Chris Byers - Empower Digital Maturity Through No-Code
Chris Byers is the CEO of the no-code workplace productivity platform Formstack which has recently released a report on the state of digital maturity in 2022.
In this episode, we begin by discussing the most important insights from this report, leading into the breakdown of the four pillars of digital maturity and how Formstack are approaching it. In the second part of the episode, we focus on no-code tools: how they can help companies reach the four pillars, what the challenges to their implementation might be, and how we can expect them to continue evolving.
Links & mentions:
“You can have all of the software that you want, but you still have this problem if people don't know how to use it or maybe even, how does my company think about digital maturity, for instance, because it's going to look different than someone else.”
Welcome to the Agile Digital Transformation podcast, where we explore different aspects of digital transformation and digital experience with your host, Tim Butara, content and community manager at Agiledrop.
Tim Butara: Hello, everyone. Thanks for tuning in. I'm joined today by Chris Byers, CEO of Formstack, a no-code workplace productivity platform. And in this episode, we'll be talking about how you can empower digital maturity through no-code tools. So, Chris, welcome to the podcast. It's great having you with us today. Do you want to add anything or should we just jump straight into the discussion?
Chris Byers: Hey, looking forward to the conversation, but yeah, let's jump in.
Tim Butara: Awesome. So I know that you recently released a report on the state of digital maturity. Can you begin by telling us about the most important discoveries that you made based on that report?
Chris Byers: Yeah, we did a survey across a number of organizations to really try to understand where they were on their level of digital maturity and what were some of the things they were thinking about, what were they thinking about doing in the future. I think probably the most important discovery was how far everyone has to go. The number of companies who have truly embraced digital maturity and saying, we want to get rid of paper processes, we want to get rid of these manual processes and really try to digitize, automate. People have a long, long journey to go. So I think that was just an important reminder that there's a lot of work to do going forward.
The other thing I think we get excited about is people do start to save significant amounts of time when they start to automate process, start to get rid of paper and start to save hours, days a week. And that adds up to lots and lots of money over time. And so just continue to see a great opportunity there.
Tim Butara: But is reaching digital maturity just about digitalization? We've often talked on this podcast about the really vital role of making the mindset shift, and I think that– it is called digital maturity for a reason, right? It's maturity.
Chris Byers: Yeah. No, I think that's a great point. One of the things we're seeing in the market in the world is, you can have all the software that you want, but you still have this problem if people don't know how to use it or maybe even, how does my company think about digital maturity, for instance, because it's going to look different than someone else. And so what are the mindsets that we want to think about?
We've started thinking a lot about education and I would say even starting to see– the way I always think about process automation, digital maturity is, most people who, if you gave them a piece of paper and a pen or a pencil and said, hey, sketch out a better process for me, they could probably do that. But that's kind of where it ends. They don't have the ability to translate that always into software, into getting things fully more mature. And so I think your point is great. We need to start to invest in education around our team members, our employees, start to find people who can think this way on a regular basis. And I think that will help grow a ton of the maturity that's needed.
Tim Butara: Yeah, it's the only way to really do it at scale, I think. You can do it individually with other techniques, but if you want to do it like, I don't know, company wide, business wide, maybe even society wide, then you have to, as you just said, invest into learning, into kind of helping others achieve the same mindset shift that you may be already achieved.
Chris Byers: Yeah. If you think about in the business world, we've always had business coaches and business mentors, and what they tend to do is they come along and they bring a system. And that system helps you learn to build vision and create values. And what are the rules that we like to have here to be successful in our company? And you almost need that exact same mindset and structure put around digital maturity. So what are the values? What are the things we're trying to get rid of? What are the things we're trying to improve? How are we going to make lives better? Because their time is saved and experiences are better for customers.
And so I think it almost takes somebody really putting a great effort into, how do we want to be successful in this digital maturity and what does success look like? It's effectively casting a vision, which means it needs to be probably fairly top down to get enough buy-in, to get enough people excited about what needs to happen.
Tim Butara: And what are the four key pillars of digital maturity?
