Season 1, Episode 2: "Is there one right way to roll out new technology?" with Mathew Chase, VP of IT @ Ellucian
Mathew Chase: One of the guys pulled me by and he's like," Mat, you just need to calm down."
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Andrew: Hey, it's Andrew. And welcome to Network Disrupted where IT leaders talk about navigating the disruption in our industry. In this episode, we zero in on how a leader can focus their teams on architecting for broader business requirements, not just the request of the day. We also answered the question, is there one right way to roll out a new technology? My guest today is Mathew Chase, who I've known for quite a few years. Mat is the vice president of IT for Ellucian. A higher ed company focused in the software space. It seems to me that Ellucian is on its way to maturing the way in which technology is consumed by the business. This interim is important to talk about and Mat helps us do that in a really empathetic way. Let me know what you thought of this episode. You can tweet me at Network Disrupted. Leave a review on Spotify or Apple podcasts, or email me at andrew @ networkdisrupted. com. So let's get into it. Welcome Mat, and thank you for joining us today.
Mathew Chase: Hey. Glad to be here.
Andrew: So Mat I've actually never cared that much about the technology itself if I couldn't figure out how I could make somebody's job better. How do you get your teams to understand the business needs more, in the context of the technology more?
Mathew Chase: Men, that's a good question because I don't think there's an easy answer, right? It's a dialogue. I was asked coming into this role at Ellucian what were the first three things I was going to do? And I told my boss that I was going to listen and then I was going to listen. And then I was going to reflect upon what I had heard. And I think that's probably why his advice for how do we deal with the business, right? Our role as business partners is really listening, and it's really hard not to solution, right?
Mathew Chase: The first thing people come to the technology department with is technology. And we keep smacking people back saying," Timeout." Let's talk about really, what are you trying to accomplish, and people solution and jump to technology pieces so quickly that, I would say even at our company, we're fraught with a thousand different pieces of technology now because everybody has solution their own piece, and part of our job is to then connect the dots and harmonize that and find synergies and drive economies of scale, and really hone down on what is the synthesis that we're... What is the objective we're trying to achieve as a business? And then what are you trying to achieve? And then how can I provide a thoughtful bridge or narrative between those? And then how can we just have an open dialogue? Because each organization that I run into, it's very easy for me to replay the last set of technology choices that I made, but that's not relevant for the business that I'm in. I have to understand the modality that the business is operating in, and their strengths and weaknesses, and then I have to find the solution that's out there. No longer are we in a position in technology where there's one mainstream thing. There's probably 20 choices you can make, right? Lucky us. But then you're stuck in this paradox of choice of, what's the right one for this equation. And IT really kind of has to sit in that role now and help define, and narrow down the choice set alongside the business and then come up with an appropriate outcome for what's really going to be right for this situation, because there could be multiple solutions that are out there and we want to work towards good business outcomes and not just delivering technology solutions for technology’s sake.
Andrew: And for sure it sounds old school, and the difference is the way it should be approached, the way we approach it. But people often forget that technology selections are part of architectures, and architectures don't exist for any other reason than to meet requirements. And so if you don't understand the requirements, whatever technology choice you're making is good chance it's going to be wrong. And then once you understand the architecture, now I'm going to design an engineer and build this thing, and then I'm going to operate it. Right. But in this day and age that can't start with a 60, 90, 120 day process of collecting requirements and writing documentation, because we're agile. We're scrum. We're going to break this down. We're going to just get started and make the right choices, which creates an anti- pattern because now I'm going to select different technologies potentially. And so there's a broader set of requirements that can help define an architecture that can be leveraged as you make smaller requirements. But the reality is that it's people are making decisions faster, than they're thinking less about the broader set of requirements. They're going to choose different technologies, and they're so easy to choose. Our HR team at BlueCat went off and bought their own HRIS at some point. You know what, and you're...
Mathew Chase: Yeah.
Andrew: And so you potentially optimize locally without thinking of the broader set of requirements.
Mathew Chase: And that happens constantly.
