#233 – Leveraging Technology With Michael Grace

Thomas Green here with Ethical Marketing Service. On the episode today, we have Michael Grace. Michael, welcome. Thank you, Thomas. Appreciate you hosting. It is good to have you. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a bit about yourself and what you do? Awesome. I’d love to, so I am a director and I’ve got the cool title of also Chief Unicorn at R.P.I Consultants. We are a consulting firm over in the U.S, primarily we do E.R.P. software implementations and I lead our West coast implementation practice and I also have the honor of leading our strategic services practice which is kind of core management consulting, really focused around process and strategy, and me and my humble team get to serve primarily health care about a couple of other industries and we bring cool tech to bear on solving business problems. It’s really great, and before that I’ve spent a bunch of time in consulting and in health care.

Well thank you for the introduction. There is a lot to follow up on there. Of all the things that I could ask you about, what would you say is your passion or you’re interested to talk about. Yeah, I really, you know, the thing I always get asked about is what is a chief Unicorn and I always say it’s a title that derived itself from really the magic of bringing technology to bear on complex business processes and in creating an automation that really frees humans that allows them to do more human pleasing things like thought and not the mundane. We let the robots and the technology do the mundane, so the humans can go off and do more meaningful things that’s much more gratifying to themselves, so that’s, you know, what I really get passion out of is going into companies and helping them automate, sure it saves them some money, but I’m most excited when I free the angry humans and they get to go do things that are much more pleasing to them.

So of all the businesses that you tend to go into to what degree, I guess a percentage do you think that companies are actually utilizing what’s available to them? From a tech perspective? That’s a great question because that the answer is very low, right? They buy the biggest and best systems that they can possibly afford and then they under utilize them up to about 90%. They simply, you know, they have the best intentions I think when they start uh and then money becomes a factor and then they start whittling down something that we call scope, right? And they were like, we’ll do that later later. Never happens by the way, but but we’ll do that later, we’ll start whittling this down. Okay, this is the number that we can that we can do, right? And they tend to focus on the financial aspect of it versus the R.O.I.

That if they spent the money now the benefit that the organization would actually receive over the long term um that kind of goes by the wayside because they under budgeted or underfunded technology and lost sight of what technology really could do if they actually fully implemented it. uh you know, over time we create roadmaps for people to help them do this. But most technology that’s deployed, whether it’s big HR systems or E.R.P systems or Crm systems are under utilized by at least 50% of the functionality that the tool has. Why do you think that is? Um you know, it really uh folks don’t keep up on software really well either. So maybe they did a good job on implementing it and perhaps they, you know, at a moment in time are using a high percentage, 75 to 90%. No, nobody’s ever going to really use 100% of software functionality.

But then as releases and such come out of the software, no one’s really reading the release notes, no one’s paying attention to the new features and functionality that comes out with software and and so over time, you know, you’re still doing the same thing using the same features and functionality of the software that you did 357, 10 years ago and the software is now matured and you just start taking advantage of it. So it’s uh you know, it’s it’s a maintenance problem. Somebody needs to be in charge of making sure that they pay attention to the releases that are coming out and then work with the business owners to really make sure that they’re, you know, is this a feature that we that we want to take advantage of. Does this help us? Should we deploy this in really paying attention to that? And I suppose that the ones that do implement that do have some sort of so paying attention to latest release is going to be most efficient maybe ahead of the curve a little bit more than the others.

So there is a self interest element to that so that’s fair And that’s yeah 100%. Yeah they tend to be a more mature shop. Right? They tend to have a rather mature I.T. Department that’s that’s really kind of helping to facilitate that and work with the business users. You mean the ones that are yes staying ahead. Okay and the ones that don’t don’t have sort of much of a tech department. And what would you say the traits of those people tend to be a lot of times they have outsourced I.T. you know so I.T. S only involved that they’re more point in time project I. T. They don’t really have a robust I. T. Department that supports them on a regular basis. So they get these flashes of greatness if you will right they move along and then they stagnate and then they move along and then they stagnate versus you know kind of the continuous improvement model where you’re constantly evolving constantly changing and in today’s model um you have to be doing that where your competitors are and then they pass you up right and they’re able to do things faster and cheaper than you are and and really have a competitive advantage.

