George Casey is the Microsoft Innovation Leader and Leader of RSM’s Technology Experience Center. RSM provides audit, tax, and consulting services to help middle market leaders succeed. Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation founder, talks with George about RSM’s Technology Experience Center, collaborative partners, innovation, and digital transformation.
Brian Ardinger: Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, founder of InsideOutside.IO, a provider of research, events and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat to the latest thinking, tools, tactics, and trends in collaborative innovation. Let’s get started.
Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger. Today is our special podcast episode with RSM, George Casey, the Microsoft innovation leader and leader of RSM’s technology experience center. George, welcome to the show.
George Casey: Thanks Brian. Glad to be here.
Brian Ardinger: Hey, I’m excited to have you on the show. We had a chance to meet a couple of weeks ago, and I had an opportunity to see firsthand what the RSM technology experience center is all about. George, tell us who you are, what’s your role at RSM, and then we can talk a little bit about the experience center.
RSM Digital Transformation Work
George Casey: I’ve been with RSM about five years, but been with this kind of organization that joined RSM through acquisition for almost 20, so been doing this type of work for awhile. And my role at RSM, you described, I’m a partner with the firm and I lead this Microsoft innovation function, which is really helping customers understand from the innovation ecosystem or broad capability set what’s possible?
How can we look at blurring the lines between what we used to think of as systems or functions or technologies into an overall ecosystem or platform approach to solving business problems? And a lot of what we talk about isn’t very technology focused. It’s more around digital transformation and business transformation. And that’s where the technology experience center really comes into play in giving us a platform to host people and to innovate and ideate and think about real world problems and look around the corner.
RSM Technology Experience Center
Brian Ardinger: I had a chance to go out there and actually experience it firsthand with some fellow colleagues at Nelnet and we had a chance to explore what’s going on there. Take us through what the center is all about.
George Casey: Well, we have a physical space in Denver. We’re about 2,500 square feet, but more than just the space, it’s the experiences we support and we think about that in two different frameworks. We have both what we would describe as technology highlights. And these are things in looking at new technologies a lot of times people have heard of or some understanding, but not necessarily an understanding of how to apply it to their industry or their real world situations. Examples of this would be augmented reality or mixed reality. So we have, for example, a Microsoft hollow lens where people can understand how this layer differs from virtual reality, which they may have experienced, but how it also applies to a business context or business setting.
Things like blockchain, 3-D printing, robotic process automation, and artificial intelligence are all examples of technology highlights that we can help people and take it from either an abstract concept or something they may have heard about in passing. There’s something that they can pick up and touch or experience in a much more real sense, and that would describe those technology highlights.
The other channel in which we kind of integrate or interact with folks is what we would describe customer immersion experiences. And these are much more what we would describe as day in the life business scenarios where we may think about, Hey, how is a modern executive going to face and solve this challenge or this case or this sequence of events. Whether it’s through use of mobility, business intelligence, enterprise resource planning software, customer relationship management software, and a lot of cases, the combination of all these things that really creates a modern experience and helps them understand this would be the output or this would be the goal of a digital transformation process.
And so by having actual significant investments in actual hardware, physical capability, and that people can pick up and touch and experience, we found that makes it real. And it certainly helps that innovation and ideation process.
Customized Technology Experience
Brian Ardinger: The fact that you can actually go to the technology experience center and physically play with the toys, so to speak, see what it’s really like, and then combine that with putting the context around it. So if I’m coming in as a manufacturer and the room is basically reconfigured to show examples and technologies and how that would apply to my industry versus if I was coming in from a banking perspective or something like that. So the ability to not only talk about technology or see it like you do in a ad or in the Tech Crunch magazine, but actually be able to physically touch it, play with it, and then tie that to the context, was where the power seemed to really come into play.
George Casey: That’s great to hear. Because that certainly is the goal. And I think one of the things about RSM is we really look to go to market with industry expertise across all of our lines of businesses and service capabilities, thinking about industries and making sure we’re trying to meet customers where they live.
And even down to, we would describe some of the props, as we talk about blockchain in a food safety context, and we have actual things of strawberries. We have baskets or clamshells of strawberries with the QR codes that we can scan with our mobile devices or our phone and understand it’s food safety journey. Or in life sciences we have a full lab backdrop, that has test tubes with barcodes and what we would describe as a ring barcode reader that you can look at transforming a traditional lab context, that has a lot of paper and pencil into a fully digital and automated process. That’s what we’re trying for. So I’m glad to hear that that was your experience.
Brian Ardinger: So let’s talk about how it got started because oftentimes consultants and that don’t necessarily go that extra mile to make these things real for their clients. What gave RSM the idea to put this space together and make it a highlighted piece of the offerings that we bring out?
Understanding Client’s Tech Journeys
George Casey: That’s a great question. I think a lot of the challenge in traditional services companies, is that they get a little stuck in the current project or the current demand that they have. And we had some leadership guidance and we’ve done a lot of overall innovation strategy at the firm to really help us think about how can we be good stewards of our client’s innovation journeys and what does it we can do that’s going to benefit a broader horizon or a broader scope or cohort of innovation constituents.
