Biz Systems Magic, the first and only conference for Business Systems professionals, made its grand debut on Aug. 27 in San Francisco. Nearly 200 Systems leaders from across the country met to discuss the emergence of their profession, how to solve systems challenges, technologies and tools they use across business and more.
The event began with a keynote by 6-time CIO and author of the book Truth from the Trenches: A Practical Guide to the Art of IT Management Mark Settle, who emphasized the importance of this growing movement. While many enterprises today seem to be adopting more and more SaaS apps, identity and access management (IAM) company Okta, which he led as CIO from 2016 to 2019, was using no less than 400 cloud apps at the time — more than a third of which were business-critical. Adoption at this scale, he said, requires a business systems team who can eye opportunities for innovation and manage a diverse ecosystem of apps and tools that best suit the employees who use them.
Later joining him on the stage was Eric Tan, CIO of Coupa, who talked about the real-world impact of the work and processes business systems teams implement. “For this automation project [for example], we’ll have 1-4 guys focused on it, a 3-4 week window, maybe one or two sprints…. The value I’m going to get back is half a FTE (or full-time equivalent). That’s real, tangible value that you can see really quick.” While digital transformation is important, he noted the ability to build agile automations quickly was critical and was something business systems teams could identify to get enterprises moving faster.
Integrating AI, Bots and Automation in Business Systems
Going from the outlook of the profession to different tools being used within, the event then shifted to a panel on AI and bots moderated by TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney. In it, Pranav Shahi of Atlassian, Josh Foure of Google, and Monica Wilkinson of Slack spoke about the productivity wins achieved by using these tools and how ML-driven bots and automation can make your processes faster.
Wilkinson particularly mentioned using automation to enhance the employee experience from onboarding vendors and partners to streamlining order-to-cash and bi-directionally syncing their ERP and CRM apps. They can even approve special order requests in Slack and never have to leave the app at all, thanks to automation. “You can efficiently automate repetitive tasks without increasing IT workload…pretty much spend your day automating tons of things that you can think of and making employees lives better,” she said.
Foure echoed her sentiments. Previously working in hospitality and now at Google (both in enterprise tech), he’s seen bots and automation used to store customer data from a hotel stay to ensure a seamless experience across a brand, to ensuring a real-time financial close and other internal workflows at one of the largest tech companies in the world.
With a wealth of experience in data platforms, Shahi has led several digital transformations, improving processes from data governance and BI to financial reconciliations. To do this, he credits automation with making these processes faster. “Especially with financials, a lot of this was done manually,” said Shahi of the processes at his company. “Right now [at Atlassian], we have many use cases where this could work – and work well.”
Staying Afloat in the ‘Flowpocalypse’ of Automation Tools
Following the AI and bot panel, the hilarious Eric Hansen of Workday spoke about the “flowpocalypse” of automation tools on the market. He broke it down by persona — developer, integrator, analyst and business user — and exactly what they’ll be using the platform for — from building a new single-page application for onboarding to requesting approvals via bot when new IT tickets are created. He then went into the “hype curve” often associated with adopting an automation platform and how your team can come out on top, despite the “peak of inflated expectations” and sometimes “plateau of productivity.”
“Great automation tools will shift productivity post-implementation,” Hansen said. “Systems teams do a lot of the pre work, but it’s the post that ultimately helps your teams and customers.”
Lastly, Hansen left his Systems peers with some actionable takeaways including identifying gaps between traditional and “permissionless” models — what he called the “art of automation” — and creating a safe model for experimentation built within a structure of continued team ownership.
Solving for Pipeline Issues With Core Integrations
In one of the breakout panels before lunch, Justin Tung of Segment, Mudit Agarwal of Rubrik, and Erik Lopez of Lucid spoke about the unique challenges they’ve solved across their pipeline with automation. Tung spoke about accurately routing inbound leads from a website or app to the correct SDR with the shortest first point of contact and accomplishing this through automation. He did so by integrating enrichment tools, predictive lead scoring and calendar solutions with their marketing and CRM apps – all of which can be updated through simple commands in Slack.
Agarwal then spoke about territory management (TM) at Rubrik, which helps sales reps get the most out of their day by planning the most efficient use of scarce resources. By granting users access to accounts based on criteria such as postal code, industry, revenue, or another custom field, you can provide a powerful solution for structuring your accounts and their associated users. Typically, CRMs hold up to four territory models, but only one can be active at a time. From the territory hierarchy — the main point of interaction — you can create/edit/delete territories, run assignment rules, and activate or archive models.
There are multiple steps involved in creating territories as well as granting the permissions needed to view forecasts for opportunities within your accounts. Previously, Rubrik would perform all of this manually and while it provided visibility within teams, it didn’t allow insights into the total addressable market (TAM) or the territory at large. By integrating the company’s master data with its territory planning and CRM tools, Rubrik has been able to reduce lead time in user onboarding and provide insights across territories, helping to prioritize business opportunities by observing their potential beforehand.
