In this Leadership Insights video interview, Amanda Razani speaks with Seth Dobbs, CTO of Bounteous, about the importance of co-innovation in digital transformation initiatives.
Amanda Razani: Hello, this is Amanda Razani and I’m excited to be here today with Seth Dobbs. He is the CTO of Bounteous. How are you doing?
Seth Dobbs: I’m doing great, Amanda. Thanks. How about yourself?
Amanda Razani: Doing well. It’s a great day.
Seth Dobbs: Excellent. Well, I can maybe start, tell you a little bit about Bounteous and then we can dive into it.
Amanda Razani: Yes, absolutely.
Seth Dobbs: Perfect. So Bounteous; we really think of ourselves as kind of the intersection of multiple types of organizations. We think about ourselves as being technology enablers, management consultancy, and a digital agency. So bringing all three of those concepts under one roof. And that means we have a lot of skills around both technology, covering dozens and dozens of different platforms and languages and things like that. But we also have a lot of the strategic side of it, the design side of it, as well as some of the marketing side of things. And so we become kind of this one-stop shop and we think of it as co-innovation, the way we like to engage with our clients. Very collaborative, very connected, very continual, working in partnership to think about how we can really help our clients compete and win, particularly digitally and through innovative brand experiences. And we think about that in both terms of doing things better and helping our clients do better things. So there’s sort of two sides of that innovation that we’d like to bring together with all these different skill sets.
Amanda Razani: Wonderful. So as CTO of Bounteous, how do you define and approach digital transformation?
Seth Dobbs: Yeah, I think about a lot of the times you hear digital transformation discussed as if it’s sort of like a one-time thing, and because technology is always changing, I really do think about it as an evolutionary type of thing. So a lot of it is really trying to understand, even on the technology side, really I’m focused on enablement, thinking about how do we best leverage technology for a particular client to enable whatever their business needs are. And so sometimes that’s introducing new technology, but sometimes innovation comes from new uses of existing technology as well. And so trying to find that balance for whatever the client need is, it’s a lot of how I think about it from my lens about digital transformation, getting them to that next business objective in whatever way makes the most sense.
Amanda Razani: That’s a big key element is the fact that it’s not just a one-time project; this is ongoing because technology is ever evolving.
Seth Dobbs: Yes. Earlier on, as digital transformation was kind of a new buzzword, I felt like I was sometimes a downer talking to clients like, “Well, there’s always what’s next and we have to be prepared for it.” But I think more of the industry really understands the ongoing evolutionary nature of really at least the time we’re in today.
Amanda Razani: So we met at the Adobe Summit and we got to speak about many different topics. And you talked about the importance of co-innovation, which you mentioned earlier as well. Can you go into co-innovation a little bit more detail and how that pertains to the digital transformation story?
Seth Dobbs: Yeah, it’s really our approach of thinking about digital transformation and how we like to engage with our client partners. And it’s a lot about thinking about three key things. It’s collaborative. We can’t just go off into the ivory tower after we’ve met with a client once and then come up with a perfect solution. There are some organizations that I think work that way. I don’t think that’s particularly successful, both the client and we bring expertise and different expertise together. And so that collaborative component of co-innovation is really important to us.
We also think about continual, and so as I was just saying, it’s an evolutionary process to us. I think there are also organizations that think about this as a big bang. How do you do one massive change? But that can take years before you really start seeing the benefit of multiple years of investment, which especially in today’s world, that just doesn’t make any sense. You need to find not necessarily just what’s the quickest thing, so you’re not overly opportunistic, but finding that balance of how do you make material change in a short enough time that you can see the payoff of that and that might steer what that next step is. So continual thinking.
And then connect, really thinking about doing all of that, better connect our clients with their community as well, their ecosystem, whether it’s patients or buyers or whatever it might be.
Amanda Razani: Can you give any examples where you have leveraged this co-innovation principle with some clients and their digital transformation initiatives? And then what are some key success factors?
Seth Dobbs: Yeah, we think we can talk a little bit about, I’m trying to think of what I’m allowed to talk about in terms of that, but we’ve helped several clients over the years do that. I think one of the more recent one is Caesar’s Entertainment, which since we’re at Vegas, a great one to talk about. And really they kind of engaged us because they needed someone to help them just become smarter about the things that they do. And so there’s a lot of different things that we’ve done, but it was a strong partnership, continues to be a really strong partnership.