Chris Byers: What we really kind of discovered and tried to put into place was this idea of really four pillars that you need to be thinking about if you want to create a successful, really culture around kind of digital maturity and alignment. And the first is kind of workflow digitization. And it's really just this commitment that as a business, we want to make sure our processes, make sure our efforts are becoming more digital and we're giving people better experiences.
But that really leads into a second one, which is about culture. And oftentimes in businesses, we do the same thing over and over and over again because it's easy, we remember how to do it, and we think it's risky to change our process. But when you can kind of build culture in people that says, no, this is a good thing, this is going to save you time, maybe it's not going to save you time today, but if you put the effort in, it's going to save you time over and over and over again. And so really embracing that culture and pushing people in the right directions.
The third pillar is technology. Software at the end of the day is going to be a huge part of making this successful. The mindset isn't quite enough. Yeah, you could build lots of processes and sketch them out, put them in slides, put them in documents, but until you can automate them, often using no-code software, that's where no-code software becomes this really great powerful tool to help people take that first process and make it all the simpler, all the more digital.
And then it's about team alignment because all around our organizations we have processes, we have manual work going on that's tedious and repetitive. And so we want to get people all aligned around some of the same objectives. For instance, at our company Formstack, we have an objective this year about creating a better customer journey. And it's all about documenting what's going on with the customer. What are the breakpoints when they have support requests or when they're getting on boarded? And then how do we build a better journey and a better experience for them? It really takes those four pillars of workflow, digitization, culture, technology and team alignment to really get you effective in moving along that digital maturity curve.
So I'm the CEO of Formstack, so one day I wake up and say, hey, let's make sure our customers are getting completely digital experiences. It's probably too vague. I need to say something a little bit more specific than that. It's something like, I see these breakpoints where they have a difficult time getting support or something, and so we kind of embark on this effort, but really that's not going to be enough. Just because I said to people, let's move in this direction, all of a sudden we need to start to train our teams. How do they approach these workflow kind of questions? How do you develop a good problem statement? How do you start to develop the kind of hypotheses of how we're going to solve this problem?
And then there's this whole idea of, for us, we have this kind of principle of be agile and iterate, and what we mean by that is if I asked you to maybe go off and take some sort of marketing process and improve it, what will tend to happen is you'll go off and you'll come back and say, hey, here it is. And I'll be like, oh, that's not quite what I was going for and it's because I'm poor at explaining what I'm looking for. But when we can start to put things out in the wild as fast as possible, then customers can interact with it, then employees can interact with those things. And so as you're kind of agile and continue to just iterate, those are the quickest ways you can kind of get a project successful.
But those are just some of the cultural items you have to build into your organization to be successful. And so it just takes these layers of getting people moving along and getting the organization kind of moving toward a mindset and a mindset shift in how they operate to truly automate the right things.
For us, we started kind of on this continuum and at the beginning was just, people are just getting started. Maybe they have thought about digital maturity or barely thought about it, and they start to step through. They get a little bit of maturity. Maybe they've automated one process, but there are a couple processes, but they're not really embracing it. It's maybe a department at a time has done some automation. You then start to get people who are bought in and they're beginning to get on this journey, but they're assembling all the tools and trying to get things in motion.
And then you have this kind of like really fully automated or fully digitized kind of organization who's truly embraced digital maturity, has digitized a ton of processes and it's just part of their DNA. It's how they do things. When they start a new project, one of the kind of checkmarks is how are we going to approach this from a digital perspective and making sure that it's really embedded in the DNA of the business. And so that was kind of what helped us map these kind of getting started moments to companies who have been really successful along the way.
Tim Butara: What about no-code tools? We mentioned that in the intro, that this will be one of the key points of our discussion. How do no-code tools help achieve these four pillars?
Chris Byers: Yeah, I think as a starting point, we've had some sort of software probably for years. Business process automation would be an example, of course, just fully coded apps of some sort, which means we go to an engineer, we define a project, they build the project or the software, and then that's where we really kind of find success. But that's only for engineers. We have to pay for that. We have to find the talent to get that done.
