|20 Minutes

The DEX Show | Podcast #2 – The Art and Science of Experience w/ Alan Nance

The DEX Show | Podcast #2 – The Art and Science of Experience w/ Alan Nance

In this episode, Tim Flower and Thomas McGrath of Nexthink invite Alan Nance, Co-Founder of CitrusCollab, to episode 2 of the Digital Employee Experience podcast. This conversation focused on moving the needle for IT in your organization based on experiences over metrics and…

  • IT experiences generationally from Baby Boomers to Gen Z
  • Measuring cumulative IT experiences over time
  • Micro experiences, experience architecture,  and experience personas

For more information on IT support for distributed workforces, Nexthink has an eBook for listeners of today’s show. For more information, head over to nexthink.com or LinkedIn to stay connected!

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to the Digital Employee Experience Podcast on AppleSpotifyTuneInAmazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform!


Speaker 1 (00:01):
You’re listening to Digital Employee Experience, a show for IT change-makers. Let’s get into the show.

Tom McGrath (00:08):
Hello, change-makers. Welcome. I’m Tom McGrath and I am joined as ever by the esteemed, Tim Flower. Tim, how are you today?

Tim Flower (00:15):
Tom, I’m doing really well. Thanks.

Tom McGrath (00:17):
Fantastic. Tim, try not to feel too bad about this, or indeed, to fall out of your seat at the news, but we are nearly at the end of 2020. Are you as sad to see the back of this one as I am?

Tim Flower (00:27):
Tom, when we started 2020, that number 2020 puts in your mind, vision, right? You think about your eyesight, your ability to increase visibility. I can’t wait to never see 2020 again.

Tom McGrath (00:39):
It seemed auspicious, didn’t it? It seemed promising. But listen, the good news is, as we reach the end of this wonderful year for us all and start to wonder what 2021 has in store for us, I really couldn’t think of a better guest to have on the show than Alan Nance, co-founder and managing partner at CitrusCollab. A man who’s made a career staying ahead of the curve. Alan, how are you? We’re delighted to have you on the show.

Alan Nance (01:01):
I am jolly good, Tom. And it’s good to speak to you again.

Tom McGrath (01:04):
Fantastic. Alan, first of all, question I’ve meant to ask you for some time. When did you first realize that you were always right?

Alan Nance (01:13):
Well, my mother used to say, “I may not be always right, but I’m never wrong.” And that’s a good indicator. So I’m often wrong. Mostly when I’m wrong, it’s about the timing. So usually, I think things are going to happen much faster than they do, and so usually I get things wrong. But I get lots of things wrong. I mean, the last thing I got wrong was actually, I predicted that the Dell acquisition of VMware would not be a great success. And I had not contemplated a sort of meltdown from HP and IBM, that would actually give them all that space. So that was the last big mistake I think I made.

Tom McGrath (01:48):
Okay. So you’re not always right, but when you are right, you’re right big. Is that fair to say, Alan?

Alan Nance (01:52):
I think that’s true. I think I was right about ITO. I was right about transformational outsourcing. I was right about consumption-based cloud systems. I was right about those systems moving to business ecosystems, and I think I’m right about experience.

Tom McGrath (02:05):
Well, I was going to say, next up, how long now have you been talking about experience as a real fulcrum of IT today? And how does it feel when the whole world, or at least an entire industry, starts talking about it too, almost at the same time?

Alan Nance (02:19):
Well, experience has many, many fathers, and obviously my particular focus has been in employee experience and experience as created and permeated by large technology companies. That’s really my focus. Now, I first got involved with what we now call XLAs and experience, in 2010, so it’s 10 years. Actively in the experience management space, when we talk about the art and the science of experience, that’s been the last three and a half years.

Tim Flower (02:49):
Alan, it’s always good to talk with you. So in my experience, with decades in an enterprise IT shop, we always looked at reducing our own costs to keep the business from complaining, or increasing our own speed, to keep the business from complaining, or improving our own efficiency, to keep our leaders from complaining. We thought that by doing all those things, our users should end up being happy, right? We did all these things and it still turned out that they weren’t happy, because there was something missing. I’m curious what your thought evolution was. How did you make that, kind of the leap from a technology focus? You talked a little bit about the timing, but what was your thought process and when did it kind of hit you that it’s all about the user?