And a lot of that is due to technology. It’s a really interesting insight because a lot of what’s tour around should we say, scaling a business. I’m sure you already know all this, but it’s all about processes, systems in order to sort of work on your business instead of in your business. It’s about kind of like the McDonald’s model where you put something in place, it’s followed by employees and therefore you have a repeatable system and your business grows providing you’re doing all those right things. But it’s kind of contradictory in terms of what in order to make the most of tech, it’s almost a negative way to think that way. If you sort of, have you got any thoughts around that? Yeah. You know, technology is constantly evolving, right. If you think about software, apps, technology, hardware, um it’s in a constant evolution cycle, probably not as fast as it was during the 80s and 90s, but it’s still ever evolving. Um it’s really hard for for somebody starting a business or trying to grow a business to work within their business and grow their business and then stay um in tune with all the changes in I.T.

Right, they really need a partner to help them with that, to really kind of say here’s my vision for my business, here’s what I’m trying to do and then have somebody that really keeps their pulse on the technology aspect to say awesome. Here’s what’s in the toolbox that can help us do that. Um, so that they, you know, business owners often get caught trying to do everything right there, the chief bottle washer and and you know, they just can’t. So we always say the business owners should be passionate and working on whatever it is, the business on her debts, whether they’re an artist or their, you know, a healthcare company focused on the business of health care, right? Not technology and then leverage a partner that can say, oh, I can improve the patient experience if we did this, right. Um technology just had a huge play in the healthcare space with the pandemic. Uh, and all of a sudden, right, healthcare was somewhat modernized, whereas it had been sitting dormant for about 10 years, really struggling to leverage technology and all of a sudden, you know, the telemedicine and and the way that we talk much like we’re talking here, doctors and nurses were talking to patients that that wasn’t a thing until, you know, the pandemic of 2.5, 3 years ago.

What do you think about the sentiment around tech? It might be a perception problem with myself and you might have a different, different angle on it. I don’t feel like more tech is seen as a positive thing, even though maybe it might be so, any thoughts that bring to mind their Yeah, there’s something in the tech field that we call technical debt. Right. Which is um, basically means people run attack and go, I need everything. I need to buy this, that this, that this and they wind up with what we call technical debt meaning now you have all these apps that you have to maintain, you have to pay for, you’re not really sure how they’re being used. Um, more tech, whether it be software or hardware doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s a good thing. Right? Just because you combine more doesn’t mean you should, we like to start with the business problem. We say, right. Start with what are you trying to solve?

Go to your research and then really thoughtfully think about not only what do I need today, but how is that going to fit in over the long term growth? Right. Can that software scale with me? What is my business plan? How quickly am I going to scale? And will the software be able to grow with me or is it a flash and flashing the moment kind of software? That’s great for a year. But then I got to get rid of it and I got to get something else. And while that may be cheaper in the short term, you’ll find that over a longer period of time. Uh, it winds up being much more costly to get these throwaway systems. I can’t grow in scale with you. So, um, it’s important to be thoughtful I guess around tech is my response. You you really have to think about, Where is my business, where is my business going? What problem does this text solve today? Tomorrow in 3-5 years down the road and what does that cost look like? We do a lot of analysis around costs because software vendors aren’t really helpful, right?

They tend to give you a low upfront cost, they get you in and then all of a sudden, oh, your maintenance renewal is now significantly larger. Um, and you’re like, wow, if I knew that I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t have done this because now I can’t really afford it and I’m in a bind. So um really thinking about what you’re doing with it, what the costs are in doing that analysis is really important. So you don’t wind up frustrated by technologies, which is mostly the cause not of the technology, but of the, of the vendors that are selling it is a great point about having loads of different apps or pieces of software and it may be maybe it’s habitual in the sense that people are getting as much tech into their lives as possible and then complaining about the fact that they have so much tech, I’m interested to know about yourself, about how you use it actually, about what your phone look like and yeah, the the software you use on a daily basis.