The beauty of no-code tools, as you know, is they allow the non-technical user to get successful in solving some sort of problem. And in fact, that's what– funny enough, our business Formstack, I've always felt like is a really selfish endeavor because I'm actually not an engineer by background. And so I love the fact that we get to build a product that I can use because– I can take that piece of paper example. I can draw out for you a better process or a better way something could operate. But historically I needed to go to an engineer to get that done. I can do a lot of that on my own with no-code tools.
And so I think the really big idea here is there are so many, I'll call them small processes, but they're very costly. So a good example would be– you've probably gone into the office of a doctor or gone in to buy something and they have you fill out a piece of paper maybe to sign a contract or something like that. Well these are these relatively small processes that maybe don't always kind of bubble up to the big corporate structure but they're costing people time over and over and over again.
But they're not always going to get enough attention at the corporate level unless you can give them no-code tools because that's when the person sitting at that front desk can say, oh I know here at whatever our business is, this is how we like to approach digitization. I know the values of, it helps customers, it helps me. And then if you have no-code tools in front of them and they've learned how that operates in your environment, all of a sudden they can solve a problem maybe in minutes, hours, and it never has to bubble up anywhere. It just kind of gets solved. And those are just going to stack up over and over again to again eventually saving an organization if they can start that process, days, hours, weeks of time saved in their year.
Tim Butara: So if I understand it correctly, no-code tools kind of allow this mindset shift to more easily happen for people who maybe aren't super tech savvy or engineery.
Chris Byers: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. It allows people, go all the way back to the if this, then that kind of concept that it was like, how do we get in the hands of just everybody the ability to automate a pretty simple process, like taking something from my email and dropping it into Dropbox?
Well, I think as you can empower people, especially with tools that they don't really need to learn that much, these user experiences have been built with them in mind that we don't really want you to have to go through a ton of education. We want you to get in, maybe use a template or maybe use some sort of quick getting started or kind of guide, and all of a sudden you've built your first process. In our case you've built your first form or your first document, and that probably by itself, that single form, say in our case, is probably not going to save you tons and tons of time. But you build that form and you're like oh wow, this is easy. Now I can connect it to a document.
And so now all of a sudden I've taken a process where I need to collect data from a customer and I can generate a document and you just kind of learn organically over time, and that's where lots of things start to come together in terms of time saved, elegance for your customers because they're getting these digital experiences which, I don't know about you, but I feel like that's one of the most powerful things around this idea of going digital is it usually saves time on the back end. So for our company, your company, but then it gives your customers this great experience because they want to do things at home. They want to they don't want to have to go into an office. They don't want to have to always go through these kind of manual processes, and it elevates your own brand because they are getting these digital experiences.
Tim Butara: Yeah, it's really a win-win. And yeah, we covered positive aspects of using no-code tools to empower your digital maturity. But what about if we take a look at the other side of the aisle? What would be some potential challenges with these no-code tools and how are these challenges being handled?
Chris Byers: Yeah, I think the biggest challenge with no-code tools is anyone can adopt them and anyone can get started on them. That's actually a downside in some ways because a couple of things happen. One is it means I go into the HR team and they've adopted two or three tools that aren't the same as the marketing team or aren't the same as the sales team. And so all of a sudden, yeah, you've got some movement toward that digital maturity, but everybody's approaching it totally differently. It's not all in a single system, and maybe you don't always need a single system, but you definitely need two or three at a maximum.
And so then people are kind of learning ad hoc and your culture kind of becomes this ad hoc effort versus the company saying, here's how we want to build processes, here's how we want to save time. Here are the goals that we've got in terms of where we want to land at the end of the year and what types of things we want becoming more digital and becoming these better experiences.
And so to me, that's probably the biggest problem. Some of that, of course, leads into people potentially sending data into bad places or insecure places because they're not thinking about– most of us just like drop our email address and click the terms of service and get going. Of course, that means we may not have really read the instructions or really read kind of what happens to data and security and things like that. And so to me, I think that is– those are some of the downsides that I see in adopting no code tools and just letting everybody kind of run free. You might get experiences that you're not looking for in that way.
Tim Butara: Yeah, it can get very disjointed. And also I was thinking, if you have one department using one set of tools and another department using a different set of tools, that, it just by default means that they're going to be siloed, right. And it's going to be very hard to de-silo them if this is the workflow that they've implemented.
