Snowmobiles, Personas, and Why It’s Important You Nail It Before You Scale It

If you’ve ever watched an HBO series, the end of every episode provides a behind-the-scenes look at what happened in that episode.

For a complex storyline like Game of Thrones, these recaps can be particularly insightful to understanding the development of the plot and characters. No, we’re not attempting to be Netflix, nor will we remind you of the emotional agony of Daenerys sailing into Westeros. What we are bringing to you is a behind-the-scenes look into our 2019 Trends Event, which unpacked the nine digital trends we identified in our annual trends report and six cloud-native trends in the cloud-native trends report as having the biggest impact on the enterprise this year.

The event provided more than 100 cross-functional executives the opportunity to hear from seasoned executives and thought leaders across four panels that covered a wide array of topics, including buyer engagement, digital innovation, enterprise transformation, and cloud-native development.

From the enterprise cloud race to buyer engagement and a new normal for digital innovation, here is a breakdown of the top themes you should pay attention to in 2019 and beyond.

The quest for modernization: it’s not all about the technology

The cloud session panel included the following participants:

Moderator: Mike Koleno, CTO Cloud at Solstice
Panelist: Peter Sullivan, Platform Architecture Manager at Pivotal
Panelist: Brad Hildestad, Executive Vice President and CIO at COUNTRY Financial
Panelist: Len Hardy, Chief Architect, Director of Architecture and Innovation at Northern Trust

After testing, validating, and hypothesizing, enterprises are fully brought into the economics and benefits of the cloud, and today is an all-out race to realize the potential upside.

Those who will win must wean off legacy systems and embrace more agile, continuous delivery and microservice architectures. Read: modernization. Server builds are now measured in hours, not weeks, and there are multiple QAs a day as production cycles are deployed in weeks, not months.

What’s more, legacy is considered anything two/three years old or more. It can’t be written enough, but the most successful companies today are quick and adaptive; they’re able to manage all this change on the fly by keeping their people and processes aligned and customers happy.

The “aha moment” for many CIOs as they settle into a viable technology strategy for the next few years: cloud is easy; change is hard.

As many CIOs and CTOs move down the path of modernization, in some cases changing roles and job descriptions that date back 20 years, maintaining positive momentum is critical. Celebrating every win is critical.

Hildestad noted that COUNTRY Financial’s new mobile application project completely energized and rejuvenated his team, which is a big win for the company’s culture in general. But it’s more than that: while change is hard, companies shouldn’t feel the need to go solo on everything. “Don’t try to do it by yourself, get some help,” Hildestad pointed out. Hardy also emphasized the importance of asking for assistance: “We began doing some transformation on our own, but we really wanted to be a part of something new, so we were able to show the value of new business opportunities by solving issues, setting priorities, and working side by side with our corporate model and our team — together.”

Openness and transparency are becoming the “new normal” for digital innovation

The innovation event panel included the following participants:

Moderator: Ryan Maguire, CTO AI at Solstice
Panelist: Helen Sun, CTO at STATS
Panelist: Peter Juberg, Customer Engineering Manager at Google

Continuing with this theme, the innovation group noted that digital transformation involves much more than new technologies and digital channels; it’s about breaking down silos to ensure people and processes are more cross-collaborative and transparent.

Borderless thinking is a new mind-set that impacts everything from product development to software development to customer service. This involves open lines of communication, rethinking organizational models in some cases, and ensuring the right tools are in place to facilitate in real time the necessary conversations.

According to Juberg, each Google product — from Docs to Calendar and Gmail — is not just a product Google sells, but is critical internally to promoting openness and creating more efficiencies and better ways of doing business. At the time, each Google product was developed to scratch Google’s own itch.

This is not to say adopting Google Docs is a silver bullet, but rather a means to an end — it’s about promoting and cultivating new ideas and ways of thinking. Borderless thinking involves removing all artificial boundaries and walls between organizations and their employees and organizations and their customers. Diversity of thought is a critical component of breaking old paradigms. Only those who see innovation for what it really is — a borderless team effort — will keep pace with the pack.

