Podcast: Survival of the Fastest (Tony Kurre Radio)

Podcast Transcript

The following is a special presentation of Tony Kurre Radio. With Dr. Alex Heublein and Dr. Josh Klapow, This is Adapt or Perish.

Welcome to Adapt or Perish, along with Dr. Alex Heublein, president of Adaptigent. I am Dr. Josh Klapow and today we are talking about survival of the fastest. Alex, I remember a term that was shared with me when I first got into the technology business, the whole idea of configurability versus customizability, and that we want to always be built for expansion flexibility to solve single niche challenges, but always be in a position to solve those all the time through configurability. And that you have to be very careful not to put yourself in a position where you’re constantly customizing, because it takes time and it makes you go slow. So, first of all, just right off the bat, what are your thoughts about this? This whole idea of survival, the fastest and customizability versus configurability?

Yeah, it’s a really interesting topic because a lot of people have gone back to this idea, well, survival, when you look at it from an evolutionary standpoint is just sort of survival of the fittest, but what we see in today’s world is that the world is changing faster and faster and faster every day. And that pace of change is increasing and it has been increasing for a long, long time. Things move very, very quickly. And so yes, the idea that you need to be able to go out and configure things versus trying to go in and customize them, that’s something that’s really over the last, let’s call it 10 or 15 years has really become more of the dominant paradigm in a lot of the things that we do.

If you were to go back 20 years ago, people were implementing ERP systems, enterprise resource and planning systems and they would buy the software from folks like SAP or whomever, and then they would spend three years customizing it to their specific business needs and the cost of the customization and the time it took them to do that was many times greater than the amount that they paid for the software in the first place. And so what they tried to do though, is they looked at the way they did business and they thought, you know what, the software has to match exactly the way that I do business today. Very rarely back then, did they say, well, wait a minute, why am I doing this this way in the first place? Is there a good reason for doing it this way that requires all this customization? Or am I doing things just because that’s the we’ve always done them?

And so I think there’s been kind of a meeting of the minds on that a lot of cases to where companies have said, you know what, I’m not going to try to customize this as much. Maybe I can make some minor alterations to my business processes. And instead of having to go out and customize things endlessly, I can actually adapt my business processes around it. So that’s been one solution. The other solution is this idea of configurability, where I don’t have to go in and write a bunch of code. I don’t have to go in and make massive changes to the way the software works. I can actually configure in a lot of those changes. So the software vendors have gone out and really said, we have to make things more customizable because at the end of the day, writing code is expensive.

It’s very difficult to do. It’s often very error-prone. So we’ve seen this rise of tools that are either highly configurable, or you can go out and you can do customization, but you don’t have to go write a bunch of code to do it. And so that not only cuts down on some of the initial implementation costs of these systems, but it also gives me the ability to adapt and change very quickly as my business changes, as the technology landscape changes, as the market changes, it gives me that idea of adaptability and that’s what at the end of the day is ultimately what’s going to help my company survive, is that ability to move quickly and be the fastest at being able to change versus my competitors or other people in the marketplace.

So one of the things you just brought up, which I think is really interesting, because we’ve talked about in the past sort of how the technology or the software, the advances in it can be used to, if you will, adapt to what our business needs are and that we don’t have to be beholden to software limitations. But one of the things I heard you just mention, and that I think is absolutely fascinating is kind of this intersection between software that is adaptable, it is configurable, but also maybe rethinking in some cases our business operation processes. And thinking about those… You answered this question, thinking about those, not just in terms of software capabilities, but it’s almost as if the software and the technology is giving us a new way to think about the way we do business. I see those things kind of becoming enmeshed in a way that they weren’t historically. What are your thoughts on that?

Well, yes, and I think it’s all a function of the accelerating pace of change. Again, let’s rewind to 50 years ago. The business world wasn’t changing nearly as rapidly as it is today. And so the idea of being able to sort of design in adaptability and to use technology to overcome these challenge wasn’t nearly as big of a problem because A, we were less on technology back then and B, the pace of change was a lot slower. And so, yeah, there’s this idea that you can go out and you have to take a holistic look at what you’re doing from both a business process standpoint and then really what most software does in businesses is it automates business processes, back before we had typewriters. And then somebody came up with these word processors, and everybody was like, man, this is great.

