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Northwest Trek: On the Evolutionary Path of NW Business, Sappington is Your Digital Trail Guide

TimGogginPortraitForget firewalls or paywalls — the greatest impediment to the rise of technology empowerment in big business today is office walls, plain sheet rock and glass, that separate the corporate C-suite of business moguls from the IT department of technology maestros.

Even thinking about information services as a “department,” as a silo, can get you into trouble. What’s that? Your company doesn’t market hardware or software?

“Today, ALL companies are technology companies,” advises Tim Goggin, founder and CEO of Sappington.

Of course, Starbucks sells java, not javascript. But they also have a Chief Digital Officer, one Adam Brotman in fact, who, like Tim, knows that an invisible tap on a smartphone or smartwatch makes it a whole lot easier to buy their product.

Breaking down the walls that exist within the hallowed halls of America’s top brands means freeing the exchange of ideas and intelligence between a company’s business, financial, marketing and technology leaders. It means engendering greater coordination, collaboration, and a shared sense of purpose.

The goal is to have the chief executive officer (CEO), the CFO, COO, CMO and the CIO or Chief Digital Officer, all reading off of the same page. When a company’s most valuable knowledge-base—most often its people—and its information resources exist beyond the reach and productive use of its employees, the environment can constrict, instead of expand horizons. One of the things Sappington has uncovered is that the condition is often caused by a cultural issue, not a technical one.SAPPINGTONlogo

Besides its consulting services for several Northwest brand leaders, Sappington recently launched the Pacific Northwest Digital Business Hub, a peer group for business and technology leaders who are working to understand the challenges and opportunities of digital business transformation.

We caught up with digital trail guide Goggin on the evolutionary path of NW business.

Seattle24x7: Tim, covering the role of technology in business as we do, we feel a certain kinship to your organization. The consulting company you founded, known as Sappington, combines a deep understanding of the ways technology impacts business with the strategies that enable a company’s business and technical staff to get on the same page.

Tim Goggin: I’ve been a student of technology my entire career. Even as a kid, I aspired to journey west where the tech revolution was taking shape. As fate would have it, after working with IBM in Texas, I landed north of California’s tech nucleus in Silicon Valley by arriving in the Pacific Northwest’s Silicon Forest some eighteen years ago.

Seattle24x7: You’ve chronicled the cultural and economic differences of both tech regions in a resource section of your Website you’ve entitled LORE. It reads a little like a “Tale of Two Cities.” Your narrative compares how each region treats the relationship between business and technology.

Tim Goggin: There’s a fascinating contrast between both tech hubs that persists to this day. In California, the perspective is one that revolves around technology. Start-up companies create new platforms and new services that are disruptive to the traditional ways of doing business. The shifts can be seismic. Typically, these venture-backed startups also devise a quick exit strategy.

Conversely, one of the things that impressed me about the Northwest was a very different orientation to technology from the point of view of the customer. Here, well established companies seek to understand how they can apply technology to improve the customer experience and enhance the quality of life of those they serve.

The two priorities remind me of the vastly different climates and living conditions of the region itself. Like the difference between the gently rolling terrain described in Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden compared to the rugged northwest experience of “The Call of the Wild.”

Seattle24x7: We’ve heard the cultural differences of the two tech capitals described as “mercenary vs. missionary.” The Northwest experience being more goal-oriented, less financial.

sappingtonsessionTim Goggin: When you focus on the brands themselves, a key difference in the Northwest is the way organizations are structured — around the customer. They put the people who are closest to the customer at the top of the organizational pyramid. For instance, the owners of the Nordstrom company, the Nordstrom family, put themselves at the bottom of the pyramid because they are not in direct contact with the customer. At Nike, a great customer experience is also paramount, and everything is tailored around delivering products that meet the physical fitness and athletic needs of the customer. Starbucks is all about creating a “third” place for people to share experiences with other human beings. This common thread of supporting the customer is a defining characteristic of northwest companies.

Seattle24x7: How would you say that philosophy materializes in products and services?

Tim Goggin: What’s so interesting is how the Northwest corporate culture results in creating very durable, lasting brands. The emphasis is on creating an organization and products that are going to stand the test of time.

Seattle24x7: Not about a fast exit strategy.

Tim Goggin: Here’s an exercise: can you name me one Northwest “Unicorn” company? [as our readers know, a “Unicorn” is a start-up company valued at over $1 billion. – Ed.]

Seattle24x7: Not offhand.

Tim Goggin: Neither can I. At the very same time, I honestly believe that we are in a golden age of business right now.

outsidecube_InkOur business processes and tools have gone from a very mechanical process which has been complicated, time-consuming and expensive, to a point where technological advances are truly becoming seamless and offering new potential to humankind.

Take mobile or cloud-based technologies. The difference is game-changing. Running a business that employed any kind of technology once meant you had to buy servers and software, have a place to install and monitor all the metal, and power everything up before you even got started. The costs could scale significantly.

Today, anyone can go to Microsoft or Amazon or Google and tap into cloud services very quickly. You can communicate with people in ways that are easier. It’s not about technology for technology’s sake but using technology to do a better job communicating product and service offerings.  It’s enabling us to work on amazing things.  But, how we are going to interact with each other so we can make sure technology is strategic to business.

At Sappington, we’re here to help big companies ask and answer questions about using technology for a competitive advantage: How can we reclaim time that has been lost with antiquated practices? How can we support each other from a business perspective? How can we interact more effectively with one another?

 You’ve written a lot about company change needing to come from the top down?

Tim Goggin: Right. It’s important for a company’s management, be it CEO, CIO, CMO, or CDO (Chief Digital Officer) to realize that, in 2016, technology is no longer a “department.” It is a company-wide strategic asset and a strategic enabler.

static1.squarespaceTechnology leaders need to function as diplomats in understanding the business cases and requirements involved in decision-making. Business leaders need to be able to correlate their plans and initiatives with the technology drivers. What is most paramount is that every person in the organization understand they are integral to the transformation to a technology-enabled future. They need to work to speak the same language and come together to close the gap. The CEO and CIO are in the best position to signal the corporate commitment to change. They are the ones who determine the digital vision for how to use technology to improve operations and better serve customers. Sappington serves as a catalyst in fostering that commitment.

Seattle24x7: Can you describe some of the exercises or activities you go through in bridging the gaps between business operations and information services?

Tim Goggin: There are a number of interactions. They start by asking some core questions at the leadership level: Why do you exist as a company? What are your core values? You know what you are seeking to accomplish, do you know how technologies are playing a role in meeting those objectives? And, when we are to bring people together, do they understand what it’s like to walk in each other’s shoes?

There is also our work supporting technology initiatives. If a company has invested in technology that’s twenty years old, it may be time to modernize in order SAPPINGTONpaletteto support new opportunities. We support those efforts so people adopt the technology. It’s important to look at it from the individual level and get everyone aligned.  They need to know what’s in it for them.  For example, employees may be bringing their own devices to work (B.Y.O.D.) and need to have clarity about their use and compensation.

Seattle24x7: Sappington has been behind the creation of the Pacific Northwest Digital Business Hub, a new community dedicated to organizing events and discussion at the nexus of business and technology. What can you tell us about it?

Tim Goggin: The premise of the Digital Business Hub really gets back to the idea that every company is a technology company. We have created an open forum for people who are interested in discussing the issues and challenges of merging technology and  business.

The longer term vision is far reaching. We believe the Northwest is in a really interesting position to be the leader when it comes to defining what the future of business looks like. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity to break down the silos of business and start talking collectively together about improving customer experiences.  It’s the Northwest way! [24×7]