Chris Byers: Yeah, I think that's absolutely right. And again, one of the things that we saw as two really important things; one is, 51% of workers still spend more than 2 hours a day on inefficient and repetitive tasks, that kind of came out of that report. And so there is so much opportunity. The good news is 87% of organizations are actually, they've got one effort at least going toward becoming a more digitally mature organization. And so there are these great points of getting started and so that can get people excited, but then they go maybe adopt products too fast or maybe not as a collective, but they do at the department level.
And so that's where we come back to those pillars of, create some of that vision as a starting point. But then how are we going to approach digitization? What's the culture we're building? What's the technology we're going to adopt and the products we will allow and sometimes the products we won't allow. And then let's get aligned and go achieve some great things.
Tim Butara: And now in the final part of the episode, I want us to take a look into the future of no-code solutions. And what do you think, Chris, how will this field continue to evolve? What can we expect, let's say in a year or so?
Chris Byers: I go back to that piece of paper example. I think we've got software that can solve lots and lots and lots of problems. I think we've got people who understand how a process could go better. But there's still an effort in the middle that can be pretty difficult. So how do I take that idea? And I can't just leap straight into software because maybe it's not the right piece of software. I almost need to map out, it's not just mapping, but I need to kind of create these systems in a light way so that people can maybe experience them and use them and react to them before I go into that moment of software.
And so I still feel like, going back to the whiteboard that we've all lost because of the remote workplace. I think there are these more elegant, I'll call them whiteboarding experiences, that still need to kind of drive this middle ground. So how do we quickly collaborate? How do we get these ideas out to other people fast and let them react to them?
And so I think over the next year you're going to see both training and teaching around the mindsets and how do we get people thinking about digitizing more and making it a part of their DNA, a part of how they make decisions every day. And so it's really almost that education and ideation layer that I think is coming next. And as that comes together, I think we'll create some really– start to see some acceleration in this world.
Tim Butara: By the way, Chris, do you know about the tool Miro?
Chris Byers: Yeah.
Tim Butara: I think this is exactly what you are talking about just now. Right? It's basically a digital whiteboard that's not only intended for designers. I mean, pretty much anybody can use it if they have the most basic, I guess, drag and drop skills.
Chris Byers: Yeah. And I think that type of thing, getting into more people's hands, I think… And again, there's some sort of gap. Let's say we whiteboarded together, we agree on something. There's still a gap between that moment and choosing the right software, finding something that actually can accomplish what we just kind of came up with together. I think bridging that gap is also a part of the real solution we need.
And maybe that's going to be– I actually think this is a wonderful place for the gig economy. So if we think about now, we can go hail a car anytime we want in most places around the world, or we can go rent someone's house all around the world. I think that same kind of gig style experience is coming in the digital kind of workplace.
And what I mean by that is, rather than maybe always going and hiring a whole new person or a whole new team to help create digital experiences, I think there will be these kind of gig style opportunities to bring somebody in for weeks, a month or two. They're very effective, but then they can move on to the next project. It's fun for them, but you also get these effective business processes built at speed and at scale. You can kind of ramp people up and ramp people down quickly. I think as we can create a really good and start to see that economy come up, I think that can also accelerate things, because that means I don't have to wait around. I can get things going tomorrow, and I don't always have to wait around as long as we often do.
Tim Butara: I think, Chris, these were some very sound predictions and a great way to finish the episode. Just before we wrap up our discussion, if our listeners wanted to reach out to you or learn more about you, or learn more about Formstack, where would you point them to?
Chris Byers: Yeah, check out formstack.com and you'll find a ton of information, of course, about our products. You can also find me on LinkedIn at rchrisbyers, the easiest way to find you. But Chris Byers at Formstack, you'll search and find me. So, easy way to connect there. And yeah, that's great to connect with people as they reach out.
Tim Butara: Awesome. Yeah. Chris, this has been a very great discussion. I really enjoyed speaking with you today. Thank you for joining us.
Chris Byers: Thanks so much. It's been a ton of fun.
Tim Butara: Well, to our listeners, that's all for this episode. Have a great day, everyone, and stay safe.
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