The use of emerging technologies to drive innovation hinges on the ability to unlock data from back- and front-end systems. So in 2018, Salesforce acquired MuleSoft, the provider of one of the world’s leading platforms for building application networks. Since then, we’ve worked together to accelerate our customers’ digital transformations, enabling them to unlock data across legacy systems, cloud apps and devices to create automated, smarter processes and deliver highly differentiated, connected customer experiences.
Still, there are challenges. We spoke with MuleSoft CTO Uri Sarid and Salesforce EVP, Solution Engineering, APAC and International, Dan Bognar about those challenges and potential solutions.
In part one of this conversation, we looked at them from a technological angle. This time, we’re focusing on the humans – because a vital part of successfully innovating with emerging technologies is bringing people along on the journey.
Why is trust important and how does integration help? What is the role of the CIO and CTO, and of other employees? And what do an organisation’s culture and ethics have to do with enabling the right kind of technological transformation?
Great technology, it seems, is all about being human. Here’s why.
Dan Bognar: Customers are often frustrated that different parts of an organisation have a different view of them, so they end up having to repeat a lot of the same information over and over again. That’s because there isn’t a clear, single view of their data.
It’s there, but it’s buried in disparate legacy systems because of the lack of integration. From a customer perspective, that creates frustration. Customers feel the organisation doesn’t know them. Each person they speak to has only a fragmented view.
Uri Sarid: Plus, consumers are unaware – as they should be! – of the integration challenges being faced by businesses. They are instead concerned with why experiences are so disconnected, as well as about the volumes of data that are being collected about them, what is being done with that data, and whether it is being kept private.
Dan Bognar: That is an important point. Because of things like GDPR and privacy and so forth, the customer today has an ability to go to an organisation and say, “Tell me all the information you have about me, and then please delete me from your systems”. That’s a basic right. But a lot of organisations would struggle to do that. The information is buried all over the organisation and it’s very hard to piece it together.
That’s why customers are starting to feel weary. Even though they’re empowered, they don’t feel organisations can necessarily deliver on their obligations.
Dan Bognar: There are a number of elements. It starts with a holistic understanding of who the customer is. With that understanding, the organisation has an ability to better anticipate their needs and solve their problems. Customers generally like to receive personalised experiences and personalised recommendations from organisations, as long as they’re provided in a way that’s not creepy and which doesn’t overstep the boundaries of privacy.
Trust is a delicate balance. The relationship must be personalised, but not in a way that feels uncomfortable. That balance is not easy to deliver, as different customers have different preferences. One size does not fit all. But if you can get there, the rewards from the market are significant.
Alongside transparency, security is also a really important part of building and maintaining trust.
Uri Sarid: From a technical point of view of data security, I had a conversation recently about tokenisation, which involves taking sensitive information and automatically replacing it with a token that looks like the sensitive information but is, in fact, not sensitive. So it’s not a credit card number, it just looks like a credit card number. This means you are never dealing with sensitive data and it is very good practice.
I asked the person on the security/privacy side of the business whether he was doing tokenisation and he said, “No, we let the technical people deal with the implementation”.
But tokenisation is a powerful business tool – once the sensitive data is tokenised, many more people and systems can access it to derive insights and enrich it, without invading privacy or compromising security. Whatever actions should then be taken can be tied back to individual customers automatically through de-tokenisation, so the customer benefits without undue exposure. The business has to understand these fundamental concepts to set policies that empower their functions to deliver value responsibly.
Dan Bognar: I think there’s a great opportunity right now for many CIOs and cloud has a lot to do with this. CIOs are no longer providers of infrastructure. They no longer have to worry about managing their data centres because they now have the opportunity to leverage cloud technologies and to use better approaches to integration. So more of their bandwidth is spent solving whole-of-business problems.
Uri Sarid: It’s the role of people who understand software and technology to be deeply partnered with the functional owners of different parts of the business. They need to be in strategic positions, asking the executive team what they need to do differently to use technology to their advantage, because their competition certainly is.
Dan Bognar: That absolutely gives them the scope to be able to increase the value that they bring to the organisation. The clever CIOs are going through that evolution right now.
Dan Bognar: The primary reason is because they are dealing with inherited complexity. Managing that complexity is a big issue for many organisations, and it is a barrier to success. The other challenge comes from past investment in people, capability and systems. It means there is a reluctance to move away from that past investment.
It takes a courageous leader with great organisational support to be able to say “How we got here is not necessarily how we need to move forward; we need a new way of doing things”.
Uri Sarid: Part of the issue is about not finding a common language. For many years, for example, marketing people have said, “I have all this data, I should be able to market to my consumers better. Hey, IT people, figure out how!”.
There’s not been an recognition that the IT people understand the technology, but the marketing team knows about the consumers, so the most powerful solution comes from a joint conversation.
Uri Sarid: We need to find ways to amplify the people skills, not things that could be done by a machine. Human intelligence can do things that artificial intelligence can’t; it’s also incredibly hard to teach a machine empathy or solution design. Society can benefit a tremendous amount from automation if we prepare the people and the automation to complement each other, with each doing what they’re best at.
Dan Bognar: The way technology is presented to a workforce has to be about the complementarity between people and machines. Technology enhances the employee experience and, as a result, it will enhance the customer experience.
Employers are always looking for innovations that will make their workplace more productive, that will remove a lot of the complexity for employees and add value for the customer. Anything that is additive, in that sense, will be celebrated, and so it should be.
Powerful technology takes away complexity for employees, allows them more time to focus on the things they enjoy doing or which provide greater value, and removes some of the frustrations.
Dan Bognar: Integration itself is not necessarily going to enhance or decrease trust. It’s what happens after the integration occurs, what is actually done with the data and the insights, that will influence trust. So the real test is what the organisation will do with data and automation, and with their integrated view.
Uri Sarid: Machine learning is nothing but a model to be applied to a situation, and we are in complete control of what we want to do with those models. So you teach the machines what you’d like them to do and they will reinforce that behaviour much more quickly than people will. The key is to make sure we teach them well. It’s important to realise that a company’s culture will be reflected in what it chooses to automate and amplify – and this must be handled with care.
Uri Sarid: If you automate something, you’re more than talking about your principles – you are embodying them in the way you work. You’re making them a reality ‘on the ground’. So if a business is serious about diversity, you will operationalise the solution, for example by investing in systems that identify under-represented pools of talent. If you’re serious about privacy, you will automate the complete removal of all sensitive information from every system, and the search for breaches of privacy so the business can be accountable to act on them.
It’s up to a company, or to the people working on the technology, to decide what the machine is trained to do – and this is guided by the culture of the company.
Dan Bognar:: Exactly – none of these technologies exists in isolation and their use in particular is shaped by culture. We always consider culture when our technology is being implemented in an organisation, and culture is often what separates one organisation from others in its market, so it’s very important. It also shapes how the business thinks about and approaches a challenge. Whatever we might be architecting for a client must be aligned to their culture, so that’s where we start.
We spoke with more than 100 IT leaders in North America, Asia Pacific and Europe about the 10 priorities driving IT now, and the skill levels and strategic maturity around each. Download the Enterprise Technology Trends report to find out what we heard.
Dan Bognar is EVP, Solution Engineering, APAC and International at Salesforce. He tweets at @danbognar. Read more from Dan.
Uri Sarid is CTO of MuleSoft, and holds a PhD in Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics from Harvard University. He’s an author on 26 patents, and tweets at @usarid.