From leading a massive re-platforming opportunity for SharperImage.com to supporting the technical growth, enterprise architecture, and security maturity of Asset Health, Mazzenga has spent her career applying pioneering technologies to provide impact and change to organizations. As CTO, she aims to foster a culture of innovation, applying technology strategy for business acceleration as markets evolve and mature at a record pace.
A failed digital transformation project undermines faith and confidence in future initiatives and increases organizational resistance toward further digital transformation efforts. Enterprises are in a constant state of digital transformation, an extensive, expensive, and all-encompassing process. Strong leadership, solid change management, and adopting a new mental state are critical investments to successful transformations. Mihaela Mazzenga discusses digital transformation based on her decades of experience in the industry.
[00:00:00] KRISTINA: In today's digital landscape it's not about the big beating the small, but the fast beating the slow. Every organization needs to transform. And digital is at the core of that change.
[00:00:10] INTRO: Welcome to The Power of Digital Policy, a show that helps digital marketers, online communications directors, and others throughout the organization balance out risks and opportunities created by using digital channels. Here's your host, Kristina Podnar.
[00:00:28] KRISTINA: Welcome back friends to the Power of Digital Policy. With us today's technology leader and creative agency veteran Mihaela Mazzenga. Mihaela is unique in that our experience spans digital transformation, innovation, and world class design, which in my mind translates to agile, high-quality engagements that deliver on the consumer promise. Let's dive in and hear more about her experience and her advice for all of us. Mihaela, welcome!
[00:00:54] MIHAELA: Thank you, Kristina.
[00:00:55] KRISTINA: Mihaela, we're all a bit burnt out right now in this digital transformation concept. And as I was thinking about our conversation today, I wanted to ask you, is it time to stop using that term or is this still relevant in the industry? Because it seems like digital transformation is never ending. What's the scoop?
[00:01:14] MIHAELA: I really think that it is truly never ending because at the rate that technology is changing today, there will be something new tomorrow that we need to keep up with, that we need to reinvent the customer journey. I think we should constantly be looking at our businesses and determining how we better connect with those end customers. And in, in today's age, that's going to require technology. So, I think it's this isn't ever evolving term, and unfortunately you might be here to stay.
[00:01:46] KRISTINA: It seems a little bit harder than it sounds, right? I'm thinking about a lot of organizations that I've come across where folks are trying to do a really great job, but still struggling with things like basic data, hygiene issues. You know, for example, businesses want to keep all the data. IT is concerned about breaches, legal sees it as a headache, potentially. So, there's a lot of sort of basics that are still a challenge. Are you seeing that? Or what does that look like across the broader landscape in the industry?
[00:02:14] MIHAELA: I would say that I am seeing that. And generally, that really for me stems from a place where you haven't discussed the value of your operations with a broader business. So in, in terms of data, what is the actual value of keeping 10 years’ worth of data? Have you used any of that data in the last five? In the last two years, in the last six months. And I think we as human beings naturally, don't like to let things go but that's not a reason to keep data around and I completely agree with that. So, I think it's about having real and practical conversations. And always tying that back to the value proposition because the reality is that it's going to be really costly to keep data around for a long time and secure it. And you must really ask yourself some, you know, real and frank questions about what you're doing with it and why you have it. And in today's day and age, in terms of data privacy, it's, it's more important than ever. You have to go with a very minimum rule when it comes to data. And keep only what you need to operate your business.
[00:03:20] KRISTINA: So, you mentioned it's going to be expensive to keep all the data. People tend to think, gosh, cloud never ending supply of storage space. Why is it so expensive to keep data overall? Like, why can't we keep it all? I mean, obviously there's a bit of risk or a lot of risk potentially of breaches or data privacy. You know, what really constitutes the expensiveness or the cheapness, if you will, of storage of data and keeping everything versus just keeping the things that you need?
[00:03:49] MIHAELA: And it's not just the cost of the storage. And I think that's the differentiator. It's what else do you need to manage that data long term, do you really not have accessibility requirements against the data if you have consumer data, buried within it that maybe you need to, you know, erase a particular customer's data going back 20 years, are you able to do that? I agree the cost of storing the data is cheap, right. Or perceived to be cheap. But longer term, you don't want to just shove it away in a corner, where nobody knows that it exists. And the expensiveness really comes from having a mature program that constantly evaluates the data, determines if it should be kept, determines if new security controls need to be applied to it because that's also an ever-changing landscape as well. And as you said, the risk to breaches is really strong and really, really great. And I don't think that, if you keep it around and be prepared that something may happen with it.