Yeah. You know, tech being a technologist. Tech is a big part of my life, right? I buy cars based on the integration to the tech that I use. Um, so you know, I’m an Apple user. I was, I’m also a PC user, but primarily an Apple user simply because of the continuity between that platform. Right? My phone talks to my computer that talks to my watch that talks to my apple car play. That that keeps me connected pretty seamlessly. And Pcs haven’t quite mastered that yet. But then conversely to that, I said a lot of limits around my technology. I really work on focused work time. So I have a chrome extension that blocks a lot of sites that when I use chrome, I am focused on what I’m doing for business and a block sites like Facebook and such.

So I’m not tempted to be like, oh, you know, who’s posting on Facebook, right? And then I’m down a 30 minute rabbit hole on Facebook instead of working. Um, so I try to really use tech to my advantage to get strong bursts of, of focused work. Um I use a lot of apps to capture my time and what I’m doing partially because I have to build customers. But but also I want to be mindful of what I’m doing. If I’m saying I’m working an eight hour a day. Most people say they’re working an eight hour day and then you go into any company, any company, I don’t care what company it is and you look at their, their browsing histories, the number one website. I guarantee you at Almost any company will be Facebook. Um It’s where most of the employees spend their time. Um You know, is that working? Uh Not really. Should they should they, you know, uh should that be blocked? Well, you know, that that’s a whole other discussion. But I set up a lot of parameters for me because I’m easily distracted.

Right? I’m like, ooh, shiny object. And often I am researching the latest and greatest. Instead of working on a deliverable for our customers. So I use notification limits on my phones. You know when I’m home with my family, I have certain people prioritize that. They can always get a hold of me like my 86 year old mom. But you know, all my teams and all my work channels and stuff tend to get minimized. Uh you know, so that I’m not constantly distracted and working when I should be present for my family. It’s a great answer. But I have to do it. Michael go for it. Good Facebook be blocked at work. I have to, you know, my son’s gonna hate me, because he works for Facebook as a software developer. I think it should be at least monitored. For sure. I think often times especially companies as they grow, it’s really hard to to monitor your employees activities.

There’s a whole discussion around, should I just monitor my employees output and as long as they’re productive in their output, who really cares? Facebook? Work should be monitored, I’d say, versus blocked, right? I’m a big trust your employees hire the right employees create the right vision for them, get them passionate about the work that your company is doing uh and empower them uh to to to go deliver on that. So I I don’t like blocking apps as much as I like monitoring apps. Okay. Well it brings us back to I suppose what what businesses should be doing in relation to tech. So have you seen what’s the to say, the the easiest R. O. Y. The best thing that business businesses can do using tech that they typically don’t, which would be simple for them to be to implement. Yeah. I think I think there’s a lot of opportunities.

There’s a lot of new talking in the last five years in the UK It’s a little different. You guys are a little bit ahead of us in this technology by about 10 years. Uh it’s unusual. No, no. Yeah it started it started in the U. K. But I am a really big fan of technology called R. P. A. Or robotic process automation over in the UK. A company called Blue Prison really started that in the financial industries over there with lights bank and and such and people might think get overwhelmed by it and they kind of look at it and they go that automating our processes and uh they it sounds expensive right? It sounds like oh my gosh this is millions of dollars and it really is a license for Blue Prison Ui Path automation anywhere. Any of these big vendors is about 15 to $17,000. Um you know, free training available for most of these vendors for your own team. So very quickly you can kind of build up a capability to start going process by process, department by department.