And one example was the Technology Experience Center, because you look at this. It’s not something every company can do for themselves. It’s just too much. You know, we have over a hundred thousand dollars in hardware alone. It has to be refreshed periodically. We spend a lot of people time on this. We’ve really built up a lot around our stories and being able to look the right way and do the right research.
Being able to understand our clients as a pool or a collection and say, Hey, if we do this and share the value over this broad cohort of our clients, it makes a lot of sense. And so we become their trusted advisor when it comes to innovation and what’s happening in the future in terms of trends and industry trends and technology.
So that was the direction. And I would say certainly we’ve leveraged experiences we’ve had with other companies. One great example is Microsoft who does this very well with their Microsoft technology centers. The biggest difference we see is that because we can go very deep in some industries and Microsoft is so broad, we have the ability to tell some of your industry stories at a much more relevant level for our clients.
Brian Ardinger: Absolutely. And Microsoft is just one of the partners. When we were there, I believe you brought in the partner Plug and Play, out of Silicon Valley, to curate some startups. That we actually had a chance to have a conference and a little demo from startup companies that were in our particular space that were giving us some insights into that. So maybe talk about some of the other partners or some of the other folks that come to play to make the experience customizable and perfect for the clients.
Leveraging RSM’s Partnerships
George Casey: That is a fantastic point in that even with what we do, and if I come in there as a technologist and I have certain industries, I’ve done a lot of personal work with and I’ve certain technologies I speak to, it’s hard for any one person to speak to at all. By leveraging both internal and external relationships and partnerships, we foster that experience that’s much more relevant to the clients. And so Plug and Play was a really interesting example in the context of what we describe as FinTech technology around finance, financial services, et cetera.
Using that relationship we have as a sponsor of Plug and Play to connect to their portfolio pipeline. And so Plug and Play being an incubator of startups or firms with new and interesting technology and capability, we don’t have to try to know everything ourselves. We can tap into that to say, Hey, help us understand what’s interesting and exciting in this one particular space, this vertical, and bring some of that knowledge to bear.
And so while we have good AV capabilities in the technology experience center, the expertise we can now port around the world. That’s certainly a really good example of making sure we create the best possible experience for our guests so that they come away with something valuable.
RSM Customer Experience Center Case Studies
Brian Ardinger: Love to hear a little bit more about some case studies or some examples of where your clients, have taken advantage of the customer experience center and what are some of the things that they found? What are some of the things they’ve liked.
George Casey: One industry we’ve done interesting things with where we’ve helped people kind of understand and we’ve created some content around is life sciences and really the idea of what are these technology trends in life sciences and what should people be looking for? If you’re a life sciences executive, you would say, where am I on my innovation journey? Do I feel I have a great digital roadmap? Do I feel I’ve properly managed my value to understand where I should be investing first, second, and third? We’ve created a video around this. It’s on our technology experience center website, but specifically a couple of areas we think about are AI and blockchain.
Blockchain obviously is getting a lot of press and buzz in the context of crypto currency and using it in a financial context. One of the things that’s interesting in these industries like life sciences and particularly pharmaceuticals, is leveraging blockchain to combat some of the challenges with counterfeit drugs and being able to understand the entire chain of events, the entire supply chain and life cycle of that drug.
Being able to provide the constituents of that blockchain network with additional data, such as what temperature was this transmitted at, and does it ever go outside of what we would define as acceptable ranges? And what we love about that example is very easily it ports to a food safety scenario.
So now we take that same story about block chain for capturing data other than financial data, and now extending it to things like food quality, food safety touchpoints, transportation lag, right. Do we have any slack in our transportation lead time? If we think freshness is an important attribute of our product, this gives us great real time data into what the efficiency is of the supply chain and where we might look to enhance that.
Business Trends: Understanding AI
Brian Ardinger: You have the ability to look across a variety of technologies across a variety of industries. What are you seeing as far as the trends that clients should be paying attention to?
George Casey: I’ll be honest, I think you probably saw this. I’m very much an evangelist of, whether you want to call it artificial intelligence or machine learning or predictive analytics or some combination, and I think there’s no industry that wouldn’t find value in doing this better. When we look at how we’re doing this, one of the things we try to do is one, we bring everyone up to a common level of knowledge to say, let’s get rid of some of the myths and let’s understand the capabilities and the basics of what it means to talk about this type of advanced analytics.
And then we think about applications. We think about what’s the most valuable application based on what is the constituents of this innovation. Is it our customers or our employees? Is it our partners or our brand? But depending on that, it might help us understand what to apply.
But the key being in most cases, I think we try to turn this on its end where you’ll see some executives talk about analytics or AI as an all encompassing strategy. We want to do everything based on AI, everything based on data, and it’s very hard to approach that problem, as opposed to let’s solve this problem, or let’s answer this question. And a very simple example might be something as straightforward as customer lifetime value. I would say in the way most systems are working, this isn’t readily available to executives, so something has to be a brute force to try to come up with a model that would estimate lifetime value. But then being able to use that to predict other outcomes into direct or prescribe action, that’s really valuable.