Mathew Chase: And that is the challenge that we have, right. We hear the label, shadow IT out there. And all that means is, you and the technology team were not fast enough or not directly connected enough with your business partner to meet their needs when they wanted them met. And so out comes the P- Card and lo and behold, a new solution is delivered into your enterprise. And they do that out of self- preservation of needing to make those decisions faster.
Mathew Chase: And answer the questions that are out there. And when that happens without being able to look at the broader picture, you have problems in the organization, and that's why that business partner link is so critical in what's happening. And some of that even happens where I am today. So I'll give you an example. Trello has blossomed inside our organization. And so recently just did a survey and there's like five to 600 free Trello accounts that are running inside our organization. And it's like, okay. Now I'm calling at last and people up saying, okay, I got this demand in the organization, which clearly we didn't meet, or we didn't communicate effectively because we have probably four other tools that could have dealt with a Kanban kind of intrepid...
Mathew Chase: ...solution. But we then didn't do a good enough job. And so now we need to look back and say, okay, what do you need business, engage in a conversation and look at, okay. Maybe we need to enterprise support this. Maybe we need to pull this in. How can I help your business? So then it starts a brand new dialogue. And it has to not be punitive because in past organizations where I've been at it's like," Oh no, IT caught us. What are we going to do?" And it's like,"No, no, no. You did this out of a need." But let's think about the bigger picture. Now, is that data relevant? Can we now expose a broader Kanban boards that help us map to business goals? Let's think a little bigger people, like I got that you're down in the weeds and tactical in solving business problems, but let's reach out of that. How can we free up data? How can I help you within the safety of our enterprise achieve more, and then also deal with all the things that a responsible business does around compliance and risk and security and all the other things that we need to meet. But it's that thoughtful listening and engagement that you have to do with those businesses. And it's a relationship with people. So it constantly has to be fed and nurtured and evolved. And if you don't give it enough care and feeding, you kind of end up with bad practices of old or...
Andrew: Yeah. For sure.
Mathew Chase: ...a hundred percent reactionary in what you're doing.
Andrew: Yeah. And this is where, like on the compliance and security side or whatever, I'm sure you use some system for single sign on, for instance, there's certain requirements I don't care if you're optimizing locally with Trello or you're using the corporate tool to do Kanban. There are certain requirements you have to meet. You can't just bring in any SAS based product because you've got those requirements. There's cost requirements and you're trying to meet the unpredictable requirements of the business at some predictable level of cost, and there's budget, but maybe it's coming out of their budget. So as long as they meet that stuff, but at some point, obviously it can't be a free- for- all while at the same time, if everything requires going through a corporate process to standardize, then you're never optimizing locally. You're not getting sort of the grassroots. And sometimes that's the right way to bring a new tool in, otherwise things like disruptive innovation wouldn't be able to work, right?
Mathew Chase: Yeah.
Andrew: That's what we try to do. Find something that 50 people can use inside the organization. Make a job better and then try to grow from there as opposed to becoming a corporate standard right away. And one of the hard things about trust is allowing yourself to be vulnerable, right? Like the business might have found a better solution than you have today for them. And I think if you're sort of hooked up on, not invented here or you can't be right because this is my job, if you're trying to jam them into the tool because you're actually trying to prove them wrong, then I don't think you're going to live in this IT world as a productive strategic participant very long.
Mathew Chase: Right. That's an old IT mindset, right? Where the technology guys. We know better than you, ID- 10T error, right. Everything that we do to demean a user on the other side. And that's just not how we're evolving as a technology organization, and we're better for it. Right. We end up with happier users, the business trusts us more. And I think they're more susceptive to the message, especially when we get into things like security and compliance, which they already don't like, but we get better buying and we get better outcomes when the business says, okay. Yeah. I get it. Okay. They're on my side. As opposed to the evil IT department and that's...
