Digital business

Sharing the Digital Transformation Bonfire: Our Drinks N Digital events

Rhinodox leadership including Justin Ullman, Kevin Carlson, and Julia Huang, speaking on July 13th 2017 at TechNexus

Rhinodox leadership including Justin Ullman, Kevin Carlson, and Julia Huang, speaking on July 13th 2017 at TechNexus

 Last evening, we had a great evening with over 40 people attending our monthly Drinks N Digital event, this time with a new innovative technology company Rhinodox sharing their vision and Worklight platform.  

During the event I had a chance to connect with many of the attendees, and heard a frequent question: “Why do we (Practically Digital) host these events,  - they are different than most?!”  

The Answer: every fire needs help to grow, and when we find really cool technology solutions we want to see flourish in the world, we throw a party and invite our friends to help build the blaze! 

Really cool is subjective, we know.  Really cool can be transformative in an industry, bringing a new solution to the market that solves hundred (if not thousands) companies needs.  Rhinodox is one of those we feel.  They have innovated and launched a contextual search and workflow automation platform that helps companies reduce repetitive work.  Impressive capabilities and results for any company - especially those handling large amounts of standard forms, claims, records, or files.   

Other times our events highlight an emerging services companies that is taking a fresh look, often disruptively – to existing industries.   All of these events generate dialog, moments of ‘wow I wonder if…’ and follow up meetings and conversations around the food and beverages provided.   

Our events serve another purpose - they help bridge the enterprise / corporate IT and operations worlds, with the startup / tech community here in Chicago.   There are thousands of emerging tech companies each year, and finding new solutions that help you digitally transform is much easier when there is a location, a time, and free food and beverages to help you get started.   We dig it when great teams come together, and we hope our attendees do as well!    

If you are interested in learning about future events and joining us, sign up to our list below.  If you are interested in presenting (even better!), get in touch at and let’s talk about your awesome tech solution or service!

+ See you at our next Drinks N Digital event!  -Rob








Digital Transformation: 3 questions that help focus your digital journey

Digital Transformation: 3 questions that help focus your digital journey

an excerpt from our "Practical Guide to Digital Transformation" 2017 edition

Digital is about speed” is the prevailing opinion held by many strategy shops and consultants.   The common playbook includes chapters on knocking out steps in the supply chain, decreasing decision making steps, implementing cloud platforms to ‘leap frog’ historic infrastructure, and ‘enabling’ the business teams to do more (usually with less human intervention and lots of info graphic reports).  

What is often missing in most of these assessments is the impact that digital transformation can make on your customers (velocity), and the value creation that results.    Done right, you can magnify the value of the change 2x and 3x when you execute a digital transformation campaign that takes into account the bigger picture of business and customer growth.

What ‘digital done right’ looks like

First, be clear on slogans, tactics, and strategy.   “Being a digital business” is a slogan or advertisement for change – it is neither action or direction itself.   We have seen a growing number of first generation ‘digital transformations’ stumble on the slogan-heavy, change lite approach to digital transformation.  

Digital transformation is a campaign process (with multiple sprints of effort within) and change journey that focuses on the human, process, and platform changes in concert to ensure the digital journey sticks.   Like most change programs, digital transformation efforts go through cycles (hype, disappoints, and acceptance), and requires a steady hand and a sense of company ownership to achieve the desired results. 

Clear away the digital jargon and take a focused, practical look at your business.   Three questions we often ask clients to consider as they envision digital transformation:

1. Start with your leading indicators.  What areas of your business are flattening or trending poorly (new customer acquisition, transactions per cycle, days to sales close, marketing engagement factors) as an indicator of an opportunity for digital transformation?    These leading indicators usually point to an opportunity for incremental digital change, with a 1 to 2 quarter transformation time frame possible with the right strategic choices.   

2. What new market entrants (competitors) are trending upwards, and what digital techniques are they deploying to differentiate?    Differentiation at scale (think 5x to 10x impact difference in brand awareness or competitive marketing impressions) is possible with digital techniques and new models including digital marketing and sales enablement processes.    

3. Which areas of your business face the customer most, and are your customers receiving the best experience on those channels?     

A quick way to find out whether you are hitting the digital mark with your customers is an informal customer discussion (invite the top 10 and bottom 10 customers to a coffee, meeting, or meal) on how they are finding their experience.   Explore for aspirations (‘we wish you would …’ dialogs) and consider the art of the possible. 

If a digital answer exists (or could be brought forward in the near term) – consider the economics and effort it would take to prototype.   Most times, you will find a test case and pilot evaluation leads to a new way of work / customer service that can digitally transform your business.  