Early on, it was probably some Adobe platform work. We actually did some personalization with them, but they started realizing, they gained some critical insights that they really needed to target differently depending if you were driving distance to Vegas or flying distance. And so that started some early research and personalization that actually really ticked up after a few experiments, their click through, though some ads and things like that. We later implemented Adobe Sensei, which is their AI engine, to work with personalization to get to what we think of as hyper-personalization at scale, really getting into detailed understanding of the different visitors. And through that, I can’t remember ROI on it, but somewhere around 20% uptick and some major differences that their financial leaders were very interested in what we were doing. And so we have a long-running relationship. We’ve been working on their booking engine and continually just improving how that experience works to improve basically the lift in booking and all that kind of good stuff. So really positive environment there.
Success factors was the second question. That’s always a good question. I think a lot of it is that willingness to partner, which seems obvious, but not all clients… Sometimes clients actually do want you to go away and think of everything and sort of put the burden on you and not all are ready to be in that kind of partnership because a good partnership can be challenging. We’re sort of pushing each other to think better together and that not everyone is always ready for that. So I think that’s one of the biggest things. We sort of listen for that language during pre-sales of how are they even thinking about how they would engage with us.
Commitment as well, commitment to doing things a little bit differently, which again, seems obvious and people want to until they’re sometimes asked to really do things differently. So those are I think some of the biggest things that we look for. Looking for the long-term, not just like a one-time implementation, but that they really are thinking about this is a long-term commitment to themselves, to their business to really continually transform.
Amanda Razani: Got it. So when it comes to implementing new technologies and business transformations, what specific strategies or frameworks do you recommend to companies?
Seth Dobbs: That’s a good question. So we actually have sort of evolved around co-innovation methodology as kind of a framework for doing the work, which focuses on a couple things. One of the big things is really centering on value creation cycles. So that could be implementing software, it could be a marketing campaign, it could be developing a digital product. There are other things. So there’s cycles where you’re sort of looking at that opportunity to create value. And then there’s governance and optimization. And so that’s starting to gather insights on the different things that we’ve done. And so looking at what’s really working and isn’t. When we do that well sort of those cycles together, we call it digital flow. So that’s really kind of our framework for thinking about big picture changes and then the little hyper-personalization opportunities within that. And balancing sort of the investment in each of those is an individual challenge. So getting those measurements, getting those insights is really important part of why it’s so important for us to have that data analytics side.
Amanda Razani: Awesome. So technology is advancing so quickly and we’re hearing so much about it these days, I feel like. So what key technologies are you noticing that you recommend companies looking into right now?
Seth Dobbs: I think that’s always a good question. And it’s interesting, the filter around what’s going to be beneficial to you is really important for everyone to consider because there is so many different things. There are so many things going on out there. Generative AI, obviously there’s a huge buzz. I think you and I were even talking about that a month or so ago when we were in Vegas at the conference. And that continues to be, I think, a very significant if really understanding where it plays type of technology. I think one of the things with a hype cycle like that is it’s easy to get caught up in a lot of the hype that isn’t necessarily accurate. But I think looking at what it does, especially the work we do around content and chat and things like that, I think there’s a big role for that to continue to play. So that’s definitely something I think to get a handle on. Probably one of the biggest new things.
I know Apple has been teasing they’re going to be launching a new sort of mixed reality type experience. AR and VR has had its ups and downs. VR, fairly niche. AR has had augmented reality I think has had a bigger play. I’m curious to see what they come out with. I’ve read a lot of mixed anticipation, so I think that’s certainly one to see. Apple tends to invest in places that they feel are going to succeed. So I would definitely look to that as well.
Amanda Razani: I’m interested too. I think it might be really fun. So in your experience, what are some common challenges or obstacles that companies face when implementing digital transformation and technology?
Seth Dobbs: It’s a good question. I think there’s probably a couple things. There’s the notion of sunk cost, so the resistance to changing things that have been invested in to date. Sometimes it’s real cost, sometimes it’s, I would say, sort of a mental emotional cost. I’m used to doing things this way. I think some of the challenges also come from not communicating the why behind the changes. And I’m a big believer in really understanding the why of things. It’s how I think about technology. Without purpose, technology doesn’t matter as much. We need to know why we’re applying it so we can do a really good job. I don’t think organizations always, in the change management element, focus on why these changes are coming and why they’re asking people to change behavior. And so part of the management consultancy side is to help really talk through that, I think.
I think there’s always just different forms of organizational inertia. Just we’re on this path, why should we change it? And sometimes we even understand there’s good reasons to, but it’s hard to divert that sometimes. It’s part of the reason again that I like to think about it in terms of small increments. It’s much easier to swallow, like, we’re going to make this change. Not, I’m off-screen with my hands, this change that a multi-year effort can make. So I think those are some of the biggest things that we really see and try to work through.