Andrew: Right. That's what all comes down to look. From IT provider, you have a handicap and your handicap is, you need to enable the business to meet their requirements, to meet their strategies. And then also you need to make sure which are things they may not be thinking about. You're meeting your security requirements, your compliance requirements, cost requirements, stability, scalability, reliability, SLA requirements, and change stuff fast, adopt new technology is diametrically opposed historically to all those other things. And so business goes off and does something without thinking about scalability, reliability, how this inter- operates with our security architecture. Do we even have enough bandwidth to support this? What's the quality of service going to be? How many nines do we need for this service? It's easy to make fast change when you're not thinking about those things. But to be able to do both at the same time is where companies need to be. Which again, just re- hammering the point certainly requires that partnership, but it requires doing things differently. So are these requirements that you have to meet those requirements for the executive team and how you're integrating the data and analyzing the data. Does your HR, business partner also when they're thinking about what they need, they're thinking about what data they have and what data they'll be generating and how that will be useful for other functions or to be rolled up with other data. Do they get it?
Mathew Chase: So, yeah. I think you're stepping down the natural path of maturity there, which is, I think they're at the beginning of that journey, where so, a good example of that is, we're just in the process of finishing our implementation of a customer success platform. And we're really trying to be thoughtful around providing our customer success managers a 360 ° view of our customers so that we can be customer- first, which is our initiative from our CEO. And we're doing that through a variety of data polls that are coming from across different systems and persisting that inside our customer success platform, so that when a customer interacts with us, we can more fully and quickly solve problems that are being presented to our team, without having to spend lots of time or do things. But that's all driven through data integration and those teams which traditionally wouldn't have data, are now getting that data in order to provide insights and solve customer problems faster.
Andrew: Yeah. Your customer success, I think is probably the most tangible and obvious case of, especially for a software company, of how data can help you understand how your customers are actually using the product of course. It can help you understand their journey. It can help you understand what more they might need, where they might be falling off. And so for me, it's so easy to draw that line between what a customer success team needs, and then how that data is relevant to the broader organization in terms of the health of the business itself.
Mathew Chase: And then as we have those, IT sits in a really nice position where we can help free up the data for better insights. So the example here is, while we're helping HR deliver their platform, those data and insights that are in there need to be connected to other data within the organization. So IT ends up providing the train tracks across the organization so that human resource objects become the gold standard, and we're able to move those and effectively make insights as we connect them to finance systems to figure out how we're managing and running the company. And with a strong integration backend, and platform and automation, now we're enabling data to flow across silos, which would traditionally be trapped. We are working on things like master data management and modeling, and being able to put analysts into the organization. We think this is a big area of growth at least for us, internally is really focusing on data integration, data analytics, data lake driven strategies that are all around support of the executive leadership team and our board. And how are we going to drive the business with more and more real time validated information of how the business is transforming on a day- by- day basis?
Andrew: Right. Yeah. I think for the last 20 years I've been in this industry. I've heard this mantra of IT being a better business partner, and that meant IT understanding more of what the business needs, so IT can source, provide, meet the right SLAs. But I think it had a definition at the beginning that was sort of breaking down this wall between IT and the business. They should talk, and they've started talking. And we're getting to the point where they should be building things together as the business is driving more and more technology. Do you see that as well? And then assuming so, how does that change the way that you interact with the business?
Mathew Chase: Yeah. This has been an evolution. I saw this type of alignment when I was working back at Cirque du Soleil back a decade or so ago. And it's definitely what our group in information technology has focused on. Is this strong business partnership. We just recently did a Gartner case study on kind the evolving nature of the corporate information technology department. And really that shift from technology to information. So in the IT world right now, I'm more heavy focus on information and less on the technology. And that comes through our ability to consume more as a service based solutions, or anything that helps us get the job done more on an automated fashion. Or connects us to cloud resources that continues that alignment. And so what we do internally now is really put a heavy emphasis on... We've designed our team in such a way that all IT leaders own a business partner inside the organization. And that's really even just sitting through their weekly stand- up meetings, and their weekly group meetings to listen for where does technology play within their business, and providing insight and coordination across them along with what else we're doing in IT. IT sits in this really unique position inside of the business where we're the only organization that really is looking deeply across all lines of business from an operational efficiency perspective. And then thinking about tool sets, solutions, processes that really help enable the business.
Andrew: Right? For sure. Hey, so Mat, slightly different topics. So as you've progressed in your career, we all started as individual contributors, right. And trying to learn and contribute sort of in our swim lanes. And now you're in a significant leadership role. What were some of the key things that are part of your transformation? What do you know now that you didn't know then, and what do you rely on to help build teams? How have you matured as a information technology professional?
