Augurs On The Town: Episode #2 with Jen Swanson

Join Josh Becerra from Augurian at Nico’s Taco & Tequila Bar in St. Paul, as he talks with Jen Swanson, from Jen Swanson Consulting, about digital transformation. The two discuss what digital transformation is, how organizations can benefit from it and what organizations should be focused on in order to ensure their digital transformation projects are successful.


Josh Becerra: Well here we are. Nico’s Taco & Tequila Bar. 2260 Como Avenue, they’ve been nice enough to let us use this beautiful patio. What a beautiful morning we have. I’m here with Jen Swanson. Jen was previously the director of digital of Children’s Hospital’s, VP of digital product at Optum and most recently out on your own, Jen Swanson Consulting.

Jen Swanson: That’s right.

Josh: That’s super exciting. Congratulations.

Jen: Thank you.

Josh: When I think of you and your expertise, the two words that come to mind are digital transformation. Why don’t you help us by defining what that means.

Jen: Well for me and for the work I do with my clients, it’s really about looking at how technology, the investments around technology goes beyond to say, we’ve got a great website or we’ve got an app. But it really is about how that integration of technology runs across the business. Marketing, operations, service delivery even back office operations, to really fulfill on the promise of that customer experience. It really is about the entire organization, not just marketing, big digital IT, it’s about– [crosstalk]

Josh: One of the things that I think is really important when people are considering this type of transformation is the speed of change, and I know that you wrote something about that recently on LinkedIn. Tell me a little bit about either why you think this is so important then, and why people need to do this because of this idea of speed of change.

Jen: Well, so speed of change comes up quite often in a couple of different ways. One is the feeling that everything out there is changing so fast. Consumer expectations are changing quickly, technology is changing quickly. Just the world is evolving in massive waves of every day.

Josh: People feel overwhelmed.

Jen: Exactly.

Josh: Left behind.

Jen: Companies feel that way too. They feel like, oh gosh. We’re still working on an investment we started two or three years ago. It hasn’t really come together yet.

Josh: It might not be relevant today.

Jen: Exactly, and so for me the speed of change is really looking at how can we use principles of agile. I’m not an agile evangelist in the software development methodologies stand point, although I certainly believe in the principles of speed, working on small chunks of value at a time. Seeing how it works. You develop or you build, you put it in the marketplace, whatever that looks like.

You learn from it and you do the next thing rather than saying, “Okay, we’re going to start something now and we’re going to see how it turns out in 18 months.” That allows businesses, individuals, to learn faster and adjust to that speed of change, and I think a much more manageable way than saying, “Let’s go all-in and see how it turns out.”

Josh: We from a digital marketing standpoint use this bi-modal approach where we have our core set of campaigns or ads and then we have edge tests, we’re always running, so we believe in that idea and fail fast.

Jen: Yes, and that applies to customer service and operations as well. You don’t have to overhaul your entire operations model, but you can say, I’m going to take this team and we’re going to try doing something differently in terms of how we deliver the product to the customer and we’re to see how that works. We’re going to see if we can do it faster better with more value to the customer or to us, and see how that works. If it works that we scale it and if it doesn’t then we go try something else. I think those principles of agile apply across the business and that’s really where I come in.

Josh: Very cool. Obviously you’ve done a lot of this and seen a lot of this in action. What are some of those common pitfalls of people who are thinking about like taking on this type of initiative? What should they really be thinking about, where the problems lie?

Jen: Well, so I hate to break this to you, but it matters little what technology you’re talking about. If you were hoping that I was going to give you some like, you really got you looking at these platforms, it isn’t at all about the technology and it is 100% about the people. The little known secret about digital transformation is that it really is about organizational effectiveness getting the right people in the right seats. Understand–

Josh: Buy in from leadership.

Jen: Exactly, and having teams that are trained and equipped to work differently, so sometimes that means breaking down traditional team structures. Sometimes that means- while it always means breaking down silos of this is mine. That’s yours. That no longer works. Like I’m IT, don’t touch it, or I’m marketing I don’t want you involved at this because a much more cross-functional matrix work. I think that the number one set fall is thinking about that and thinking about it in terms of technology project, rather than think about it as a people initiative.

Josh: Interesting. I feel like even in digital marketing alone, it’s really the people that matter, more so than the platforms. Everybody knows how to use google ads. We do, our competitors do, but it’s the brains that are making the decision.

Jen: Yes, it’s how we use it.

Josh: Exactly.

Jen: You hate to say this but the platforms are becoming commoditized, right?

Josh: Yes.

Jen: At a certain point, you’ve got to pick one, commit to it, and then organize your team and your culture and your structure around getting the most out of it, right?

Josh: Yes, that’s great stuff. The recession has been in the news?

Jen: Yes, everyone is talking about it.

Josh: We just wrote a blog post about why you should invest in marketing during the recession. I imagine this digital transformation work isn’t necessarily inexpensive to do, it takes a lot of an investment and so leaders might be thinking, “Hey this isn’t the right time.” Is there a right time for digital transformation?

Jen: In my opinion, it’s always the right time to invest in digital transformation. The reality is that digital transformation doesn’t have to be about going off and spending a bazillion dollars on whatever the latest technology platforms are, innovation is really about making evolutionary steps with what you’ve got. Invention is going out, getting something new or building something new, but innovation is taking what you’ve got and say, how can we do it better, faster? In my opinion, innovation and digital transformation and investing in looking at the organization that you have now to be able to do it better is the ultimate recession project, right, initiative-

Josh: Yes, for sure.

Jen: – because it doesn’t have to be about going out to spend a tone of new money. It can be about getting more out of what you’ve got.

Josh: You could gain efficiencies-

Jen: Absolutely.

Josh: – that can actually make your processes less expensive.

Jen: Exactly. For me, the key drivers or the key outcomes that you get out of digital transformation is greater predictability and clarity into your processes. Again, whether that’s your marketing processes, it’s your sales processes, it’s your product development iterative processes, better quality, a clear return on investment, that innovation piece product-market fit, those are all things that are going to matter a great deal when you meet returns they also matter now while it’s cooking.

Josh: Get to work. All right, well this has been super fun.

Jen: Thank you.

Josh: Thanks Jen, cheers.

Jen: Cheers.

Josh: Thanks to Nico’s Tacos & Tequila Bar, see you next time.

Jen: Thanks to Nico’s.

Explore Our Latest Digital Marketing Tips