Tactics and techniques can help

There are several macro-trends in digital transformation that you should consider on your digital journey:

Customer journey mapping, combined with next generation business process management solutions, can drive digital experiences to a new level with the right team.   Customer journey mapping helps you identify how and where there are touch points, and opportunities for digital experiences that make a difference.    Automating those journeys with BPM platforms can ensure consistency and measurable results, allowing for continuous improvement (read on!)

Design thinking and rapid prototyping a solution for a customer, aligned with the proposed customer journeys, brings together a better roadmap for digital success.    Design thinking, a method favored by many high-tech companies and pioneered by leading companies like Apple, use a rapid prototype and feedback process ensures you are getting ‘closer and closer’ to the ultimate customer experience without waiting months to years for a final product (or change) to reach market.  Doing so with digital experiences helps you evaluate the effectiveness and market acceptance of change, both key factors in digital transformation success.

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To learn how to better align your business strategy with digital opportunities, get in touch with us! 



A compelling vision from the Salesforce World Tour 2017

A compelling vision: Salesforce World Tour 2017

This week, Salesforce delivered on their world tour commitments to the central US markets, bringing a piece of the annual Dreamforce experience to the lakeside convention center in Chicago.   Between the Chicago-style hot dogs and Sierra-themed conference, the world tour experience was more than memorable – it provided a degree of clarity to the benefits of the past few years acquisitions and investments by Salesforce.

Several important points were made today, six months on from the last Dreamforce event in San Francisco 2016.  The top 10 insights from today:

1)    The entire keynote was delivered by women executives – all at the top of Salesforce.  I share this point first because it was refreshing to experience, and illustrates why Salesforce stands apart from many in the Silicon Valley universe as a progressive and inclusive organization.  I encourage more in the tech industry to follow suit.

2)    Einstein, the Salesforce based Artificial intelligence capability, was in full effect across Sales, Marketing, and Service platforms.   What was hinted at a year ago, is now fully realized in guiding intelligently the various customer journeys.  

You can see the significant investment in the A.I. experience – and the intellectual value that has been embedded in the Sales support guidance, the Services automation capabilities, and the Marketing cloud actions which are informed by the A.I. that is Einstein.   The lead scoring and predictive analytics on the Sales side was particularly compelling.

3)    The value of the Lightning user experience is now a strong differentiator, and brings together the various cloud experiences in a consistent UI.   Gone are the days of ‘tab to table’ screens – the UI is fluid (allowing you to pull and drop various components on the screens), and dynamically generated based on rules and the Einstein A.I. guidance.    Easier to use = more efficient = happier sales, marketing, and service team members.    Salesforce is no longer mind boggling small fonts and depth of menus – it makes sense.

4)    Simple things are some of the most powerful in Salesforce today.  The ability to utilize the Salesforce Mobile client as a central sales engagement app on a phone or tablet is a reality today.   Where Hubspot and other email tracking platforms had outpaced Salesforce in the past years – today you can achieve equal and greater capability via the Salesforce Inbox and Mobile client.   

Being able to share calendars, email ‘sense’ engagement, and have Einstein analytics advise probability of best sales leads for the day – super charges your sales teams effectiveness.

5)    Marketing Cloud – reimagined from its prior days as ExactTarget – Marketing Cloud has taken on a new level of maturity with the Einstein A.I. enhancements and rules based actions.  You can truly design for various customer journeys, based on defined marketing / advertising and customer journeys – and engage across multiple (omni) channels to optimize audience awareness.   Yes, other players do this too – what is meaningful about Marketing Cloud + Einstein is the sense of engagement and precision / accuracy you achieve when you combine the two together.  When you tack on Pardot and the DMP (data management platform) possibilities with Einstein – it is very hard to beat.

6)    Service Cloud is now a fully integrated component and contributes to the ‘customer 360’ mindset most companies are seeking today.  Now you can see the before (marketing), during (sales), and after (service) relationships in a common dashboard and view – and again has the Einstein embedded analytics and advise.  One particularly interesting integration is the chat-bot capabilities (Live Message) which you can leverage.  Check this out if you have not considered.

7)    Community Cloud is shaping up to be a competitive alternative to Facebook Workplace as a collaboration environment you can share across suppliers, employees, and customers to create a common social space.    

Rooted strongly in the Salesforce data model (and benefits when you leverage the entire stack with Salesforce solutions) – the Community Cloud provides a common space for inter-connected entities in the schema (customers, suppliers, and employees) to share knowledge and collaborate.  If you are building (or rebuilding) a business around the Salesforce platform stack – you would be well off to consider how Community Cloud fits into your engagement thinking.   

