Clinton Larson: Hello and welcome to EB & Flow, I'm your host, Clinton Larson, and joining me today on the podcast as my co-host is Trina Michels, Senior Manager here at Eide Bailly and an ERP guru. Welcome to the podcast, Trina.
Trina Michels: Thank you. Clinton, I'm so excited to be here cohosting with you.
Clinton Larson: Yes, I'm glad you're here. And as our guest today, we have Jon Ault, a principal here at Eide Bailly. And Jon, maybe I'll let you just tell the people what you do here at Eide Bailly.
Jon Ault: Sure, Clinton. I'm Jon Ault. I'm a principal in our data analytics practice and technology consulting. I've been with the firm for about 12 years, focused on a lot of different things, starting out in our advisory practice, helping clients get the most out of their technology investments. And I'm currently working in our data analytics practice.
Clinton Larson: Today's topic is one that's really important for businesses I think. It's talking about what goes into your tech stack. And, you know, and as I was prepping for this podcast, I was thinking about, you know, just my own little personal tech stack. You know, I have an iPhone that I use for my own personal day to day needs. I have a laptop that I use for work. And within those systems, I have different types of software that I use. And sometimes they mesh together really well. Sometimes they don't. You know, I'm kind of one those people that is constantly hopping from my phone calendar to my work calendar. And I wish those things worked better. But, you know, sometimes you just have the systems you have.
But for businesses, there's a lot of options out there for what they can and can't do. And I feel like they must have similar issues as I have with my stuff, right? Is that what you guys tend to see when we talk about tech stacks with businesses?
Trina Michels: Yes, Clinton. I do see that a lot with companies and systems needing to mesh together. Oftentimes we will see organizations where you have one department, perhaps, maybe it's accounting, who's focused on one type of automation and perhaps purchasing is looking at another. And then each of them make a decision in a silo and all of a sudden things can't talk well together.
And I talked about this before and people will hear me say this. Good systems are like good children. They play well together and having a holistic view of your technology stack, not just at a point in time or a point in your process, but from an overall process is incredibly important.
Jon Ault: But I think one other thing to highlight there that's related is that sometimes those personal tech stacks and the business tech stacks, they have to mesh well together, too. You know, as we record the podcast, I'm sitting in a hotel room and checked in and out with the electronic key. So I didn't have to go into the front desk. I didn't do any of that. And it's worked about half the time, the first time on that.
That whole solution is dependent on their tech, the business tech stack. And then also my personal phone. And so the there's oftentimes an intersection between someone's personal tech stack and a business tech stack.
Clinton Larson: Right. And the issue for businesses I feel like is like if things aren't working, if they're not running efficiently, that can mean the difference between being successful and falling behind.
In my own personal life, you know. Yeah. If my work calendar, my personal calendar don't work, that's, I'll figure it out at some point. But for businesses, they need to be on the forefront of being efficient, of being productive, of making sure that they're accomplishing their goals. So maybe we should just start at the beginning and say, you know, what do we mean when we talk about a tech stack? What does that term mean? How do we define it?
Jon Ault: I guess my perspective there Clinton is that when I talk about a tech stack for a business, it is much like what we talked about from a personal perspective. It's that sort of suite of hardware, software, and in a modern world, kind of cloud services or software as a service that's required to go about your daily life.
So much in the way that we are with our personal technology, a business has those same things. So they have that same sort of collective infrastructure of, again, hardware, software and services that they do are used to go about their day to day business and management of customer relationships, support automation of their processes, all those types of things.
Clinton Larson: So for most businesses, what do we typically see as part of their tech stack? What are the pieces of software, the pieces of hardware that most businesses are dealing with?
Jon Ault: I would say my view of that is that there are probably about six key things that most businesses look at, or I look at, when I think of their tech stack. I think there's kind of an operating platform, if you will, and that's kind of the traditional thing that we all think about. It's electronic health record if you're in health care or it's an ERP system if you're in manufacturing. It's kind of those that core system that's the backbone of most things that you do.
Here at Eide Bailly that would be NetSuite would be a common example of that, where we use that both in our internal business and our clients to kind of conduct day to day transactions. So that's kind of foundational system number one, which is that operating platform.
The second system that I think many clients don't think about is more of a customer platform. And to me, this is in technology, we often say CRM, customer relationships management, but at the end of the day, that's kind of a system that in a lot of ways barely existed 10, 15 years ago. Certainly the category did. But those systems have completely transformed in a world where we're more digitally connected to our customers and business partners. So first operations, second is that sort of customer platform.
The third one that I would say most businesses that are targeted at the podcast or they're listening to this kind of content is a data platform. In a lot of ways, this is kind of an emerging platform that says we're living in this world where we're collecting ever expanding amounts of data. You'll see these statistics that there's going to be more data collected or more data generated in the next year or 18 months than have ever been developed or generated in human history, something along those lines. So kind of that data platform to allow you to manage and get insights out of all of that information.