[00:04:50] KRISTINA: And so how should organizations, or how should individuals within organizations start having these conversations? For example, I was talking to a colleague earlier this week and she mentioned that the business is hesitant to delete any data because they don't know what they're going to need. For example, they don't know that maybe a year from now, they're going to need detailed, transactional information on users who converted to being consumers. And so, it's this fear, if you will, of having a question pop up a year or two down the road that you can't answer because you'd gotten rid of the data. So how do you balance that out? How do you advice that we balance those issues out?
[00:05:29] MIHAELA: Using that case that you just referenced, you would need to ask yourself what parts of that data do you need then? So, if you have a strong feeling that you may need transactional data in the future, which is very real. That's a, that's a great use case. But then I think you need to ask; do you really need the customer data associated with that? Can you roll it up to be an aggregate form? What parts of that data is even important for you to understand? And is it even going to be relevant? So, the customer's behavior five years. Or 10 years ago, isn't going to be the customer's behavior today or tomorrow. So even if you have transactional data, will it actually bring any value in terms of delivering something new to the customer?
[00:06:14] KRISTINA: Yeah. I'm thinking about this actually in context of the metaverse, because it seems like the world has a buzz, about the metaverse and it seems like it's going to create not just data, but even broader content. That we're going to be keeping around for a really long time. How are you seeing or hearing the metaverse reframing the human-centered experiences and thinking about the underlying component needs like data and content.
[00:06:40] MIHAELA: I think the metaverse in terms of where it's at, on its maturity makes it really hard to adopt in today's day and age. I think you're going to have really progressive companies that harness it and can harness it well, it's certainly not an area that you should delve into and let technology lead because it is quite complex. Web three itself, the metaverse, they also have a lot of maturing to do so you would be entering a market or a segment that is likely going to have a lot of change over time and you need to be prepared for that. You really need to be operating an incredibly mature organization to harness that. Again, the value proposition has to be defined. Are you ready to measure that type of initiative? And if you're measuring that initiative, what is it that you're going to do with that information afterwards in terms breaching into, into new markets and, and new customer segments. And I think, what it does do is open our eyes a little bit, that it is a changing world and our children, and their children will operate differently in terms of behavior. And the expectations I think are changing more rapidly than they ever have been into in terms of consumer behavior. Web three and the metaverse are really shiny things, they're necessary things, but again, you need to be really mature to be able to harness them.
[00:08:06] KRISTINA: And so you mentioned measurement, which is great in terms of understanding KPIs, but what are the tactical questions or implications of understanding that you're actually mature and ready to take on the underlying technologies that make up the metaverse. It seems like a lot of folks are starting to dabble or experiment, which is great, but are there specific triggers or specific, KPIs or capabilities that you're looking for to say, okay, yes, we're ready to play in that space. Or how do people know they should proceed versus like, hey, let's kind of maybe slow things down a bit and not necessarily take on the latest and greatest shiny.
[00:08:42] MIHAELA: I think it all depends on the horizon for your individual customers. I think that's going to be a different answer for every organization. So I think that if you're in a position that your future customers are younger, are more agile, are more modern, then certainly you can expect that these are technologies that they will expect you to be present on in channels that, they expect you to be present on. But if that has no impact on your business. And again, this is just a, an interesting concept to maybe tag a brand name on too. So, brand name recognition is also, I think a great KPI, even if you're not looking at new customer acquisition or customer conversion or whatever your KPIs are, I think it's different for every organization. But what is important is that you're not just doing it for fun. Unless of course you have lots of money to spend to, to do that. So hopefully you do have an initiative behind it that's tied to your values. And that's why it's hard for me to answer that because my question will always be why is it that you want to do that? What KPIs do you want to really affect by looking at this initiative?
[00:09:56] KRISTINA: And I think that there's a role then maybe for the CTO in this whole conversation, just as well as marketing in the business. So, as I'm thinking about that, what does the CTO need to look like as we realize web 3.0 and technologies that are paving the way for the metaverse, because that role is certainly changing too. And I think it's tempting for the business or for marketing to say, we want to do these things, but I think they also need somebody who can enable them to do that or to help them realize that strategy if it really is the right strategy for them. In your experience, what does that look like? Does that role change? Is it critical? Not critical. Can folks rely on an agency instead?