A case in point came from Sun, whose company is innovating the sports prediction industry: “We are at a pivot point of moving into more of a software as service powered by AI.” Like STATS, borderless companies that push the envelope are empowering employees with real-time data to “see the unseen.” Gone are the days of BI tools that take months to implement, only to provide guidance for what happened in the past.

Those willing and able to embrace analytics are accelerating decision-making and reducing its complexity (while doing away with unconscious bias).

Deeply understanding your personas and getting to the gym; not easy, very rewarding

The Buyer Engagement Session Panel included the following participants:

Moderator: Paul Heckel, VP of Customer Experience at Solstice
Panelist: David Hyser, Chief Digital Officer at Citi
Panelist: Judith Toland, Former VP and Chief Marketing Officer at Life Fitness

Branded conversations today can be complex and even touch on complicated social issues. Truly knowing what motivates and drives your buyer/consumer — in short, what makes him or her tick — is the key to thriving in the age of the unpredictable persona.

As Toland articulated, “Consistently getting your buyer engagement right is a lot like working out; it’s hard, it takes time, and the results can be slow to show. But organizations that push through and discover their industry’s most powerful insights reap the biggest rewards.”

Understanding your current buyer’s journey at one point doesn’t mean that journey will remain static. In the fitness world, consumers will always strive to go from couch potato to ultra-marathoner, but those motivations will shift and evolve with the times.

Right now, Toland says, it all has to do with community: “People want to work out with people and have a shared experience about their workouts; there’s accountability and social connectivity.”

That insight dovetailed with the trend Solstice believes will come to define this year: the emergence of the “Long Tail Tribe,” whereby microsegments bound by shared beliefs, values, or even location will be powerful forces. Hyser mentioned that in the financial world, especially with respect to digital, it’s all about the community: “People want to be a part of their own communities. So what does that mean for us as a business? It’s changing, and we need to change with it.”

For virtually any brand, the path to revenue will pass through these powerful microsegments.

Fail fast, nail and scale, be persistent and meet customers’ unmet needs

The Transformation Event Panel included the following participants:

Moderator: Marisa Mann, COO at Solstice
Panelist: Mark Moran, Innovation Director at John Deere
Panelist: Chad LaCrosse, Sr. Director, Business Technology Solutions at AbbVie

When it comes to brand survival in 2019, permitted failure is key, and companies must continually learn, test, and tune in to their business obstacles. The key is to create the necessary environment to ensure the failures are big enough to learn something meaningful, but small enough to not bet and lose quarterly results on them.

“You know when you’re nailing a nail in, you have to nail it several times,” LaCross said. “Sometimes you miss, but once you’ve nailed it and you got it, scale it.”

AbbVie, for example, fosters a culture of internal disruption by periodically uprooting 8-12 employees for 10-12 weeks at a time and assigning them to solve a single business problem. They are taken off-site, given different tools and computers than the rest of the company, and then return with amazing results.

The transition from experiment to production is key and is where many good ideas go to die. The hand-off process can be messy when the product teams don’t necessarily feel the same way about new features as the innovation teams did. Ensuring alignment of incentives and results is one key factor that can help bridge the gap. It’s an iterative process to get it right.

Change management in general is iterative itself, never one and done. In fact, dealing with the whims and emotions of a culture can feel counterintuitive at times.

Moran added his perspective: “The whole process is akin to riding a snowmobile — when you're in trouble, the natural inclination is to back off. But in doing so, you wind up in perilous limbo. You actually need to lean in and give it some throttle to pull yourself out.”

The most successful companies today are those wherein borderless thinking, cross-collaboration, and permission to fail fast are encouraged and explored. Innovation is as much about culture and people as it is about tools and technology. The leaders and innovators who stand behind today’s digital transformation will all embrace a unique blend of transparency, efficiency, agility, and resiliency. In fact, these very qualities are what will separate the industry leaders from laggards, regardless of what skills and technologies are brought to the table.


Interested in diving deeper into these insights? Here’s the full trends report, or shoot me a note at