8)    Demandware is now Commerce Cloud – and that is a very good thing.   From last years’ acquisition of the Demandware platform – the benefits to the Salesforce eco-system are clear:  Commerce Cloud brings to the table an enterprise ecommerce platform and integrating with the robust customer data model that is Salesforce itself.  The automations and A.I. capabilities ahead are fascinating to consider as Salesforce will bring eCommerce to the customer journey map through Commerce Cloud. 

9)    Lest you think this is an advertisement for Salesforce (we are a Hubspot shop in fact at Practically Digital) - there are always a few head scratchers

An example - Quip – bought last year also – is a simpler version of either Office 365 or Google G Suite – combined with Basecamp or Slack, as best was illustrated today. 

The product message is still a bit murky how a company will use it to replace or enhance your existing collaboration experience – other than to say “well it works with Salesforce really well”.   Like Sharepoint vs. Yammer in the Microsoft universe – we are not sure (yet) how Quip will become a valued point solution or part of a stack investment (unless you do not use Slack, Basecamp, G Suite or Office365 today – in which case you may be a customer contender).   

10) Are ‘2 A.I.’s are better than one’, as the partnership between Salesforce and IBM Watson from earlier this year has been messaged to the market.  This is still taking shape in the demonstrations and discussions, and not clear enough (yet) how this adds value to most companies. 

Having experience on both sides of this partnership – my sense is ‘IBM = process A.I.” and ‘Einstein = entity A.I.’ – and when you combine the two in a thoughtful way – you may arrive at two very fast digital advisors on how which business process should touch which customer, supplier, or marketing lead – in what order – without requiring (much) human intervention.  Stay tuned on this one – there is a story here worth telling but it seems a little out of focus still.


In summary – the world tour event illustrated today a major improvement on the acquisitions, artificial intelligence, and customer vision for Salesforce 2017.   If you have not looked at your relationship management solution(s) lately – now is a good time to consider how ready you are for digital business.   Especially if you are lagging behind on artificial intelligence and analytics to support business transformation.  

To learn more about digital engagement, customer experiences, and how relationship management is part of a digital business, get in touch with us below! 








The robots that can: A digital customer service future

When the robot asks your size, what do you say? 

When the robot asks your size, what do you say? 

The robot(s) that can: a digital customer service future

“我能帮你吗?” (May I help you) came the slightly feminine voice behind me.  I was caught off guard at first, thinking that I had someone walk up behind me while I was studying the store map.  Turning around, I stared down at the cute 3-foot-tall robot, which blinked up at me with an animated, smiling screen.  

“I am not sure, actually” I responded in English, intrigued.  The robot flashed for a moment on the screen, and responded in English this time “Would you like to look at clothing or jewelry, both are nearby?”

Curious now, I responded “Clothing” and the robot chirped a friendly ‘follow me’ and proceed to roll towards the nearest branded clothing section in the incredibly large shop in the suburbs of Beijing.    During the roll / walk over, I heard in my native language the retail sales opportunities on clothing in advance of Spring Festival coming soon.    By the time I found a jacket that fit, I received two further advertisements (both tailored to a male customer), and a friendly reminder to join the affinity card program to receive more discounts.  

This was not the first or only interaction with digitally enabled customer service bots or experiences while in China.   Over the course of three weeks visiting in-laws, we encountered robots delivering food to the table (with beacon technologies and IoT making it possible to track us in the restaurant after ordering), banking robots that rolled around the branch lobby helping place people in the right queues and dispensing rate information, and digital touch displays from KFC and McDonald’s that provided Mandarin and English options (and prompts / advice) for ordering and payment.       

What struck me about the experience was the rapid adoption of the digital / IoT / consumer technologies by the customers (including me), and how fast these brands/companies have adopted digital business capabilities to reduce friction and better service customers.    I found over the weeks in China, I would gravitate to these digital brands more than others I encountered.  I felt a convenience and comfort with the experience, and actually was intrigued by the next experience I might have.  


While digital capabilities are great, and the strategy is working for these sectors in the early days – the future is more complicated.   The economics in China are shifting with government intention  towards a greater services industry focus (and less towards infrastructure and agro-business).   The services industry, especially in metropolitan markets, has become the hot area for growth. 

With the introduction of digital capabilities – from robots, to IoT,  and digital engagement points (displays and beacons / tracking and tailored digital advertising), the services industry workforce will be challenged with alternative modes of customer interaction.   In a country of over 1 billion, how these brands / companies adapt their business to the digital opportunity over the long run will be a very interesting story to watch.   