If you understand exactly what it costs to get a customer, what are the best mechanisms? Well, who’s most likely to convert so you can target, you know, more intelligently and how much you should spend based on your expected return on that investment. Wow. That’s hugely powerful. And so that’s just one example, but I think the big opportunity there is to really say, start with one question. What’s the question that would be valuable if you could answer this, whether it’s, how should I invest my marketing? Who should I call first? Which customers are most likely to convert? These are things that are really valuable when you look at it and you don’t have to try to boil the ocean and do it all at the same time.
RSM Innovation Survey
Brian Ardinger: That makes sense. What stood out as far as a client’s experience of going through this particular process.
George Casey: We did a survey on innovation and digital transformation to over 200 middle market executives and a couple of things that we found were one, a lot of folks felt they had, what they described as an overall strategy to get to where they wanted to go. They said, Hey, we have an idea around digital transformation in broad terms, but when it came to an action plan or a specific roadmap, less than half said they actually had it done right.
So I think a lot of people, it’s one of those things, I know I need to do it. I’m not sure how to start or where to get there. And so that dichotomy was eye opening to me that says, wow, you’re telling me, you know it’s important and you know you should be there, but yet you haven’t done it. And it just identified, I think for us, one of those opportunities where how can we help? How can we help people through some frameworks and some methodology we have. Get to something that they can act on.
One other thing that came out of that survey that was interesting was how they were going to get there, and I think we saw less than 50% felt they would get there through an investment, through additional spend. I wanted to scratch my head a little bit because I don’t want to imply that you can do all of this and take advantage of innovation or some of these initiatives, whether it’s AI or enhanced system architecture, without an investment. Now, our expectation and we have some great techniques to help explain why and justify, is there should be a business value assessment that tells us why, and if we do this right. We do this well, it’s going to pay itself back, you know, multiple times over. But there shouldn’t be an expectation. I’m surprised that there’s an expectation you can do that without any type of investment.
So it prompted me to want to reach out to those folks who said, how are you going to do it? What am I missing? Because it surely seems like this is a great opportunity to invest, but I shouldn’t expect to get something for nothing.
Brian Ardinger: One of the benefits I think, of going to the RSM Technology Experience Center is it gives you that touch the toe in the water, so to speak, and then it opens up a whole new world of things that you can start to explore, dig into once you have a lay of the land of what’s going on. What are some of the challenges that businesses or your clients are talking about? How to navigate this convergence of technologies.
Understanding How to Use Data
George Casey: When we think about data, a lot of companies talk about, we have a lot of data. We don’t know how to use it. There’s a lack of trust in data. There’s a lack of understanding on techniques to bring data to a level where it’s usable. Certainly that’s a challenge and we’ve got a lot of techniques and capabilities to help with. There’s a perception that if I don’t have perfect data, and if I don’t have this entire immense volume of it. It’s not useful. And that’s one of the things we try to help people understand. And there’s some great outside literature on this.
One book I would recommend is called the Wisdom of Crowds. But it really just speaks to the idea of how good we are at estimating whether we think we are or not. And the idea that we can use data, and one of my favorite quotes is from a statistician named George Box, who says, all models are wrong, but some are useful. And I think if we start with that idea, if we start with that, it gives us a little permission to say, look, if they just not going to be perfect, and even if it were, the answer is not going to be perfect, but it can give us direction. It might be useful. It might help us understand what we do next and it might help us learn.
And that’s what’s so exciting about the idea of this reinforcement learning that we’re going to get better and better, but Zig Ziglar says, you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. And I think that’s my advice and it’s kind of one of the challenges people have identified and what we would direct them to get started. See what you can learn, see where you can improve data collection, and apply some of these advanced techniques to make your data as useful as possible.
Brian Ardinger: If people want to find out more about yourself or about the technology center, what’s the best way to do that?
George Casey: If you were to search RSM on YouTube, you pull up our RSM page. We have an entire playlist with about 15 different videos that focus on some of these technology highlights or these examples that you might be interested. Whether it’s AI or blockchain, augmented reality, et cetera, or obviously if you were just to search in your toolbar, RSM Technology Experience Center, we will go right to our landing page, which has a lot of these videos, and case studies we discussed.
- RSM on YouTube – A playlist with 15 different videos that focus on technology highlights like AI, blockchain, and augmented reality.
- RSM Technology Experience Center – Videos and case studies
- RSM’s Innovation
Brian Ardinger: Excellent. Hey George, I really do appreciate you getting on Inside Outside Innovation to give us this special podcast episode and I look forward to continuing the conversation.
George Casey: I did too, Brian, I appreciate the opportunity to chat.
Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about Inside Outside Innovation’s team, our content, our services, check out Insideoutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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