Driving Digital: The Leader’s Guide to Business Transformation with No-code
Some leaders feel the term “digital transformation” has become so widely used that it has become unhelpful. But the truth is that digital transformation is imperative for all businesses – from the small to the enterprise – to rethink old operating models, experiment more, and become more agile in responding to customers and rivals.
In the new episode of the No-Code Playbook podcast, we invited Isaac Sacolick, Founder and President at StarCIO, author, and a successful CIO leading in digital transformation, innovation, agility, and data science programs in multiple organizations.
Tune in now to find out: what is digital transformation all about? Where do companies get started, and what are the most important things they should focus on? What are the main reasons why transformations fail? How can no-code help enterprises to transform? And much more.
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JASON MILLER: Welcome to Creatio’s No-Code Playbook podcast, where we discuss insights, tips, success stories, and how to leverage the no-code approach to transform business and deliver applications of any complexity. I'm your host Jason Miller, Head of Pre-Sales for Creatio in the Americas. And today, we're going to talk about digital transformation. What is it all about? What do companies need to do to get started? And what are the most important things they should focus on? What are the main reasons why companies’ transformation efforts fail? And today, I'm pleased to introduce today's guest, Isaac Sacolick, Founder and President of StarCIO, recognized as a Top 100 social CIO blogger and industry speaker. Isaac is also the author of an Amazon best-seller, “Driving digital: the leader's guide to business transformation through technology.” Welcome, Isaac.
ISAAC SACOLICK: Thank you, Jason. Thanks for having me. Looking forward to talking about what makes transformation successful.
JASON MILLER: Many people use digital transformation as a buzzword. And many people have said that they're working down the path of digital transformation. But many people have different views or different understandings. Is cloud migration a digital transformation? I think part surely. But the question is – what is digital transformation all about?
ISAAC SACOLICK: Yeah, it's looking at the business model, customer experiences, and product through the lens of technology capabilities. If you look at any company today and what it needs to look like two or three years out, we know that the products and services will change. What markets we’re serving, which will change, what personas and customers we're looking to acquire our changing. And the nature of competition is changing. I got a background in digital transformation working in media, which certainly has changed over the last two decades. If you look at retail, that's changed in the previous two decades. And if you look at the world post-Covid-19, hospitals, banks, and insurance companies, everything we're doing today will continue to evolve. And so that's what digital transformation is all about. It's not about the technology itself; it's about what it enables, both from a product, customer experience, and employing experience side. And so, yes, when you look at any individual technology, I mean, why we invest in the cloud even, while we invest in low-code and no-code type solutions, they're all about being able to deliver new capabilities faster with agility, with more competitive value, and that's why we're investing in these technologies as a part of digital transformation programs.
JASON MILLER: You hit on a couple of great points there. Many executives think of digital transformation as things that impact the customer. I think you brought up a couple of great points – it's impacting products, and it's impacting employees. Thinking about the great resignation and how we as executives think about employees’ satisfaction and employees’ engagement through various platforms. I think that's an interesting topic we're not necessarily touching on today. But I think it definitely shows cases that digital transformation, like all things in the world today, continues evolving to incorporate more things, more areas, and touch more pieces of the business. I think that's insightful. And if we think about that transformation journey that companies start and go on, from your perspective, where do companies get started? What are some of the most important things that they should focus on?
ISAAC SACOLICK: Well, you focus on markets and customers first. Where is the industry leading me toward how I have to evolve to stay competitive? I advise organizations to come up with vision statements. These are typically one-page expressions that talk about who the customer is, what's the value proposition for them, and why we are thinking about doing something differently. So, much work goes into aligning people's thoughts inside the company regarding where markets are going and what do we need to do differently to stay competitive. And then you start getting into some of the areas you discussed, right? How do we bring more employees on board into the conversation, how are we getting their feedback, and how are we making it easy for them to participate? That's a big part of employees’ experience, and hybrid working is done. If our technologies are too hard to use, they require too many steps. You know, our employees are tired. They're working very hard through all the work they have to do to keep the lights on and the business running. Plus, participate in the transformations we're asking them to be subject-matter experts. And technology plays a big role in that. If I have to click too many times, if it's too hard to use, if it's too slow, if I'm asking for information that an analytic or Al can give me – these are all things that can enable us to do more and do smarter things efficiently. And so that's all part of the ingredients that drive transformation programs.