Taking this construct outside China, the future implications in other geographic markets will challenge our services economy expectations soon (if not already).    What is required is a robust data / telecommunications infrastructure, the expertise to make these technologies work, and the ability to connect the digital experience with the underlying brand experience.     Understanding the digital disruption at work, and opportunities these new capabilities present will help companies differentiate in the new digital era.    

Ready to explore your digital opportunity? 

To learn more and discuss how digital transformation opportunities can help your business, get in touch at    And remember, when the robot asks what size you are, always go up a notch or two on the belt.   They can’t see the difference (yet).


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Rob McGillen is the founder, CEO and principal consultant at Practically Digital, a digital transformation consultancy focused on helping companies leverage the opportunities presented by new digital innovations.  




Growth, efficiency and security: three digital technologies every executive should know in 2017

As companies gear up for 2017, digital business opportunities abound for forward thinking leaders.   For Sales Growth, Efficiency, and Security (+speed) - the digital landscape holds a number of strong opportunities in the year ahead.   Understanding the possibilities, and how they add value to the broader business, is key to any digital transformation. 

For Growth - Sales Engagement Platforms  

The number one thing that drives corporate growth is sales.  And the growing number of sales engagement platforms in 2016 was not by accident. The recent Aragon Research report on Sales Engagement Platforms has pegged the market today at $780m, and expected to grow to $5b by 2021.    Often times sales engagement (or enablement depending on the marketing twist) – is focused on helping business leaders best identify the ‘hot leads’ and strong sales candidates that can help move a quarter or make a business year.   

Why should CxO’s and IT leaders care?  The need for better sales techniques and technologies has reached an all-time high as companies have realized static growth through traditional sales processes and solutions.   Many of the leading platforms in this area are ‘born on the cloud’ – and integrating with the leading CRM and contracts management platforms.   Breaking the mold and finding new ways to identify, connect and engage customers will be key in 2017 for growth minded companies.    

This year, solving what your sales engagement platform play will be key to many companies’ growth success.  

For Efficiency - Cognitive computing (and the variations of artificial intelligence)

The proverbial genie is out of the bottle with artificial intelligence, and 2016 witnessed a number of tech vendor commitments (and some deliveries) of A.I. for sake of business.   The commercial leader, IBM, has brought to market strongly the IBM Watson platform, enabling dozens of industries and thousands of companies in the quest for great efficiency.    Salesforce, always a tech leader, will also be introducing Einstein into their platform in 2017.  And Microsoft is quick to follow with Cortana and other predictive analytics capabilities.   

Key questions to answer on artificial intelligence:  In the mash up of buzz words and hype around the capabilities, does your business (and IT group) know the difference between machine learning and cognitive computing?    More important, do you know which is right for your business now, and in the future? The efficiency gains (and in some cases, workforce transition or replacement) from the use will be long running.    Building a strategy today that embraces the possibilities, with a long term view will be crucial to maximize the efficiency gains possible for your business.  

For Security (and speed) – Blockchain

From his recent TED talk, Don Tapscott, a leading digital strategist and speaker, shares his insights into how the block chain technology will impact nearly all facets of human life.

How will blockchain make the world different in 2017?  In short, Blockchain helps drive security (and speed) by improving the real time authentication of transactions and removing the ‘middle man’ in the clearing and authentication process.   By making the transactions ‘completely trustworthy’, the authentication time and processes can be changed from hours and days (think transferring funds across a banking network or between countries), to microseconds.  

Two illustrative scenarios that are impacted by blockchain (and more to come): 

First, in Financial Services.  The availability of funds, and real time acquisition time possible with the blockchain authentication process, changes the underlying business model for the financial services market itself.  The fees, processes, timing involved, and infrastructure of over 100 years is challenged with the adoption of block chain.  How does a bank or institution charge for microsecond processing in the future state?    More important, how does that impact the flow of capital between individuals and businesses worldwide.     

Second, Verification of financial reports and records in the accounting industry.  Today millions of auditors and tax processors around the world conduct regular analysis, reporting and auditing processes, mostly still in a quarterly or annual cycle with complex platforms and processes.    When the need for ‘trusting the books’ is automatically performed with blockchain capabilities, how does that impact the accounting industry?   In short, it can drastically shift the value proposition (and need) for financial review and reporting.   And it forces a digital rethink of the industry itself and the value it will provide to companies ahead.    

As companies consider security and speed opportunities in 2017 – consider how your company might adopt block chain to transform your business.   If authentication, authorization, and speed are priorities for your company, block chain will provide a competitive advantage which you can take up.

Digital capabilities and transforming your business in the implementation process is something we help companies with every day.  Are you ready to become a digital business?  

Get in touch to learn how!