Alan Nance (03:27):
Well, as you know, I never talk about users, but I do talk about business consumers because I think that’s the first thing. That we need to understand that these people had moved from being the passive consumers or whatever we sent to them, from a mainframe to a terminal, even from a decentralised world, that they’d moved and that they were now co-creating. They were using what we were sending to them, to co-create something else and then send it back or distribute it themselves. I think that’s the first thing. And as they started to do that, they were definitely more and more unhappy by the restrictions of the environments that we created for them.

Alan Nance (04:03):
I think the big aha moment for me, was the first time I was seriously confronted as the chief of technology staff at ING, when we were confronted with really bad watermelons. And we were working on a unified communications program and we had three suppliers with what we would now call a [SIAM, 00:04:23] sitting on top of it. And all of the metrics were green and everybody hated us. Everybody hated us. Every executive I met in the bank hated us. They hated the way we set up for virtual meetings. They hated the way they got their mobile phones. They hated the way they didn’t have choice on their desktops.

Alan Nance (04:41):
So we sat down at that time and said, “So what is it that’s going wrong?” And what I found out at the time, was that I had 23 people full-time, working on KPI management. What they were doing essentially, was gearing us up for what I would call a joust, that happened every quarter with the suppliers, where we would prove to them that they were inadequate and they would prove to us it was our fault, because we were unreasonable. And so while we were doing this, the real goal was not being met. That was the big aha moment and that was the time that we essentially developed the first… We didn’t call it an XLA at the time, that name came later. But that was the time that we first thought about, we need to move this conversation from KPIs to experience.

Tim Flower (05:31):
That really was going to be kind of a next question for me, is that evolution. When I first saw or heard about the concept of XLA, it’s immediately identifiable. Once you understand and think about the difference between an XLA and an SLA, it makes perfect sense. I need to commit to you, my business. And I love the terminology consumer versus user, by the way. User is still technology centric. You’re a user of the technology I give you, right? So user, we need to make that shift. But the commitment to deliver an experience versus a level of service, the SLA is really just how fast my firetruck can show up to put out a fire that I created. And it sounds like it wasn’t a spur of the moment idea. Was it an aha moment for you, or was it a kind of a deliberate process of creating that kind of concept of XLA?

Alan Nance (06:19):

No. I’d like to claim that I always saw it, it was very clear in my mind, but that was not the case. But once you start down the path of bringing people together and saying, “So what is it we really need to measure?” And it was very clear that we had to go from all of these different KPIs to basically two measurements. One of these measurements is basically a happy or not. Any type of happy or not measurement. And then the second one was about project management and that was, are you happy with the outcome of the project? Not, did you get whatever you’re supposed to get? But are you happy with the outcome of the project? And when you get those two things driving you, a couple of interesting things happen.

Alan Nance (06:56):
The first thing is that you’re both on the same side. So we’re both measuring the same thing, which is, are our business consumers, in this case, are they happy? And we both have a vested interest in the answer being, yes. Well, that takes away a lot of the adversarial nonsense conversation, because when they’re not happy, then the next logical question is, “Well, what can we do to understand why they’re not happy and then fix it?” That also moves the conversation. Now there’s lots of insights over the past few years, lots of things I’ve learned. But at that time it was a logical thing, once you realized the concept of watermelon KPIs, watermelon SLAs. And you’ve got to find someone at the other side though, who wants to be involved.

Alan Nance (07:37):
So I invited those parties in and I basically said to them, “Look, I’ve got 23 people, full-time doing this. That’s millions of dollars. If I don’t need those people, I can reassign them, because the skills that they use to measure these KPIs are valuable, but they’d be much more valuable if we were using them to understand, rather than interpret, then that’s going to save me money.”

Alan Nance (07:59):
And I asked them all, and they didn’t want to tell me, there were three of them. I asked them, “How many people do you have just measuring KPIs to talk to us about them?” And they said, “Well, we don’t know.” And I said, “Well, I’m guessing you’re a little bit more adept at this than we are. So let’s say you’ve got half the people, 10. Let’s do this. If we move to these new experience indicators, instead of the old ones, you can keep all the savings that you do. And I can fund this. If I can halve or take out some of the people or redeploy them, I can actually fund this. But the most important thing is, we both get to live to fight another day, if our business consumers believe that we can actually deliver them an experience that they value.”