I don’t have to go get the white out and everything else. That’s a very trivial example, but one of the very first of automating some business tasks that needed to desperately get automated, make them more efficient, so on and so forth. And so as software has gotten more complex and the world around us has moved faster and faster, this notion of being able to adapt the software to my needs, but also understand that my business processes may need to change, and the software needs to be able to change rapidly almost in real time with those changes to my business processes. So you take I think the best example of this is the global pandemic that’s going on right now. That changed the world almost overnight for just about every business out there.

We saw massive changes in the way people work. We saw massive changes in business models. We saw massive changes in the way companies had to react to this massive change in order to be able to survive. So you look at retailers. There are a lot of retailers that just got pummeled by this thing. Now, they were already probably on their last legs anyway, having to compete with Amazon and folks like that, but the pandemic changed things in a way that really brought that home to life. They really looked at things and said, wow, this is a change that we simply cannot adapt to quickly enough. Now if they had a decade to adapt to it, maybe so. Maybe you come out of that and you’re okay. But when you have literally months or fewer, some cases it was weeks to adapt to something that’s changing the world in a way like a global pandemic, some of them survived and some of them perished and the reason that a lot of them perished was that they simply weren’t fast enough to adapt.

So I think we have to look at it from that kind of perspective. So you’re not just looking at computer systems and IT, you’re not just looking at your business processes, but you’re really looking at the very broad picture on this and saying, the market is going to keep changing, the world is going to keep changing. Now, maybe we won’t have anything in the near future that’s as impactful as a pandemic, but I guarantee you we’ll see massive changes because these massive changes happen over and over and over again throughout history.

The last big one was the global financial crisis and the great recession. We saw all these banks failing. Lehman Brothers and so on and so forth. And they simply, weren’t able to adapt to a very changing market. A bubble burst and a lot of companies simply weren’t able to adapt to that pandemic. Same thing.

A lot of companies simply weren’t able to adapt to it quickly enough. And I think that’s something that most companies in the past have not put a priority on. They’ve not put a priority on saying, well, what is our level of adaptability? That’s something that never shows up in the financial report or the reports that these companies take out to the public. There’s not even a good measurement of that. But it may be one of the most important factors for long term survival and, and, and being able to really go out and thrive and make great returns. I think adaptability and this idea of being able to adapt very quickly is something that is a core skill and a core capability that more and more organizations need to take a look at very carefully.

So, this is interesting because you always think about, at least with businesses, we’re trying to think about staying out ahead of the competition. We don’t want to be too far ahead of the market because we want uptake, but we want to be sort of on the edge where we can dial back a little bit, but would also be ready to move forward. When you are talking about adaptability and companies doing that, what is the intersection? We talked about this in a different episode, that intersection between business practices and IT practices when they’re trying to analyze or figure out how adaptable are we, because as you’re speaking, I keep going back and forth in my head between IT adaptability and then sort of business product adaptability. Where is that intersection and how does software really help that split sometimes between IT and business when it to adaptability at a rapid pace?

Well, yeah, and I think there’s two ways to look at it. I think that when you look at companies, they need to be adaptable to be able to keep pace with the changes in the market and they need to be able to go out and change what they do relatively quickly, but the interesting thing is that the business often will drive the need for IT adaptability, the business can be very adaptable. The business people can come up with great ideas all the time. And then they look to the IT guys and they say, hey, we’ve got this great new, innovative marketing concept or sales concept, or this new product we’re bringing to market. And we need you guys to who adapt very, very quickly to what we are doing as a company in response to what’s happening in the marketplace.
So that’s one way of looking at it. And traditionally, if you go ask most business people, most line of business executives, what’s your biggest complaint about IT and they’ll tell you almost invariably they’re not fast enough. They can’t move quick enough. Okay. So I think that’s a big challenge in and of itself. Now, it also goes the other direction though. When you look at a lot of companies, it can actually be sort of the tail wagging the dog in the sense that I can come up with software innovations that give me an advantage out in the marketplace that the business then takes a hold of and runs with. So I can go out and do things that from a technology standpoint that the business wasn’t even aware that could be accomplished. So you get this kind of back and forth.

And oftentimes it’s really hard to manage that back and forth, because there’s always sort of competing priorities and competing resources within a company and being able to go out and really understand that back and forth. How do we move quickly as an IT organization to react to the needs that the business is bringing us, but also how do we bring IT innovation to the business? And that’s what a lot of CIOs and CTOs, that’s really a much, much bigger part of their job in the last say 20 years. Their jobs for a long time were just, okay, the business needs to do something. My organization is here to go help them do it and help them make it faster, more efficient, whatever. But he tables have kind of turned over the last, let’s call it 15 or 20 years where the line of business executives are expecting IT to bring them ideas, to bring them innovations and to help them innovate out in the marketplace.