JASON MILLER: That's insightful; I appreciate that. I picked up a couple of things and am thinking about it. Not only do we have to have the vision, but it’s also not just enough to be able to try to execute your way through a strategy tactically. It's important to have that vision and have a North Star, as many people call it, from where you're trying to go. And that should inform your tactical decisions and how you're getting there. The other thing I picked up is how technology can help enable that. And let's talk about that for just a minute. So, when we think about technology enablement, it doesn't matter, in my opinion, whether we're talking employee-facing, customer-facing, over talking about product and evangelist. It's always some way of making that job better and more informed better processes. Do you agree with that, or see the technology enablement being slightly different?
ISAAC SACOLICK: I think people get confused with two statements. Transformation is about transforming the business and experiences and being more competitive. But that doesn't mean that technology isn't really important. In fact, it's critically important to pick technologies that integrate well, allow bringing data in and out of their systems, and that are easy to evolve. You know, we talk about in agile terms, let's get to the MVP, let’s get to the customer experience, let's get that feedback. But we know we're going to be doing versions one dot one all the way to versions nine dot nine very rapidly, and so we need nimble platforms that allow us to get the voice of customers. Think about the strategy. Go quickly, implement things, get feedback, and continue to evolve. From a no-code perspective, you know, I've never been in an IT department that has enough people to service all the departments, all the applications, all the modernizations, all the integration that I'm trying to do. There are a lot of things that I can get at assess, but there are also a lot of things that are truly proprietary in terms of the data I want to collect in terms of the workflow that I'm trying to do. And quite frankly I don't have enough people in IT to do all this stuff. But I also need people outside of IT to say, look, we’re the subject-matter experts, we can build this workflow much more efficiently and faster partner with IT, being hands-on with it, and using best practices that my IT group gives me in terms of naming conventions, and testing, and deploying. And so, partnerships picked with the right platforms can really lead to a digital transformation that maybe is going seventy or eighty miles per hour instead of thirty or forty miles per hour. So, we're doing it faster, and we're also doing it a lot smarter because we're able to integrate our data and our workflow with other tools that are part of our enterprise systems.
JASON MILLER: Well, there's so much to unpack there, and you mentioned so many great topics. And I know that in a future podcast we're going to sit down with Burley Kawasaki, who is the co-author of the No-Code Playbook, and we're going to talk about some of those exact things, right? How to drive speed in delivery, and how to even get to an everyday delivery methodology. Into your point, taking on those additional folks, having a fusion team, having additional players, those subject-matter experts, that have some technical acumen participate in that development exercise and help accelerate the delivery to bring that better experience, whether that be customer-facing employees-facing. I think that's revolutionary as far as where we're going from a technology standpoint. But the other thing that I think that you brought up, that, I think, is crucial. And everybody understands it, and it is worth saying time and time again. If you need systems that are flexible, you need systems that can integrate easily. I think one of the challenges a lot of C-level folks face, especially on the CIO part or CTO part is – I've got a lot of legacy systems, I've got a lot of technology debt that's out there. So, from your experience as a CIO or CTO that's looking at a lot of technology debt, what are some of those first things that you think they should be thinking about? How can I unwind some of the twenty, thirty, and forty years worth of legacy debt that I've got in front of me?