The fourth one to me is security. So it's really, it's hard to talk about technology today and not mention this. It's kind of the price of entry into the business tech stack. Every system, every business, everyone needs to be addressing this. What that's required or what's required for each individual business, drastically different from one client to the next or what environment to the next. But if you really step back and think about it, it's definitely needs to be a key foundational part to any business tech stack.
My fifth one is automation. So the kind of emerging category here is sometimes called RPA, robotic process automation. And the way that fits into a digital tech stack for a business is that it is very much the tool that allows you to automate repetitive tasks and things of that nature. I think of that as something either you start to experiment with things like that and make that a part of your tech stack or you get left behind.
And my last one is not necessarily technology. It's processes. We sometimes forget that our business processes are a critical component to our business tech stack. We need to make sure we have processes that are well aligned and fit our technology investments and our support of our technology investments.
Trina Michels: And I think another important piece in your technology stack is also your people. We maybe don't think about that, but having systems that not only are intuitive for people, but that can be supported at various levels of the organization, not necessarily only supported within an IT department. So enablement within those and really taking a view of in my technology stack, how is that working with my people?
Clinton Larson: Those are all really critical, big things that any business has to deal with, and so because I think of security just in general, you know, there's a huge amount of stuff, as you said, with cyber security being this system you can't ignore, data being this emerging area that it's just really going to start separating businesses in terms of like who's ahead and who's fallen behind. So in terms of all these big areas, how do you, where do you start to in terms of evaluating what you have and what you may need? What's the process there?
Jon Ault: I guess my perspective here is that you always start a technology project with kind of what are your business strategy and goals. That's kind of an easy thing to say. I always say it's a hard thing to argue with. But in practice, many businesses really don't do that. They sit down and they pick a favorite technology. Something along those lines.
Actually heard a presentation from an organization called Gartner recently, which is a bit of a technology thought leader, I'll say. And they do a lot of research in the industry. And they said what you really ought to do is step back and look at it and say, well, how disruptive do you want your business to be within the industry that you're in?
And they kind of put the category or they categorize your investments into two things. How much of it is going to be that true disruptive new innovation and how much of it is going to be I want to optimize my current operations. So in their world, the optimizing current operations is I'm going to get more efficient. I'm going to make my manufacturing process more efficient. I'm going to make my back office more efficient through an ERP implementation. And that's kind of that optimizing category.
However, a lot of those same tools allow you to be very disruptive. So you need to kind of step back and by the way, disruptive is kind of a maybe a new business model. It's an example of pick Amazon versus Wal-Mart. Right. And think of where Amazon kind of drove the disruption industry. But then Wal-Mart looked at it and responded. So the question is just where you kind of want to be on that scale with your business? Are you trying to just get optimize your current operations or are you trying to maybe redefine your business going forward a little bit?
Clinton Larson: I'm glad you defined what you meant by disruptive, because I feel like some people might hear that term and they they're going to think negatively about it or they're going to be scared by a term like that. And really, we're talking about expanding in ways you never thought of before. You really sort of thinking about where you want to take your business. And so when you're when you're talking to businesses and you're in you're going through these questions in this process, what are some of the common themes that you pick up from them? What are some of their common concerns? What are some of the things that businesses think about as they're going through this kind of process?
Jon Ault: I think the most common theme in terms of what they struggle with is that when my business is doing really well today, why would I? Why would I want to be disruptive? Why would I want to do that? And when I counsel clients all the time to say, well, the reality is that virtually everyone is going to be competing with Amazon at some point is what it feels like, even health care clients. Alexa, health is a real thing. It's going to happen. So if you're in the health care industry, what does that mean? I think back to the pandemic recently and what's happened with covid-19, the rise of telehealth has gone through the roof. Right. So the reality is that if you're in the health care delivery business, you don't necessarily have to be the leader in disrupting that. But if you're kind of in that happy, steady state, you think your business is great. The reality is that someone else is going to go out there and disrupt the industry. You can either be disrupted or you can be the disruptor.
And that sounds a little negative to kind of use your connotation earlier. But the reality is that it both can be acceptable. Just be aware of what's happening in the marketplace. The other thing that I think is related to that is that you can kind of ask that question of one of my competitors are doing. I don't think that's always the best answer, but I do think it's a fair question to ask yourself when you're researching and trying to decide a general direction for your technology investments. And when I say, what are your competitors doing? In some ways you kind of think of your customers.