And really looking for where you can create automation. If you think about a lot of the work that businesses do, it’s a lot of go find put you know, go go get this data from this spreadsheet and then let’s put it over here, right, let’s load it into a system or let’s send it somewhere. All that can be automated, lots of back and forth movement of stuff. All of that can be automated. You can really automate probably 2025% of back office operations for almost any company for relatively low cost one year, maybe two year Arli back on that. You know, the larger you are, the more our oi opportunity there is. When you’re a really small company then you’re looking at more desktop automation is things like Microsoft power automate often included in your Microsoft 3, 65 subscriptions. So even if you don’t have a really big company where this larger tech might not apply.

If you’re smaller, you can really look at automation. Zwischen tools like hubspot automation within tools like Power Automate. Thank you for the answer. I don’t know if the next question is going to be almost moot. It makes me think that it’s moot, but I’m interested to know what your thoughts are. Regardless, as in a lot of automation there tends to be or there is, should we say, fears of job losses? What are your thoughts around that topic? Yeah, I have a great story on that. We um worked at a health care company um and we automated about 25% of their HR service center, Which you know was about 15 people. Um and in the company we we we don’t refer to it as an FTE or full time equivalent um savings. We we tell them ours right? Like these are the amount of hours that we’re giving back to you to redeploy your labor. So we’re really careful that we don’t use language that that creates fear.

Um we like to try to do self sufficient automation centers. Right? So let’s take some of the people that have a technical aptitude um that are freed up and let’s teach them how to be the automate er right versus the automated uh in this particular incidents we went in. I was a large organization, had about 90,000 employees. And as we freed up parts of these HR service centers, they said, wow, we really now can do a couple of things, right? We can bring some of our outsourced processes back internal to the company. Right? So our own employees are serving our own employees versus having some third party company serving our employees and probably not doing it as as well as um as well as our own employees, we treat our own people. Uh they also wound up taking their leaves whenever somebody takes a leave, it’s usually not necessarily a good thing outside of maternity leave.

Right. The most common leave is maternity or paternity leave, but when people take leaves for other than that reason, it’s usually the death of a significant loved one. It’s usually some sort of crisis that that employees in and they were able to take some of these employees, they had a significant percentage of people on leaves and and they challenged these employees to simply call the people on leaves and simply say, how are you doing? Do you understand all the benefits that are available for you? How’s it going? Right. Maybe they’re injured or such. Um and and one of the responses that these these folks that were doing this, they got back, this lady said, man, I’m really glad that you called me today. I was feeling really hopeless and, and like I didn’t have a friend in the world in this call has really saved me. It’s really made a difference to my life. And I just paused and I said, that’s the power of technology, right? That that is what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to lay people off or or save companies all this money.

We’re trying to free up people to do way more meaningful things. That lady indicated in that moment that because we freed up that person to be able to call and just reach out to her human human contact. Um, it you know, it saved her from who knows what, right? But she was not in a good not in a good place. So it’s almost in that instance, like a pre supposition to say that just because the normal activity you do is not available. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t other worthwhile things for you to do. Exactly. Yeah. Technology should be a disrupter in in a good way. Right? We should go in and disrupt how you do business today in in with the eye towards doing business better tomorrow. Any thoughts on the there’s a long term view to the inevitability of most jobs disappearing. I don’t know whether you are exposed to this type of conversation or not. Have you got any thoughts on I know what springs to mind for you there. And is it even is it right for a business to think in terms of some people would say that is perfectly normal and good for a business to for example, cut costs as often as they can do so that they, you know, they’re in business, they have a profit and therefore they’ll they’ll be able to sustain the rest of their team.

I suppose there’s about three different questions I’ve just asked you what thoughts bring to mind for you there. Yeah, there’s a there’s a great site. Um it’s it’s a little bit of of of a parody, but it’s a good site, will a robot take my job. And um it lists careers that are highly at risk of automation, right? Um and folks should be aware. And I think the number one, last time I checked the number one job out there to be automated was account. Right? So if you’re in an accountant, if you think about that right, you’re not really doing anything creative, right? You’re you’re thinking about in the context of gap rules or or I know England doesn’t have Gap, they have the UK has as a different um, accounting set of rules, right? But there’s rules and you don’t really create accounting entries, something happens. And you you move numbers around and you post two ledgers in different accounts and it’s all guided by all these rules.