“Don’t boil the ocean in phase 1 [of adoption],” said Agarwal of automating TM and trying to accomplish too much at one time. “Focus on building a valuable product, scrum, scrum, scrum, and ensure business objectives are aligned before deployment.”
Lopez spoke about enhancing processes at the top of the funnel at Lucid, as there was often over-communication from marketing during this period and confusion on or about the customer from sales, which could lead to the poor deployment of processes on each side. Problems with deployment, of course, led to problems with reporting — while marketing also had to consider GDPR requirements with customer data.
By adopting automation and having systems teams focus on making pipeline processes more efficient, the company was able to have their marketing workflows focus on the user (and any associated requirements with that) and have the sales workflows focus on not having duplicates. For marketing, this put the “fun back at the top of the funnel” and allows sales to focus on the motions of the process.
“With a plan to ‘dedupe,’” Lopez said, “you can spread more love to one lead.” This process, for his company, ensures data integrity, provides customer clarity for sales, and removed siloes, letting data flow freely across apps and processes.
Streamlining Hire-to-Retire at Various Stages of Growth
After a delicious lunch of wraps, salad and cookies, attendees had the chance to participate in several interactive breakout sessions of their choosing. One was a panel on streamlining the hire-to-retire process.
First up on the panel was SeatGeek’s Kevin Baumler, who spoke of building a vision of “people + process” before adding automation. SeatGeek uses a number of tools to manage people systems, but had trouble syncing core people/identity apps and supplementing these processes with manual work — not to mention that many of the teams who owned these processes were dispersed.
By working with business systems to streamline the hiring process, SeatGeek was able to ensure alignment across teams (including IT, Controls, HR and Recruiting) and maintain a single source of truth for employee data in adopting its global HR system. Data now runs smoothly from app to app, ensuring access control and auto-provisioning in its final steps.
“At growth companies [like SeatGeek], Biz Systems is a strategic team and you have to embrace that,” Baumler said.
Jessica Barry at Slack then followed, speaking about the challenges faced when global growth meets recruiting. Working with a number of HR apps and doubling their headcount within the past year, it was hard to: 1) establish a global mindset, 2) align brand and messaging, and 3) ensure processes were being maintained across time zones. This all led to a lack of visibility across systems and data as documentation began to build, manual work became a hassle, and systems weren’t being linked.
To solve this, Slack created logic-based workflows to ensure that job changes were automatically reflected in both their HR hub and recruiting apps. The company also created auto-generated job channels, delivered candidates for review to HMs within those job channels, and sent SLA reminders after interviews in a DM in Slack. They also enabled interview channel visibility for scorecard completion, letting decision makers know who has completed the process and who hasn’t.
“We really want to improve the employee experience by delivering things directly to folks whenever possible through Slack,” Barry said. “You should hold office hours to ensure processes are working — even conduct side-by-sides with [staff], if need be.”
“You’re never going to solve [problems] unless you see exactly what’s going on.”
Bobby Mathew of Square rounded out the panel, speaking about the company’s 10 years of business decisions regarding tools, automation and workflows, four of which were post-IPO. Currently, Square uses a handful of HR tools, including recruiting, payroll, expense management, a hub app and more, and as the Business Systems Lead for People Systems, Mathew is responsible for streamlining these processes.
In the future, Mathew hopes to simplify the process, having data flow directly from the recruiting to their hub app and then to everything downstream. Doing so will increase productivity, save team members plenty of time and eliminate bottlenecks that existed from the plethora of apps and dispersed users.
“We have an engineering culture [at Square] focused on user experience,” Mathew said. “So, if you think about a Square product, the idea is ‘When you approach our UI, it should be simple. A few clicks and you’re done.’ That’s the whole goal of what they’ve been trying to build and we want to emulate that in our employee experience.”
Evaluating Vendors for Business Applications
At the vendor management panel, Mandy Shimshock of Zendesk spoke about the importance of evaluating third-party relationships and steps you can take to ensure they’re right for your business. Shimshock spoke about meticulously reviewing RFPs and running QBRs with vendors on their core applications. Overseeing IT business apps for a company of 3,000 employees across the Americas, EMEA and APAC, she says you can’t be afraid to let vendors know they’re no longer a fit if there’s been any changes on their end that don’t meet your needs – whether it’s due to redundancy or a better alternative has emerged.
Speaking to the speed at which technology changes, Shimshock said, “We’ve all seen how this has changed the role of a CIO or IT leader. A couple of decades ago, when a CIO was making a decision for an application, they were making it for at least a decade for that ERP or HR software. That’s no longer the name of the game here. At this point, things are moving really quickly, and so you have to be agile with how you’re selecting your tools and getting them up and running.”