So you'll hear this term digital natives. Right. So these are people that grew up knowing nothing other than being connected at all times and all those kind of things. They have expectations. And if you're not delivering on them, what does that mean to the long-term nature of your business? And this can apply to consumer-oriented businesses, but also business to business, any type of commerce. I think it's a fair question to say one of my competitors are doing. And what do my customers expect? Those are both fair questions to ask.
And the last one I would just add is that something around timeline priorities. Nearly every business has to have some limits on this and say how fast can we afford to make these investments those types of things. So you're going to have to go through a little bit of an effort as you research your options to understand what is my timeline look like for kind of my digital transformation, if you will. And what are my highest priorities.
Clinton Larson: So as businesses are evaluating the different types of software they use, the different types of systems they use. One of the big questions that comes up for many businesses as they approach this is should I go to the cloud or should I go something that's on premise? And we touched a little bit about this in the last episode talking about ERP. But what are some of the pros and cons that you can see about having a cloud system versus having an on premise system?
Jon Ault: To me, this is a really clear path forward, right. So the decision is really not that hard today. There are certainly exceptions. So I don't want to create the illusion that there is absolutely no reason to ever do anything on premise ever again. There are definitely some exceptions to this, but by and large, I think the answer is almost always I'll say, cloud is the right answer today.
And to me there are a few reasons why. So this kind of gets to the pros and cons a little bit. But the kind of the reasons why that's the case is that, you know, nearly every dollar that's invested in the technology industry across even all of those six segments that I talked about, or six elements of the tech stack that I talked about before, almost all of them are cloud focused.
So if you want to be able to kind of leverage the latest and greatest in the best investments coming out of the tech industry, think of all the great things that are happening in Silicon Valley, in Austin and around the world, the reality is the cloud is where you're going to want to be.
Second thing is speed of implementation. So the time to implement something in the cloud, they're kind of built on these platforms, if you will, that are designed to be able to implement quicker. So speed of implementation and agility equals time to value. So you get to the value of their technology investment much quicker.
The third thing is ease of integration, of sharing of data. If you recall, we talked about kind of this data platform or the data as a as an element of your tech stack. The reality is that cloud systems are built to be able to share information in a much more seamless manner than a lot of your on premise systems.
Fourth thing for me is scalability. So if you're in a rapidly growing business, you can literally dial up or down what you need. Or even if you're in a seasonal business, you're a lot busier at Christmas time or you're a lot busier in the summer or whatever that might be, you have the ability to kind of flex the capacity of these systems up and down.
And my last benefit as to why is I would say even security. So people think, oh my gosh, it's on the Internet and am I going to get hacked? The reality is that these cloud systems, what the vendors and service providers invest in securing them, far exceeds anything that you'll ever be able to do as kind of a mid-sized business. So people, I think, need to change their thinking on security in the cloud. I think it could actually be and is almost always more secure than whatever you would do as kind of a mid-sized business, if you will.
So to summarize that to me, almost always clouds the right answer. So it's almost all pros there. And you could kind of take the corollary of those have been cons for on premise in most cases.
Trina Michels: I could not think of any reason why on premise would be better than cloud. It's hard for me to grasp and perhaps it's the industries in which I work in which would be wholesale distribution, manufacturing, health care services. Perhaps if you're a spy, having an on premise might be good. But the only thing that I can think of is that if you can afford the highest qualified people who can protect you from cybersecurity threats of attacks onto your system, most businesses, especially within the mid-market, cannot afford that. And so by being in the cloud, you are able to have the greatest minds protecting you.
Clinton Larson: So once a business has decided what they want their tech sector to look like, once they've sort of made the decisions on, the hard decisions on what they actually want to have as part of their system, what should implementation look like? Once they've made a choice, what can they expect to come next in terms of actually getting the system implemented and working in their environment?
Jon Ault: I would say that a business needs three things to focus on discipline, kind of business led project management and then flexibility, which is kind of counter to the discipline thing. But I'll explain that in just a second. To me, discipline is discipline on scope. Are we focused on the things that the product is trying to intend? So I think requirements, things of that nature could be discipline around the budget and making sure that we stay on budget and on task. In terms of business led project management, I think sometimes we think of these as well, I'm going to go hand this off to my technology team and they're going to go.
But when the reality is we're doing this for a very specific business reasons, we should not only employ project managers that have some sense of business, I think it's something that we should expect. It's the normal way, it's the way we should deliver on what we thought of as technology projects in the past.
And kind of the opposite of that discipline is flexibility. I do think that in rapidly changing times, I think if you were in the middle of implementing a project at the start of covid, you do need to exhibit some level of flexibility, but only when it's needed and when it's appropriate.
Trina Michels: I just want to echo to Jon's point on discipline. As you undergo digital transformation in your technology stack, you start the project with this idea of going into it with what you have known. And as you enter into an implementation, you begin to see more and more and more of the possibilities. And I liken it to building a house. When you're building a house, you've set a budget as to what you want to spend on that house, and then you start looking at the various finishes that you can have on your home. And that can really blow the budget, is what I would say.