[00:10:38] MIHAELA: It's interesting because, my opinion is that this isn't a change to the expectations of a CTO. I think a CTO should be driving the adoption of technology for business value, which of course means innovation. And if you're not constantly. Innovating and producing roadmaps that consider future technology, then I think you need to think about your role as a CTO within net organization and truly what that means. Now if you don't have a forward-looking CTO then, and that's okay, if you don't then absolutely leverage agency, because there's going to be so much experience at the table across a lot of type of market segments and industries and businesses, that you can harness by working with an agency to really accelerate time to market and time to value.
[00:11:37] KRISTINA: I'm thinking about several organizations that I recently have worked with, and they're still leading with technology. They see technology as being easy, so they're trying to do that. For example, one organization was looking at NFTs. They could certainly create it. They could do a good job, create the NFTs, make them get ready to go. But then they were having a really hard time delivering on the promise, including having secure smart contracts. Are there things that businesses should be doing right now to get their infrastructure ready? What are the components or the ingredients that CTOs or others should be thinking about to get it right as they go through this transformation, if you will, or they're going through this continual change?
[00:12:19] MIHAELA: What's interesting is that web three and NFTs and blockchain, and although that they are truly maturing right now in terms of adoption, they are still relatively new and in terms of the application to most businesses and there are a lot of businesses out there today that haven't really determined how to harness the cloud. And I think that if you're in that position, look there first, because that is coming faster than anything else. Your adoption of the cloud, utilization of the cloud, cloud services, API driven type of services in the market and the notion of building and buying solutions. At the same time, there is so much potential there in terms of leveraging technology, new technology, outside of the shiny new NFT and web three they can keep you busy for a really long time. So, if you've already matured cloud concepts, if you've already matured. Harnessing this really type of composable environment where you buy off the shelf, business capabilities and you build what's really different and important to your business. If you're not doing that and you're looking at NFTs and then I think it's again, you're chasing the shiny thing that you may be perceived as being simpler. And you're not really looking at some much greater transformational capabilities that there are in the market.
[00:13:45] KRISTINA: So, you've been seeing the broader industry, you have probably a better sense than anybody in terms of where organizations are. Are you seeing a lot of folks who have done this more systematically and are doing a great job in terms of like, yes, we've adopted the cloud or at least we've looked at the cloud and decided that we need to have a percentage of our services on prem versus these components in the cloud, we're doing hybrid, sophisticated thinking. Are you seeing folks sort of mature at that point. Is it the majority? What does the whole landscape look like? Or is it a situation where it's still all over the place and there's really not a consistent drive in a specific direction?
[00:14:23] MIHAELA: I think right now more than anything, there is a consistent drive in the direction to understand, and certainly adapt not only cloud as a service itself, but just cloud enabled services as a whole and software as a whole. So, still though there are some incredibly legacy organizations. And that has been true for a very long time. I think if we look at finance and I don't want to call anybody out, but it's been, it's hard, right? It's also difficult to transform at times. And that's a very real issue. Sometimes you just need to go greenfield because the notion of migration of some legacy systems that have been operational now for 30 years may just not be worth the time invested. So you need to take a hard look at whether you just scrap it and really build new to harness the future or whether it makes sense to invest on migrating systems that are truly that old. So still, I think it's a little bit across the board. I would love to see a lot more modernization, but I think the larger the organization, the older the organization, the harder that becomes, and that is a reality.
[00:15:45] KRISTINA: Do you have a device on steering, those types of ships, the big organizations or maybe the brand that's been around for 150 years. What advice do you give those organizations? Like how do they make sure that they can steer the ship?
[00:15:57] MIHAELA: In those cases, you just need to start small. Pick an initiative, pick a channel, pick a segment that makes sense for you to test new solutions and new ideas into and use that as a way to really improve the value. Number, to the broader organization and you use it as a learning tool for your internal teams or external teams to build that type of roadmap and footprint and foundation that you can use then to leverage to transform the rest of the business.
[00:16:32] KRISTINA: You haven't said this explicitly, but I think I'm hearing a lot of undercurrent or references really to digital transformation, fundamentally changing how the business, or maybe even the sector creates values, which requires us not to automate or to transform maybe a system and continue doing business as usual. It sounds like it's more about thinking about true transformation, which might be taking the business in a new direction. So do you advise organizations, especially large corporations to have a center of innovation, or is that something that every team should have? How does that work?