Shimshock noted that Zendesk was internally architected to take full advantage of the best SaaS applications and because of this, has built a stringent framework for vendor selection, including measuring its functionality (the hands-on business requirements/use cases it must meet), the technical aspect of it (how its fit into your current ecosystem), its strategic perception (is it from a peer or competitor), and the total cost of ownership (what does it take to keep it up and running). At the end of this, Shimshock says you’ll want to measure the percentage of the framework element that matters most to you – functional, technical, strategic or TCO – and how it compares to what the vendor offers before making a decision.
Partnering with Lines of Business to Ensure Innovation and Success
At the final panel of the evening, it was time for Line of Business teams (LOBs) to share what it’s like working with business systems. Moderated by Natasha Irani, business systems lead at Veeva, Saad Shaikh (head of revenue ops at BigPanda), Michele O’Connor (chief accounting officer at Veeva), Frederik Hermann (senior director, marketing at BirdEye), and Saumya Chopra (global people ops lead at Square) spoke about how building partnerships between IT and business breeds innovation and offered best practices on how to maintain strong relationships.
Shaikh emphasized the importance having LOB and business systems teams work together from the start to ensure that things run smoothly when it comes to adoption. “When you have a 5,000-person sales team that moves pretty fast, you want to make sure that your processes move pretty fast and that you take the right steps proactively to ensure their tools are up and running,” Shaikh said. “It’s not good for the sales team, it’s not good for us if we lay out a tool that doesn’t account for the things we need, so it’s helpful to have this professional [team] here that knows the inside and out of systems very well.”
Hermann echoed his sentiments. “At BirdEye, a heavily sales-driven company, we want to talk about what we can do better,” he said. “I’ve had experiences where, in hindsight on the marketing side, we should’ve involved sales and business systems in the whole process and not then ask to better understand the implications and impact on the rest of the business.”
“What [business systems teams] are working on requires a deep understanding of the entire tech stack in order to filter projects in. So it’s helpful to involve each other much earlier in the process, to be able to make the right decisions faster.”
O’Connor said it’s instrumental to clearly identify your use case first as well as whom else in the business is going to be impacted. “Is it a financial only application or is it far reaching on finance? We reach out to our peers, we talk to our network group,” O’Connor said of how systems work at Veeva. “We learn about what sort of the best-of-breed [apps] are out there as well as the lesser known ones just to see if that would meet our needs.”
“Once we get down that path,” she added, “then we do always engage IT. It’s really a no brainer for us because I can think all day about what my needs are in terms of finance applications and what I want it to do features and functionality wise, but I have less knowledge about security and how to integrate with my other applications. So I get far enough down the path and think, ‘OK, I have some ideas. Let’s go talk to Natasha [moderator of the panel and Veeva’s head of business systems], let’s pull them in, let’s start the dialogue.’”
Chopra said the process at Square is similar to Veeva’s. “We definitely have an initial evaluation of what we need and try to loop in our technical teams as early on in the process as possible. It’s very, very important to know what technical capabilities exist and what they can support and what they can’t,” she said. “Otherwise, you may end up in a non-ideal state.”
All panel members also emphasized the importance of measuring success with business systems teams and how feedback is key to innovation. Hermann at BirdEye mentioned attending weekly meetings with business systems, seeing all their pending “big asks” and making sure any changes you need are included on their list. Shaikh at BigPanda mentioned establishing OKRs or anywhere up to 40 targets that teams could clearly identify and work with. O’Connor at Veeva mentioned actually pinning company values to the wall during business-critical app adoptions and seeing if your outcomes match those objectives.
Having worked in both and IT and ops, Chopra at Square understands why complete visibility throughout adoption is key. “Having been [in IT], I know what we tried to do is provide visibility into the work and I think as business partner now, it helps me understand what the workload is like and why they know some things and don’t know others, or what things might have come in the way of that visibility into each other’s work. And having those ongoing conversations to circumvent those issues really helps.”
In the end, everyone agreed that it’s all about improving the future of business and how working together means success company-wide. “Having an aligned view that we’re all marching towards the same goal and we’re in it together is important here,” O’Connor said. “It’s sort of like a rah rah team. You’re not on the finance team or IT, you’re on the Veeva team,” said O’Connor of how they realize it at her company.
“We’re all getting after the same thing and as long as everybody has that same mindset and we’re aligned to the same goals, you’ll get a good relationship as an outcome — and I think it’s the trust and the respect and the willingness to be open with each other that helps get you there.”
Closing the First Ever Systems Conference
Throughout the day, guests were invited to attend the downstairs lounge where you could network, make a quick phone call or just take a minute to relax. A variety of icebreaker sessions were held starting at breakfast, including interactive boards where guests could post what’s included in their MarTech stack or list what projects their teams are currently working on.
In all, hundreds of Systems leaders met and engaged with peers in Silicon Valley and abroad and brought home dozens of actionable takeaways that they could implement the next day.
Kumud Kokal, one of the founders of the business systems community, gave a closing statement, thanking everyone for attending and inviting them to participate in Magic 2020.