So I think the need for that IT business alignment has become much, much more important as the world keeps changing faster and faster. Your CIO and your CTO and your line of business executives you have to be in lockstep in order to be able to not only react, to changes out in the marketplace, but use change actually as a competitive weapon. If I can change faster than another company, then I’ve got a sustainable advantage until they figure out how to become more adaptable. So I think you see that back and forth. You see it going both ways, but I think you hit the nail right on the head there that the trick is how do I get my business and my IT and my technology organizations aligned and in lockstep with one another?
So you got me thinking. I’m a psychologist by trade and you got me thinking about Maslow’s hierarchy a little bit and this whole idea of both sides, the business side, the technology side, pushing forward with innovation or perceived innovation. Here’s where we want to go as a business or on the tech side, look at what we can do. One of the things we know is if basic needs are not met, it’s harder for people to engage in higher level thinking, higher level opportunities, creativity. So I keep thinking here, how does, whether it’s software a company like Adaptigent, help us, if you will, simultaneously manage our problems or manage our areas of risk while also allowing us to be innovating. So it almost doesn’t have to be sequential that it can be simultaneous. Is that possible? And is that a good way to be thinking about it right now?

I absolutely think it’s possible and you see companies do it all the time, but I do think in general, it is kind of that evolution, it’s that hierarchy of needs that really drives the investments and drives the resources that get put on these sorts of things. So I kind of categorize companies and this isn’t just true of companies, this is sort of any organization. There’s organizations and companies that are purely reactive to change. Change comes in and they’re struggling to keep up. They’re just struggling to keep up with the demands of the business or the demands of the market or whatever. And they’re always behind the curve constantly. And this is probably 60, 70% of the companies of all the companies out there fall into that category. And I don’t know that for sure, but I would put some money on it.

The second kind of company is a company that goes out and says, we’re able to go out and have a mix where we can react to the market, but we can also help the company be a bit more proactive to the market in terms of change and in terms of innovation. And then I think there are companies that are truly out on the forefront where they’re using proactive change. They’re proactively going out there and doing things out in the marketplace that are innovative, that are different, and that they force other competitors to adapt to. And there’s a lot of those companies and those companies generally tend to do really, really well in life. So, I think that there is kind of a progression that you see, but it’s not just sort of a binary, you’re not this one or that one or the other one, there’s a mixture of these things that happen out there in the world.

But what I find interesting is that a lot of companies don’t see this as being a big priority. We talked about this. They don’t have another balance sheet. They don’t have it on any of their reports that they talk about. And so I think there’s a technology aspect of it. You’ve got to be really adept at, at certain technologies to be able to adapt quickly, but there’s also a cultural aspect. Going back to the human part of this, that you kind of brought up with Maslow’s hierarchy, you’ve to get people into a position where they can innovate and they’re encouraged to innovate, and they’re encouraged to change quickly. And we talked on the last episode of this idea where you’ve got all this complexity in the way, and that complexity is causing a lot of challenges, a lot of problems, so on and so forth, being able to adapt very, very quickly to those changes, it’s absolutely critical to them and being able to get out and proactively and use change as a competitive weapon, that is a huge success factor.

And I think it’s something that more companies, they have to put some wood behind the arrow. They’ve got to make it a priority to be able to move towards a much more adaptable world. And hopefully the ideal position you want to be in is that you’re adapting so quickly to the market that your competitors are having to keep up with you, as opposed to you trying to keep up with something that’s happening out there. So it’s that move from reactivity to proactivity that I think is the real key for a lot of businesses. And so the challenge there is you’ve got to be able to choose technology platforms that allow you to do that sort of thing. And when you look out there at what’s happened in the software engineering world, we used to write very complex, very brittle software, stuff that was really, really hard to change.

And as we’ve evolved our understanding of how to write software and as more resources have become available from a computing standpoint, storage memory, whatever, now we’ve got the opportunity to really sit down and build software and build IT systems that are very, very easy to change, very flexible. And I think one of the proof points on that is this idea of these low code, no code platforms that we’ve talked about before, that have really come to the forefront in the last few years. And they give people the ability to go out and change things and adapt to things very, very quickly. And so that’s why the company I work for, we’ve gone all in on this idea of no code development, because we don’t want to add more complexity and difficulty to change into an already difficult to change scenario.