Tim Flower (08:38):
Great points there. The effort that it has traditionally taken to understand those KPIs, not just gather them, but also draw the right insights and understand, that effort has always been huge. And it’s part of the reason I left my corporate IT job to come to Nexthink, because it was just so easy to really get a full understanding of what’s happening in the environment. And kind of in the spirit or in the context of being happy, I can tell you that, we at Nexthink are very happy with the Forrester new wave report. I’m a bit biased, working here. But I’m curious, in reading that, what are your thoughts about that report? Does it set the right context? What was your initial feeling on reading that report?

Alan Nance (09:15):
Well, first of all, it’s always important when companies like Forrester and Gartner start to embrace what we are doing, because that gives a legitimacy. And the early adopters are always people who don’t need Forrester and Gartner, because they’re early adopters. But what Forrester and Gartner do is identify important things for the market, that everybody else can follow. And that’s the big percentage of the market.

Alan Nance (09:40):
So I think the first thing is, people are now going to say, well, what does this mean? I’ve had people calling me saying, “You’re in this report, we don’t know what it is, and our job is to track what Forrester says. So explain to us, what you think. How does this affect you? What should we be doing?” So that’s the first thing. I think the second thing for Nexthink in particular, is its validation of years of investment in the product, but much more importantly, in the people and the organization, to bring this to the large enterprises. And I think for Pedro the Nexthink team, it must feel good when you get that recognition, that you think, you know what? We’re getting it right.

Tim Flower (10:21):
What do you think Nexthink has brought to the table, which is unique?

Alan Nance (10:23):
I think what Pedro and Sam and the team have done, has brought focus. Because when you have highly capable architects and engineers, it’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to focus on features and functions rather than the big picture. Now, I think there was a huge pivot that started sort of midway last year, at the last Nexthink conference, where Nexthink basically took a decision to be a market leader, not just in the product space, but in the experience space. And I think that is paying dividends for them.

Tim Flower (10:56):
Yeah. It’s actually a segue that I wanted to take with you. And we’ve talked a bit about kind of the historical evolution of this segment and of the topic, but looking forward, we talk a lot about the digital workplace now, but it’s been around for decades, right? We’ve all been using distributed computing for 30 years or more, but we talk about it more concretely now because our entire work environment executes inside of that little screen, right? We don’t have that physical location to go to. So where do you see the topic of digital workplace going next? Is it the kind of focus on hybrid between virtual and physical? What’s coming down the road in the next six to 12 months?

Alan Nance (11:35):
Well, there are two themes, I think, that are going to be important for us, especially for those of us who are more associated with the enterprise rather than the digital world [inaudible 00:11:48] I think first of all, that the digital experience isn’t going to be one thing. Digital experience is going to be a number of micro experiences, and it’s going to be crafted in terms of experience personas, as opposed to the technology personas we have today. So most digital workplaces today are capability architectures. So they talk about how we communicate, how we store, how we create, how we distribute, et cetera. What we’re going to do though… And we’ve created the technical personas to satisfy our architectural needs. So we have the power user, the administrative user, the mobile user, and what’s going to happen in the future is, everybody’s going to be everything.

Alan Nance (12:26):
So we’re going to have to create experience personas that are much more going to be based on demographic compositions. And I gave this example recently to somebody that, when I was talking to a CIO about his digital workplace plan, and he said to me, “Well, we’re following the best of breed. And we’re following what Forrester and Gartner are telling us.” And basically, it came down to a Microsoft centric, capability architecture. And so I said to him, “Okay, so if that’s your best bet, and I’ll tell you… And yet your audience for the future are going to be Gen Zed and the younger millennials, I can tell you right now that what you are putting together for the next five years is entirely unappealing. So what you’re putting together right now, is putting a nail in the coffin of your organization to recruit, motivate, and retain employees.”

Alan Nance (13:18):
And so the digital workplace, first and foremost, is about making talented people successful. And so we’re going to have to come up with what I call micro experiences, so that when the Gen Zed person is working mobile, they get the capability they need. And when they’re doing that in a dev ops environment, they get the capability that they need. And if you’ve got a baby boomer like me, who’s got maybe five years to go or 10 years to go, they’re probably very comfortable having a Microsoft. We don’t want to bother them with too much new staff maybe, especially if they’re administrative, so that needs a much more stable experience. So I think the mind shift is going to be going much more to those micro experiences. And as a result, we’re going to have to rethink the capability architecture into an experience architecture, and we’re going to have to move from technical personas to experience personas.