Mathew Chase: The example there is, obviously as I progressed through the technology stack, at some point, and we touched on this in our conversation here today. You have to understand its relevance to the business. And I think that was completely not in my scope of understanding at 23. And it was how do I deliver the internet? Right? It was something different for me at that age as it is to now. And now it's very much a conversation of how am I going to get investors and board members to buy in to why this technology decision is important. And that's a different realm and a different set of tools that I've had to put in my bag over being able to code, or being able to figure out routing tables or DNS, or you name it. Right. And I constantly work on that and then relationship building in understanding how we in technology fit into that business decision, because that is the lifeblood I think of where we're moving in our maturity. And I don't think I got that early enough is being able to... I could easily explain, uptime or high availability and why that was important, but could I make the next several connections up the chain to somebody on a board? Absolutely not. And I think those are evolutions that are required of how you ladder up from a small technology decision, to how does it change and evolve the business?
Andrew: I couldn't agree more. I mean, it's how we convince our investors to invest in us. To trust us. I had some very good mentors in my career. And when I was in my early twenties, I was actually living in Taipei for a bit working at a high volume manufacturing plant and building. I was sent over there from the headquarters outside of Philadelphia. And I was there, this was the early'90s. I was building software doing data analysis to solve engineering to manufacturing supply chain issues in this high- tech company. And in just having a blast, I was a kid in a candy store. There was data everywhere. There was these high powered Solaris machines and I had a keyboard. So I was a very happy kid. The GM of that plant after listening to me rant on in a few meetings and talked to his people that had decades of experience in supply chain, talk to this kid in his mid- twenties, who literally had never worked in supply chain before. He once pulled me aside and he said," Andrew, you have an answer for everything." And I said," Thank you." And he said," That wasn't a compliment." It took me a little while to figure out what he meant by that. And it was just this, you might be right, but nobody has bought into the fact that you should be right. You haven't figured out how to get people to trust what you can deliver. And it was about six months I was out there, and it was transformative in my career. Do you have a mentor story like that? I could've prepared you for that or not to start with my awesome mentor story. And...
Mathew Chase: Yes.
Andrew: ...to put you on that-
Mathew Chase: That would have been more helpful.
Mathew Chase: No, I mean, I think back to one, specific during a startup company, this leader had the best B. S. Detector that I have ever seen. And inevitably in a conversation, like when we get frustrated in technology, we're apt to say it can't be done, or I can't do this. And he was always able to sniff me out. When it was actually practical and when I was just frustrated because I knew it was going to be a hard slog to get it done. And so, I think the moral of the story there is, as you grow and learn building your own B. S. Detector, for how you work with your own teams and challenging people to understand when they're frustrated that they understand or think that they're hitting a wall, because they know it's just a difficult thing of just saying," I know it's difficult, but I know we can get there." It allows me now more to kind of go into situations which I know are difficult, and then listen for the B. S. and say," Okay, I get it. I get that it's hard. What do we need to do to accomplish this? Let's pull this apart because I'm pretty sure we can get this accomplished, but we may just have to turn it on its head or look at it sideways. Or maybe we need to sleep on it tonight and come back, and let's tackle this tomorrow because I know where we need to go with this."
Andrew: Yeah. Now. Good. Right. How to deal tactfully with that is keep learning for sure. You definitely don't want to stand up and call bullshit, but for sure. All right, Mat, very much enjoyed the conversation and thank you so much for joining.
Mathew Chase: Thanks Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you for listening. I'd love to know what you thought of this episode and I'm all ears if you have a guest recommendation. You can tweet a Network Disrupted, leave review on Spotify or Apple podcasts, or email me at andrew @ networkdisrupted. com.
In this episode, I talk with Mathew Chase, VP of IT at Ellucian. We discuss IT’s true position in a business setting, alternative methods for tech rollouts, being vulnerable and confident as an IT leader, and how to architect for broader business requirements.
Mat’s story is a relatable one, as his company continues to integrate IT into more of the business’ strategic goals. Enjoy this one.
P.S. Know who I should speak to next? Drop me a line at andrew [at] networkdisrupted [dot] com.
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