All right. So let me ask you this, because again, I think about this in terms of barriers to entry, low code, no code, you make it easier to make change. If I’m running a company, though, I want to make sure that I’ve sort of got quality checks in there that I’m not getting… We know about the companies, they never change or they’re slow to change and as a result, they’re trying to play catch up, but particularly with like low code, no code, which is an awesome idea.

We don’t have to have the specialized person. Where or how can the technology help us put the checks in essentially so we’re not getting herky jerky? So we’re not going after, okay, shiny new object. We need to go here. We need to go there. Does the technology allow us either to do quality checks or at the very least to be able to maybe come back, if we’ve gone too far to the left, too far to the right, we’ve gone too far ahead. How do we do this so that business processes can still run in in a thoughtful manner and not kind of all over the place?

Yeah. There’s always that back and forth you go through, like I want to change quickly, I want to do things fast, but what happens if I mess it up? What happens if I introduce a problem in the business process, what happens if I end up in a security situation? We’ve seen a lot of cyber security threats. We’ve seen very professional, even state sponsored hackers going into systems. So yeah, there’s a balance you have to strike there between quality and security and reliability, but also need needing to be able to move very quickly. And those are often opposing goals. And so you’ve seen a lot of reactions to this in the marketplace. So one of them is this idea of DevOps, where the development teams and the guys that actually have to run the software are much, much more tightly aligned than they ever were in the past.

Back in the day, you go back 20, 30 years ago, we’d write software and we’d build the software, we’d test it, and then we would literally chuck this stuff over the transom to the poor guys that had to operate the software.

That’s right. That’s right.

There was almost no coordination between those teams. And so you’ve seen this big shift to making sure that the technology organization from a development standpoint and the folks that have to actually run and operate this stuff in the real world, that they’re much, much better aligned I think today than they ever were. And then now you see things like security ops, where the security guys get into that. So you’ve got the developers, you’ve got the security guys, and you’ve got the people that actually have to run the operations guys running things.

And now they’re much more tightly coordinated. So I think that’s been a big shift because you’re right, if you don’t do something proactively like that, if you don’t have those organizations aligned with one another, yes, you can change very quickly, but it just opens up your risk profile to making a lot of errors and have a lot of challenges with it. And I saw that there was a bank, I think it was up in New York last year, they needed to send some money to one of their customer. I think it was a retailer. And somewhere in the process, somebody was using a piece of software to do this large money transfer. And instead of transferring 50 million, they transferred 500 million.


And you’re, yeah, you’re kind of like, oops. And then they tried to get the money back, but a federal judge said, no, tough luck guys. You’re stuck, man. You sent the money to them, you’re out of luck. And so these guys lost 450 million overnight, so yeah. So that’s probably an extreme example, but it does go to show you that you do have to be careful with this stuff. So getting the operations team, the security guys, the IT development organization, getting them all on the same page I think is very important. And then I think being able to use tools that instead of writing code, a lot of what these no code platforms do is they generate code so that I don’t have humans trying to write every last line and every last semicolon and making sure it’s all perfectly correct. I’m generating code that I know is good code. So really what you’re doing with a lot of those tools is just assembling the flow of those pieces of code that we’ve been generating for years and years and years.

And again, that’s what we do at our company. We don’t want people going out and writing very, very complex integrations or very complex automations by writing a bunch of code. We give them the ability to do it with a no code environment and that reduces a lot of the errors, it leads to a lot faster time to market. In fact, we had a big banking customer in France and they wanted to do real time payments. And the challenge with real time payments is that you can’t get the money back if you mess up.
If you add that extra zero, you don’t really have a lot of legal recourse to get your money back. And so using our tool sets, that bank went from a proof of concept to production, transferring real money in real time, they did it in less than two months. And I think that’s a real testament to this idea that you can move quickly, as long as you’re not trying to write every single line of code, that you’re generating this stuff, and you’re generating it into a well known environment that has already been tested over and over and over again, those are some of the ways that you can combat that issue.

So, you’re describing not only the technology, but you’re also describing sort of organizational landscape with DevOps and bringing in the security people. And it’s different folks at the table now in order to do this, or because we can do this. And what came to my was I was thinking of another group of people. So one is the whole idea of consultative sales, as well as maybe external consultants, because what you are describing, this is what your company does from a technology standpoint. But if I’m a business and I’m a little hesitant because I’ve sort of run legacy systems, et cetera, what role does consultation play either directly from your company as you’re selling in and/or working with third party consultants to try to make this all work?