[00:17:09] MIHAELA: The answer is yes. And yes. So, if all you can do is have a center of innovation, do that. You have to be thinking about it though. And this is where are you really building a culture of innovation within the organization. And that means true enablement of teams. It requires a lot of really transparent conversation, and it certainly requires value proposition. So that said, I don't think you can centralize innovation because it can truly come from anywhere and everyone in the organization. Should be enabled and confident enough to be able to bring a new idea and have that be considered. And I think we've centralized leadership maybe too much. And we do talk about centralizing innovation a little bit too much because. Maybe that's to the extent that we can think about it, to say, well, let's just throw right to have five or 10 people in a room and let them think all day. But if they're not really connecting back out to the rest of the organization, to the customer base, if you don't have a product development mindset, because that's truly what it is then it's going to suffer, new idea doesn’t have to be something brand new that we've never heard about before in the market. It doesn't have to be the creation of some brand-new technology and functional functionality. It can really be iterative and prove to bring value in small ways via small changes. And I think everybody can contribute to that.
[00:18:53] KRISTINA: So what does that talent pool look like? Because that's what you're making me think of is, what kind of talent do we need to make this happen?
[00:18:59] MIHAELA: In terms of innovation, you need people that are curious, you need people that can think out of the box. Quite honestly, I think artists are a great place to start in terms of background because you have non-conventional thinkers at the table, but at the end of the day, it's really about somebody that can think about solving a problem in many different ways. So really agile, flexible thinkers and with diverse backgrounds as well. That's incredibly important, because otherwise you're going to be solving a problem the same way every single time, if you don't have diverse backgrounds on the team. And I do want to raise that for sure. But I think creative thinking is what you need at the table.
[00:19:47] KRISTINA: So, are you seeing a trend towards the voice of women and maybe traditionally underrepresented individuals being amplified in Web 3.0? Are we there yet or are you just seeing the need from your perspective and hoping that organizations will tend towards that direction?
[00:20:05] MIHAELA: I am seeing the voices of women, more amplified than I have in the past, but I think we also have to recognize that we can't just depend on private organizations to solve that problem for us. I think this really starts at home and the way that we enable our own children to be comfortable, in non-traditional spaces. So, are you encouraging your daughters to seek out technology, technological creative spaces. If we don't produce that from the beginning, we can't expect large organizations to take the brunt of solving that problem for us. Do I believe that there are enough women in technology, in the workforce as a whole? No, I don't and that is not a problem that the company's going to solve that said, when we look at diversity and inclusion, I would caution that diversity is important. But make sure that once you are inviting somebody in into your inner circles, that you are providing platforms for them to also excel. So, don't just invite them in and shut them down. The inclusion needs to happen at the same time.
[00:21:28] KRISTINA: Your advice is highly sought after the world over. So I'm really grateful that you're speaking with us today. What do you wish organizations would ask you about more? What is the one piece of advice you feel like nobody's asking for, but they should really be thinking about?
[00:21:45] MIHAELA: I still hear a lot of technology leading business. And the question should be, how are we impacting? Whether it's a product or people. How are we truly going to bring value to our services, our offerings, and the mindset to start there has been surprisingly difficult to find. So the technology leading the organization, I think is an incredibly bad thing. And I understand that technology is difficult, certainly for others to understand. And I don't think that's going to get any easier because it's really getting a lot more complex today than it ever has been. But you need to start looking internally at your own business and asking some tough questions about how you can apply it. It's just a tool. Tool's going to be different tomorrow. So, I would love to see less focus on the actual technology and more conversation on impacting the journey for your customers.
[00:23:06] KRISTINA: And where does that need to start? I encounter a lot of folks at the director or VP level, and I think oftentimes they seem to get it, or, they seem to have a sense of getting it, and asking more about the business rather than the technology. But where do you see those conversations needing to take place? Because a lot of times it seems like the director level is just too low in the organization?
[00:23:29] MIHAELA: And I don't know that it's necessarily, the level, I think that you have to ask the question about your organization and the type of culture that it is that you're harnessing there. You don't necessarily have to fight for that conversation if at face value, that organization is highly invested in the customer journey. And that needs to live and breathe, at the CTO and at the COO and at the CEO and quite honestly many layers beneath them as well, to the point that whoever is last in line also understands that what they do, has an impact, and that has an impact on the bottom line. So, if you're not engaging your workforce to understand your purpose, then that's where you need to start.
[00:24:24] KRISTINA: That's excellent advice. I've been taking notes, I'm sure other listeners have as well, but I feel like now I have my homework cut out for me. So great advice, wonderful insights, really appreciate you sharing your expertise with us today. And thanks for joining us as well.
[00:24:39] MIHAELA: Oh, thank you so much. I think those were wonderful questions.
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