never know when you're going to have to pivot. So making sure that you have the right systems in place so that if something were to ever happen again, I don't know that it would be another pandemic, but the next big thing that would happen again, that we have the ability to pivot on our heels. So setting ourselves up again at that technology forefront so that we think that we have everything in place that should we need to shift or change the way we do business, it's not a hard, “Oh my gosh, we need a whole bunch of new systems to be able to adapt.” We're keeping ourselves at the ready. We’re keeping ourselves up and always looking for the new and always adding new pieces so that we can be prepared. 

Kevin: We've come back again to that willingness to pivot. So what does a successful pivot look like? Sunil gave some great examples.

Sunil: Harrogate Tipple was able to pivot and get into manufacturing sanitizers to help with the shortfall that was forced upon us by COVID-19. And, you know, I don't believe alcohol sales plunged when we were hit by the pandemic. In fact,  alcohol sales grew after the pandemic hit. But yet Harrogate Tipple was able to get into the sanitizer business and grow its business even further through the spirit. 

Now coming from the healthcare and life sciences industry, again, when the pandemic hit there was a shortage of ventilators. General Motors and Ford had the foresight and saw the upcoming impact to automobile sales because of the disruption to the supply chain and the disruption on the manufacturing side. GM and Ford expanded their manufacturing capability to include a ventilator production to address this huge shortfall. 

Kevin: If we look across industries, we can see other examples of companies that successfully adapted to the effects of COVID. Much of the food service industry has depended on customers walking through the door, but when COVID hit, that was no longer an option. Sunil mentioned services like GrubHub and UberEATS that enabled restaurants to continue to serve their customers. In addition, the new work from home environment meant more people were having food delivered. I know I was. The businesses that survived and even thrived were those that quickly adapted to the new circumstances and embraced delivery and curbside services. They anticipated a need and saw an opportunity to serve their customers where they were. With that in mind, I asked Frank to talk about some of the processes that help Conga through this time period.

Frank: We've digitized virtually every single process in our company. From the way that we go to market, we've moved completely away from brand and event type advertising to direct response type advertising. The classic example there is trying to get the test drive if you're an auto dealership. For us, it's getting the demo. If we can do advertising at the top line that allows for us to get people to sign up for a demo with one of our sales reps, that's half the battle right there. So we digitized all these processes and moved one to virtual events, which fortunately we've had pretty good attendance, interest, and participation in.

But we've also made our business processes broadly ones that can be done in a remote way. It's tough to identify in this environment, the right person to try and target to sell our products to. We found that with COVID, approval levels for making the sorts of purchase decisions around which our products are made, have gone up, meaning you now have to target a more senior person in any given company to get them to sign off on a sale of Conga product.

So we've had to tailor and reboot our demand generation engine to adapt to that. We found that there are certain industries that no matter how well suited one of our products or solutions is, they're just not going to buy because of the scenarios that they're facing right now. And we've changed the way that we do kind of propensity modeling around those companies that are more likely to buy our products.

Kevin: In looking ahead, how do we future proof our businesses? What do we need to do that will help us prepare for the next big event? 

Frank: If you haven't already taken a really hardcore look at digitally transforming every element of your visit, then that's table stakes. You don't necessarily need to be the most advanced today, you just need to start the journey. So, first of all, digitally transforming, not just your business process, but also your products is step one. The second step is to think about ways that you engage customers and how that might be changing. I think the gig economy is a great example about how we've been able to effectively create transportation solutions off of an iPhone app and that's a very different way of engaging a customer then getting on the corner and hailing a cab.

I also think that putting yourself in a position where you can address the realities of having to operate in a very androgynous environment. Technically, we don't build to one single platform. We happen to have our favorites, the optionality that you can create for yourself in moving from one supplier to another is an important way of future proofing.

And if you are not completely committed and therefore at the whim of a certain supplier, and you're going to be in much better position and have more leverage to negotiate with them when the next set of discussions about how to use their services comes up. That applies to energy companies certainly, but also brick and mortar companies.

Kevin: Start the journey. Don't miss that crucial piece. Now is the time to start thinking about how we can be ready for whatever happens next. Speaking of the future, what does business look like as we emerge from COVID? 

Sunil: I would encourage businesses to be open to embracing these new operating models. I am a firm believer in investments in technology, and  I'm hoping businesses have learned, especially the ones that are not able to adapt because of technology, to look at the systems that they have in place. They would look at technology that not only meets their needs of today, but also needs of tomorrow and start investing in those technology solutions.

And I don't want to sound somewhat cliched, but invest in technology solutions that have a robust backing of a comprehensive, configurable, flexible tool set that can be assembled together to deliver even new business processes and outcomes. So that when you decide to pivot, you are not scrambling to find technology that can support your pivot vision in an agile environment.

Kevin: Between our three guests, you have decades of experience in the business world. And they talked about some great fundamental things that will help you future proof your business through your processes and technology. So let's recap what those are. First, be open to change. Businesses unwilling to change will not survive when that change is inevitably required. Second, communicate regularly with your customers about their needs. If you can understand those needs and anticipate ways to meet them, you'll be in a better position to help them achieve their goals. Third, what technologies will help your business adapt and pivot when the need arises?If you don't know what they are already, start your research now before you need them. The advantage of technology is it allows you to rapidly move forward. So if you're trying to find the right technology as the need arises, unfortunately it's too late. And finally, as Frank said, start the journey. You don't have to have it all figured out when you start but you do have to start. 

Thank you so much for joining us this week and don't forget to subscribe to never miss an episode this season. Now, if you're looking for more head over to our Agents of Change landing page at to make things easy for you, there's a link in the show notes. See you next week, everybody.