Yeah. I know. A great question. And what we see with the stuff that we produce with our products is that there’s very little consultation needed. We’ve made our products very, very easy to use. And so generally what we do is we go in, we train people for a couple of weeks and then off they go, they’re actually producing real results very, very rapidly. Now that said, though, we’re usually part of a much larger initiative within some of these organizations where there are a lot of consultants. So you’ve heard these terms like IT modernization and digital transformation. And I suspect if you went and asked a hundred IT people what digital transformation means you’d get a hundred different answers because it’s such a generic term these days, but this idea of really moving everything into a digital environment and transforming the way that IT works.

And so that I think is where a lot of the really powerful consultative capabilities come in. It’s not so much in the implementation of it because you can use tools now to do a lot of that and we’ve got some great solutions for that sort of thing, but really understanding the entire picture when it comes to things like digital transformation and IT modernization. Because it’s not just the technology that you’re dealing with. You’re dealing with the organization, you’re dealing with the business processes that you have to work with. You’re dealing with people and culture.

And so I think that’s really where a lot of consultants come in and do great work is that they’re able to go look at the entire picture, not just focus on the technology, although that generally is a big part of it, but also look at the implications of doing these transformation exercises for the business, for the entire organization, and also for the company culture and individuals within it, making all of that make sense, and then putting together a timeline that you can execute on that without encountering too much risk, without taking too much risk in what you’re doing, because that’s always one of the big inhibitors that we see is companies not wanting to change because they don’t want to break what isn’t broken already.

They don’t want to do that. I think that’s natural human instinct that if something’s working, don’t go monkeying around with it, but they embark on these transformation journeys. I think that’s where the consultative aspect of it can come in really handy.

Do you ever get in conversations, whether it’s you, your team, where you’re basically… We’re talking about survival the fastest, and so this idea that to the extent that you can adapt quickly and proactively you’re going to be in a much better position. Do you ever get the into conversations where you’re sort of looking at what an organization has? Maybe they’re talking to Adaptigent about a possible software solution and this is not for sales pitch purposes, but you’re literally saying, hey, you got to make this change or you’re not going to make it. And again, I’m thinking like a psychologist, it’s almost trying to reassure whether it’s the CEO or whomever that it’s going to be okay, that you’ve got to do this change, you’re not going to make it without, but we can really minimize your risk or mitigate risk because of what you just said. It’s that, oh, I don’t know if I want to do that because as we’ve always done it this way. What role do you play in sort of telling them they’ve got to do this, even when they’re sitting on the fence?

Well, it’s actually not so much telling them that they’ve got to do it. I think a lot of these guys know that. I think what it really comes down to is less about you have to do it, but more focused on, look, there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing this. There are better ways of doing this than what you’re thinking. And so we end up encountering in a lot of sales cycles, we end up encountering this, wait a minute, your stuff is too good to be true. It can’t possibly be that easy. And I got to tell you when I was being recruited to come to the company, I said the same thing. I said, come on guys. This is like pixie, dust and fairies.

And it was like magic and I fundamentally, my human reaction to it was, yeah, right, sure. And so we spent a lot more time actually convincing people that, hey, look, our stuff actually does work. It’s not sorcery, it’s not some mythical thing. We’ve actually been able to do this very, very effectively. And I think one of the big challenges that you run into there, because this idea of developing things quickly and being adaptable and no code or low code environments, they’ve been around for a long time. A long, long time. 25, 30 years, people have been trying to write software without having to write a bunch of code. And the vast majority of those solutions just fell flat on their face because they tried to be all things to all people.

And so I think one of the keys to being able to do things very flexibly and adaptably is you’ve got to choose solutions that are fit for purpose. So we don’t try to be the platform to do all things for an IT organization. We have a very narrow focus and we’re able to achieve this level of adaptability and this ability to change by making our focus laser focused on solving a certain class of problems.

And that’s what enables our software to actually work and do the magic that it does. So, yeah, it’s not often that we’re trying to convince people to necessarily undergo or go on a journey of digital transformation or whatever. It’s really more about showing them that, hey, there are better ways of doing this that can reduce the risk, that can make this easier and less expensive and more efficient for you. And a lot of times they’re just not aware that there is a solution out there in the marketplace that can do it. So we spent a lot of time convincing him of that rather than trying to convince them to actually go on this journey already.

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Well, and guess what? We just adapted so fast in our conversation that we are at the end of today’s segment. Dr. Alex Heublein. Thank you, once again. Listen, if you want learn about the kinds of things that we’re talking about each week, join us for Adapt or Perish every week on the Tony Kurre Radio Network.