Tom McGrath (14:07):
Fantastic. So final question from me, Alan, at least. Let’s end where we started, which is with the question, the issue of prescience, since you know everything or occasionally know everything. Thinking of 2021, should we, A, expect a better year? And I mean, in general. And regardless of that, B, what trends should we anticipate?

Alan Nance (14:28):
Well, as I said, I think 2021 is going to be a fabulous year because when we get to June, everything is then going to explode and it won’t explode back to normal because we’ve learned. So we’ve learned a lot of valuable things here, but a lot of things are now going to be more possible than we thought. We won’t go back to normal. So I think 2021 is going to be a fabulous year, of course, if nobody gets in the way, right? So it’s going to be a fabulous year. Secondly, I think that the combination of the art and science and experience will be on everybody’s lips. So everybody is now going to want to know, how do I create a memorable experience for my patients, for my students? And they’re learning the hard way right now, right? And it’s very difficult to solve what you’re seeing in the pandemic, within the paradigm of the pandemic.

Alan Nance (15:16):
Once the pandemic goes, the learning continues, and we’re going to find new ways of addressing this for the next pandemic, right? So where we always make the mistake of every president we’ve ever had, and faced a pandemic, created a pandemic response team that the next president watered down or abandoned, until they got their pandemic. That’s not going to happen here in industry. What’s going to happen in industry, is people are going to continue to think, and they’re going to continue to look for people that can add to that conversation. And so, I’m excited about that. I think we’re also going to get better tools, and one of the areas I would like to see us improving everything, is this concept of moments over time. Right now, a lot of what we do, a lot of what we measure is in the moment. It’s right now, it’s what happened.

Alan Nance (16:05):
And what we need to get better at, is looking at cumulative experience over time, because that’s really how people make decisions, is their cumulative experience over time, which is either given to them or learned. So I think that’s going to be really exciting. I think enterprise IT and digital are either going to marry or divorce, and I hope they marry, but I have an analogy for that. I always say that enterprise IT are like cowboys. Without cowboys, we wouldn’t have a food chain. Without cowboys, we wouldn’t have most of the United States and most of Canada. Why? Because they’re prepared to take risks, but they move very slowly in caravans, circle the wagons when they’re attacked. And when they get somewhere, they build value, whether it’s livestock or feedstock, and they build things to protect it from marauders.

Alan Nance (16:54):
And that’s really our enterprise IT. And those are all valuable assets. The digital community are pirates. They land where they will, they take what they can and they trade it. And they leave no footprints, they don’t build anything and they just take what they need, but they create value. And without the pirates, there would be no navies. Without the pirates, there’d be no trade routes. Without the pirates who wouldn’t have sugar and coffee and all these other wonderful things. So we need to now find a way of bringing pirates and cowboys together, and I’m hoping that this pandemic has started that journey for us. But I think that could be one of the most exciting cultural changes you’re going to see in technology in 2021.

Tim Flower (17:34):
I think there’s an interesting movie there somewhere, Alan, Cowboys and Pirates. I’m just trying to envision what it might look like.

Tom McGrath (17:39):
My son is all the way on board with that idea, I have to say. He’s excited. But listen, Alan, thank you so much for coming on the show. Absolute pleasure to speak to you. Hopefully not for the last time. Indeed, we’ve got to get you back on the show in 2021, if only to take ownership of your on the record optimism, okay?

Tim Flower (18:01):
I agree. And this is one of those cases where I hope that your forward-looking vision, Alan, is accurate.

Alan Nance (18:06):
Remember, I usually get the timing wrong, so it might be 2023.

Tom McGrath (18:11):
Let’s hope this is one instance you’re all the way right. Alan Nance, thank you so much.

Tim Flower (18:15):
Take care, Alan.

Alan Nance (18:16):
Thank you.

Tom McGrath (18:17):
However 2021 pans out, few expect all of our offices to be suddenly refilled. At best, 2021 is likely to be a year of more flexible, agile working from anywhere, which means you would do well to possess, to read, to be armed with our new Work From Anywhere ebook, featuring 12 tips to help IT support a distributed workforce. Just go to the show notes, where you can download it free of charge. Thank you. See you next time.

Speaker 1 (18:45):
To make sure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player. And if you’re listening on Apple podcasts, make sure to leave a rating of the show, just tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. If you’d like to learn more about how Nexthink can help you improve your digital employee experience, head over to nexthink.com. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.