That’s very automatable, therefore that those positions tend to be very much at risk what’s never going to be or not going to be at risk is creative thought. So, if you’re in some sort of creative type of field, you’re probably you’re probably very, very safe for for at least the mid to long term human, human contact things, things like counseling, things like mental health, right? In no way. Is that really being automated? Right? That’s that’s humans helping humans, Those careers tend to be really safe. Um should businesses constantly automate. Um there’s, you know, there’s a bit of, I used to say automation used to be a competitive necessity or a competitive advantage, and now it’s a competitive necessity, you have to have some level of reducing your costs because your competitors are, so if you’re not doing it, they are going to be much more leaner from a cost perspective than you are and able to do things like undersell you uh come to market faster, operate faster.

So yes, I think, you know, they have to be in some mode of constant automation, leveraging technologies. I think, we have to try not to lose the humanity in that. I really like trying to push the customer service aspect, like whatever your business is, whether it’s retail, um create automation on the stuff that customers don’t care about, Right? Let’s automate that, and then let’s all go focus on what truly matters, which is that customer interaction, whether your business is digital and you’re gonna like focus on deploying better technologies to your digital customers and interface with you maybe on a website or its retail or it’s patient care, whatever the industry is, let’s shift that human presence further up front. Because I think over the years we’ve kind of lost that great answer. And I think I did think that you were going to say call centers.

I thought that they would be first in danger. But I mean if you compare what you said about what the the creative industry is versus the most endangered job, I don’t know whether it would be applicable individually, but at least collectively if you were to take, let’s say the human species and say how do you think you would thrive being an accountant versus how do you think you’d thrive being sort of in a creative type profession? I think a lot of people would be better off in a creative endeavor than they would be in, as you say, doing things which could easily be automated away what I concluded from your answer. Right or wrong. Yeah. Mhm. Yeah. I just said that. Is there anything I should have asked you about today? Um But you know, I love the I love the topic that we cover. Um So I I I don’t really think there’s there’s you know, it’s such a vast topic.

I always tell people don’t get overwhelmed. Right? Um Do your research be mindful of where your research is coming from a lot of money being spent on advertising by the software vendors? Right, pushing their product? Obviously telling you that their product is the answer. So I always say if you’re interested um talk to somebody who implements the technology versus the technology that just wants to sell you the technology, um you know, and and find a good partner that helps you sort through the noise because there’s a lot of it out there and it sounds expensive, it sounds overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be if you find a good partner to help you walk, walk that path and really focus on your business and what you’re trying to do. Um you can find a way and I mentioned I’d be asking this before we started recording, what does success mean to you? Michael? I, you know, success is is really making a difference.

Whether, you know, you’re making a difference, you know, in a personal capacity, I’m a father of five, that’s that’s the most important career to me, is is to being a good father and shepherding them through the crazy world that we live in. Um and so success, you know, really is, did I make a difference. Did I produce good humans that are going to go off into the world and try to make a difference? Uh in a corporate setting? Right. Did I make a difference to my customers? Did I impact their business in a positive way? Do I have long lasting relationships? Right. My relationships with other human beings is is most important to me. So success to me is, you know, is and wherever you are and whatever career you are in, in any aspect make a difference. The world could use some difference makers right now. So based on that criteria, are you a successful individual and try to be every day? I try to be better a little bit better every day and uh at delivering that, that to both my family and my customers.

So I’d like to think I am. Well, congratulations. Any closing thoughts for us today? Now, I really appreciated this, Thomas. What you’re doing with with the podcast and what you’re putting out in the space, that hopefully helps folks that are listening. Well, if people want to connect with you or know more, where do they go then? Go to two different places, my personal site with my podcast is at and my blogging is techprounicorn.com and if they want to find out about my company, it’s at our P I C dot com. Alright, well for everyone listening, please review the links in the description. Michael, thank you for being a great guest today. Awesome. Thank you Thomas for the time.