ISAAC SACOLICK: When you look at our legacy, we're always building new things that eventually become things we have to support. So, the first question is, when you look at your portfolio, when you think about where transformation is taking the organization, the last thing you really want to do is say – I'm going to lift and shift thirty-forty applications, put a nice UI on it, maybe operates a little bit faster, maybe it's easier to work with the mobile experience. But I just transitioned that workflow; I didn't transform it; I'm just doing the same thing a little bit more efficiently. We talked about transformation, talked about going from all the way to how we sell our product, how we market it, what that product is and how it's quickly evolving, how we're supporting it once it's out in the market, how we're bringing feedback from all those constituents back to the entire organization, what analytics were capturing around it. And those are not things we were doing five or ten years ago. I mean, we were doing it a little bits and pieces with point solutions that you gave us, a little bit of the analytics, and so forth. But now I want the entire organization to look at this information and say, okay, we are developing consensus about some things we need to do differently. When I think about what we're doing in transformation, it's all about bringing those ecosystems together. And when I think about tech debt, when I say, okay, I'm going to do all that, I'm going to start picking platforms out, how am I going to avoid creating the next set of technical debt? That's really where a lot of the no-code and integration comes in. I look at the level of expression I have to do to accomplish something in technology. And I talk about that in my recent book “Digital trailblazer,” I saw one technology, thousands of lines of code to generate a bar chart that looked like lotus one, two, three from twenty-five years ago. Thousands of lines of code, why? Because that platform was giving me tons of flexibility but at a huge cost. I had to really develop a lot of code to be able to support something that the business was asking me to do. And, yes, I equate thousands of lines of code with larger amounts of tech dept to support later on. Somebody's got to read all that code and understand it. I got to have testing strategies around it. I have to have documentation around it. Now I go to a no-code platform, and maybe those thousands of lines of code are completely built using visual paradigms. Maybe it's self-documenting; it's easy to quickly update and test those updates. I can sandbox some testing to see what's working out there. These are some of the things I'm looking to do. And CIOs, who haven't seen it before, need to get involved in looking underneath the hood of no-code technologies and see what it does differently than the world that we grew up in, which is very code-heavy, very integration heavy. And quite frankly a lot of things that we're doing today are slowing us down. So, it's going to create a new paradigm for us when we pick platforms that support the velocity our businesses are asking us to execute.
JASON MILLER: When you think about those thousands of lines of code, what language is it in? Was it in a second-generation language? I mean, we're even moving into fourth-generation languages now, and it's amazing. Second-generation language is still sitting out, so there are still four training co-ball in multibillion-dollar businesses.
ISAAC SACOLICK: Jason, I'm more afraid of the thousands of lines of job script code running on different frameworks. They're very powerful, they're very useful for some things when you select from your architecture to do the right things you need to do. But if I'm doing basic things really well, if I'm doing even more advanced things. Ten years ago, I was building customer-facing applications with no-code technologies. I didn't need an army of developers to work with me. You know, I probably was doing it with a third of the number of people because we were getting a lot of the capabilities from our no-code platform. When I needed to integrate sales and marketing into it, we didn't create proprietary ways of doing this. We created a way of selling the product with visibility end-to-end in terms of how the product was marketed, sold, and supported, along with the data being used within the product. And that's what gave us efficiency when we said we needed to evolve the product every month, just like a software company. But I can't afford what Google, Facebook, and Netflix invest in their software. I'm not big enough. I need to do this much more nimbly, and that's where a lot of the no-code paradigms enable organizations to do a lot more faster and smarter than others.
JASON MILLER: I think that brings up a really good point. Because a lot of organizations found their way into becoming IT organizations, even if they were product companies, they were CPG companies or they were manufacturing companies. But because they wanted to build their own e-commerce websites, they wanted to build their own B2B-sales processes. The problem with that is they ended up building themselves into a lot of technology debt, and now they find themselves so far behind the aged ball. Now they feel like they're trying to figure their way out. And do I choose a SaaS package, do I choose a no-code package, do I try to build my own way out of it? And they're stuck with it, and that's where this digital transformation journey comes in. And we've talked a lot about how no-code can help enable those things. But if we think about it, it's not just from magnitude scale. It's also around flexibility and agility, which we talked about. So, knowing those things, what are some of the other reasons that executives should think about bringing in no-code technologies to really help enable that digital transformation?
ISAAC SACOLICK: You talk about how we bring a vision to an early-stage reality. And that vision I see is a one-page template. And if you don't go down the kind of traditional product development engineering path. I got to get in front of customers and learn what they wanted. I got to have somebody right up wireframes. I have to have somebody else right up requirements for me got to get translated into an agile template so that my agile teams are now iterating and improving on it. Now my agile teams are doing things in a code environment. I got to build the code, build the testing, I got to build all the DevOps around it. Somewhere in there, hopefully, I'm collecting all the data I need to make sense of how this thing is performing, and what people are using with it, what's the journey around this. I got to do a lot of work. Even to do the simplest first-stage prototype, there's just a lot of overhead around that. And so, you start looking at how do I cheat? How do I circumvent a lot of that work when I want to do something at a small scale to start that I know will enable me to evolve and scale it as I’m going forward? Instead of a wireframe, instead of requirements, I'm bringing a no-code platform and sitting with some stakeholders, sitting with some customers, listening, and building something in real time and letting them see what that looks like. And then I'm going to go pilot it. And let twenty-thirty people use it and get that experience folded into my development process. And then yes, I'm going to use my IT shop, my IT shop is going to come in and make sure I’m collecting data in a consistent way. When I need to integrate with other platforms, I can do that well. So, it's yes, that multi-disciplinary team what you call a fusion team. I will use more traditional language and say it's multi-disciplinary. It's going to have agile developers on it at times. But it's going to have a lot of work being done by our subject-matter experts. It's going to have my data sciences involved so that they can actually build visualization around it as we scale and learn how things are operating. I'm adding all the additional capabilities once I know the experience is working for me. Once I know that I can sell it in the market to it. Once I know what the customers’ support issues to it. So, I'm taking something really simple, bringing it to market, using very elegant and very easy-to-use tools, and then scaling it as I'm seeing success from it.