Amanda Razani: So breaking it down in smaller pieces instead of overwhelm?
Seth Dobbs: Yeah, I say a lot, people, sometimes you need to move rocks, sometimes you need to move boulders. I hate moving boulders, right? They’re big, they’re heavy, they’re difficult, and usually you just need to chisel a little bit of a away, a little bit away from the boulder to make a change. And so try to break it back down to the small rocks that everyone can really get their head around.
Amanda Razani: And going back to the AI technology. So there are some concerns with this AI technology, and then there are some really great things that are coming with it. So in speaking with the concerns, some people are worried that there are some flaws with the AI technology at this moment. So bias and from the ethical standpoint, hallucinations are another one, and just making sure the data is accurate. So how can companies address this issue moving forward as they try to implement AI technology?
Seth Dobbs: Yeah, this is where I’ll maybe get a little pedantic. So there’s the notion of broad AI, which has been around for decades since I was in college, and that’s sort of the class science fiction fully thinking machine. What we’ve really seen in the last 10 years is an evolution of narrow AI. So that’s taking AI algorithms to very targeted problem spaces to have very targeted solution sets. So one of the things is to really understand the type of AI we’re talking about. So generative AI is really important because it is literally for generating content. It can do it in a way that makes it feel like it’s broad AI, that it’s thinking. But the hallucination… I’ve read some, I think O’Reilly published something, O’Reilly Media published something on it that basically said, these are not accuracy machines. They are content generation, if you think about generative AI. So understanding that so you’re not misusing the technology and having mismatched expectations, I think is huge.
I think bias in technology is also just a long-running problem. Google search has struggled with it, several books and research on that, that they’ve continued to improve over time. But I do worry about something that’s amassing content from the internet, which is full of biases that might be unflagged, we’ll continue to perpetuate biases in new ways and in ways that we might be depending on for key decisions or key actions in the future. So understanding how those models are built and with large language models that form sort of the underpinnings of generative AI. It’s hard. Just reading an article this morning where they’re starting to reveal that some were fed with a lot of science fiction and fantasy novels, as well as classics and things like that. Might make one wonder exactly what to expect out of that. So understanding a lot of those underpinnings I think is the key to keeping on the right path with using these technologies.
Amanda Razani: So realizing it’s a tool, but there’s still very much a human element needed behind it.
Seth Dobbs: Yes, yes. I think we’re still a little far from completely removing humans from a lot of this, right? And they are even behind feeding the models in and things like that. There’s still a lot of human involvement in this, but yes.
Amanda Razani: So last question, five years from now, where do you see the world as far as technology and how it relates to business?
Seth Dobbs: Wow, that’s a great question. I mean, I think continually, probably broad brush strokes, it’s already feels like it’s deeply permeating all of our lives. I think that’ll continue. I think more IOT. I actually think as we advance different AI algorithms and different narrow AI, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for that to create just new interactions, new ways of using technology through IOT, through wearables, through all the devices in our houses. I think we’re just scratching the surface of what all of that can be together, and so I think that’ll be some of the biggest changes. I think brands and companies sort of understanding that evolving interaction and both the opportunity to probably permeate deeply into people’s lives and resisting that and finding sort of the right balance of that engagement at the right time. But I think as our ability to process data, whether it’s through AI or just through just cloud mass crunching of information, will allow us to better understand how we can really use that to mutually benefit in a way. Five years is really hard to predict as well is the thing that I’ll say.
Amanda Razani: Especially as rapidly as this technology seems to be advancing. It’s like how about one year, two years – five years?!
Seth Dobbs: I do think often as we do sort of visionary planning with clients and stuff, two years is almost beyond the fold. 18 months was sort of the classic. That’s when major sea changes occur every 18 months roughly. So five years gets a lot of unforeseeable changes. But I do think continual convergence in everything that we do, whether it’s behind the corporate wall, a lot of where we focus is sort of on the visible side. Where I work, we do some sort of that’s behind the wall, evolving how more distributed companies work effectively and things like that. I think that’s also going to be game changing. We’re in sort of that, do we need people in the office? Do we need people hybrid? Do we want to be remote? Technology is going to solve that, I think, more and more for us that the differences between those will become less and less.
Amanda Razani: Most definitely. Well, thank you so much, Seth, for coming on the show and sharing your insights today.
Seth Dobbs: Great. A pleasure. Thanks for having me, Amanda. I really appreciate it.