And so it's staying disciplined of understanding when I started this project, I knew what these objectives were. I know what the result is. And I'm going to make sure that I still that I keep an idea of a vision for the future, but that I stay focused on what we started this project to be. Because as you continue to see more and more possibilities, if you try bringing those into that project now you delay your goal live. You delay so much of the return that you can have at the beginning based on the decision that you made to go into that project.
So discipline, I would say completely, Jon. I would also say discipline in following the process that your implementation partner has put forth. That process, while it may seem counterintuitive maybe to the way that your business would necessarily like, but if you've chosen a trusted implementation partner, there needs to be a trust and a discipline in following the process because that process of implementation has been iterative over time from that partner and is likely the most efficient way for you to get to your business objectives.
Clinton Larson: So it sounds like there's a lot of thought that should be put into, you know, not just a choice that you make in terms of the systems, but in terms of how you approach implementation. Make sure that your people are on board. You have a plan in place. You know, once that's been executed, what does success look like then? How do we know that once we've gone through this whole process, we've made these choices. We've been to the letter on and what the expectations are. How do we know that is working? How do we know that it's being successful?
Jon Ault: But first, let me say that in a lot of ways, success is a little bit different for everyone. And so maybe a little bit cliché, but I do think that it is a true statement that depending on where you're at and where you're trying to go, success can be quite different from one business to the next. Now, that being said, I do think there are some kind of key attributes to look for. And you can look for kind of some or all of these to help define success with your digital investments. So to me, the first one is just more efficient operations. If you think back to that comment earlier, we talked about investments in innovation versus investments in operations. Almost everybody is trying to get a little bit more efficient at a bare minimum. So are you more efficient than you were before making that investment? That's largely the whole point of some technology investments.
The second one to me is have you developed or implemented a platform for that innovation of growth? So it's kind of the other side of that scale that we talked about. Do you have something that you can truly go change the business with and help support your growth goals, those types of things?
Also, do you have better customer experiences and journeys? So are you interacting better with your customers, particularly if you're implementing a CRM or that kind of customer platform that we mentioned earlier? Is that a better experience for your customer or your business partner? That's a pretty big deal.
The fourth one is maybe a little bit odd, but I would say, do you have happier employees? There's nothing more frustrating than technology that doesn't work. We've all had it. You come into work and something just doesn't work with your technology. And it's an incredibly frustrating experience. So if your employees are kind of happier working with their technology and is their experience better just like a customer.
And to me, kind of the ultimate success criteria or attribute is a new business model. So have we really gone and defined a new business model? Have we been kind of Amazon like in our view of the world? Are we truly saying, OK, we're going to create a business model that no competitor has and we're going to kind of build that moat around it and protect our market, protect our customers and grow our business. To me, that's digital transformation. So that's kind of the overused sort of buzzword in technology. But when you found a way to take and get your business into a completely different operating model through the use of technology, that is an incredibly powerful use of your tech stack. And we would call that, the industry would call that digital transformation.
Trina Michels: So, Clinton, you're asking, what does success look like when it's implemented? And success is different in every situation. And I might, I challenge all of my clients to make sure that they have a clear vision of what success is at the beginning of a project, because as you get into the mired into those details, you can lose sight of what there was as you entered into this journey of that definition of success.
A few things that I would say is, number one, increased efficiency and I would say efficiency in ways of do I have better visibility of my data? Have I reduced risk in areas of the business as well as efficiencies of your employees. One of my big tenants, Clinton, is I am so passionate about what I do because I believe that good systems build happier employees, which build happier families, which build happier communities and a better society. And it is so important that the system that is implemented is the system that people can use and feel better job satisfaction because they are achieving their objectives for their career and their growth and which ties into the company's growth in a more efficient and easier way.
Clinton Larson: Saving the world through your tech stack. I love it.
Trina Michels: Yeah, saving the world through your tech stack, completely. I get so passionate about this, Clinton. It just it truly is, technology truly is the foundation. It is completely the foundation. We, my son said to me a few weeks ago, it is so unfair that you get to be in front of screens all day long. And I only get an hour. And I laugh at that.
But it's true. We are in front of screens nearly all day long and it's making sure that how is our time in front of the screens? Is it efficient or are you doing a bunch of duplicate entry that offers you where you know that there is a better way. And when you know there is a better way, it can make your job very frustrating.
Clinton Larson: This has been a really great conversation about such an important issue for businesses. So thank you very much, Jon, for being here. And thank you very much, Trina, for being my co-host.
Trina Michels: You are welcome.
Jon Ault: You're welcome. Thanks Clinton, thanks Trina.