JASON MILLER: You talk about what exactly Katherine and Burley when they wrote the book talk about prototype-to-MVP – the ability to deliver in real-time that wireframe of an application. And it could be even that smallest piece of it in which you're going to iterate around and help accelerate everyday delivery. So, I think that's a great topic. But we've just got a few minutes left here. And I want to ask you one more really important question, and it's the one that always comes up when you talk about digital transformation. Why do companies fail when it comes to digital transformation?
ISAAC SACOLICK: I have two answers for you. Fail first – is because they don't start. They look at this and say – it's not hitting my company. It's not hitting my industry, my profits, my customers like my product, you know, we’re highly profitable, we have loads of other issues to deal with. Whether it's compliance, whether it's getting more operationally efficient. And you know, the truth is like in different industries the disruption factor is happening at different times in different scales and timelines. But I don't believe it's not going to be that industries are immune to it. I've spoken to different companies, and I said, look, Covid-19 was your wake-up call. The idea of doing virtual classrooms didn't work during Covid-19 for the reasons that we know – that in-person learning is important. But you got to tell me that there isn't the right balance that higher educational institutions need to figure out over the next decade. Same thing with hospitals. I talk to hospitals about patients’ experience and making life easier for doctors and nurses, and how do we become more data-driven and not just find ways to cut costs. So, it's number one, I think, is just this notion that it's not important for my organization. Number two is when you talk about knowing what makes them successful. We got some dollars to invest in this; we have CIOs and CMOs partnering in terms of what the transformation looks like. The real transformation has to be bottom-up. I have a post on this and the video around that. The number one digital transformation failure as we create the deck that everybody aligns to, and then CIOs go back into their office or CMOs go back into their office, they fail to realize that engaging the staff and how they should participate, how they should show up to enable a transformation. And what does that look like in practice? I might be somebody in sales who knows exactly end-to-end how customers are buying our products today. That person in sales needs to help me understand that. What is the sales process looks like today? And then eventually learn what the new products are, the new systems we'll have to enable this, and what buyers are looking for differences in the new product than they were selling in the old product. That's a bottom-up transformation in terms of how we're evolving. What are some of the ways how we're measuring performance differently than we were in the past? That's not just an operational OKR, we're thinking about growth, and we're thinking about finding and attracting customers that are profitable for us. How do we get that information to our staff? And how do we build processes that fulfill that? If I can't engage the staff in participating, sharing information, joining agile teams, and developing their business acumen on the technical side. But on the business side, building their technical acumen so that they can actually work with no-code tools, work with data, and work with analytics to evolve how we're offering new products and services. That's what digital transformation is all about. You have to have a view of what transformation looks like in your organization that maybe takes two or three years out. And then in two or three years out, you’re going to do this again. If you look back at 2019, there is no visibility into a pandemic, into hybrid working, into the supply chain issues, whether we're going to hit a recession or not. Now that we're coming from parts of that, we're looking into the future about what the economy looks like, what the supply chain looks like, and what employees’ experiences look like. And in three years, I don't know, we'll be talking about web three in the Metaverse and how that's changing our products and services. We will always be transforming, which means a different way we're showing things up and working with the staff. It means we need to have the right technologies in place to enable us to continue to transform as an organization.
JASON MILLER: I think if you went back to “before the pandemic” and you asked them what the next major disruptor in technology is, many companies would say it would have been the Meta. But you never know what is going in front of you, and I think that's one of the things you think about flexibility. That you need to be ready for anything and having that stakeholder engagement throughout that process and buying like you talked about is crucial.
So, we've come to the end of our time, my friend. It has been a pleasure to have you on our show.
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