By John Filippis, Strategic Engagement Manager, Quorum
Finding success in the digital economy is a little like finding a great pizza shop in Rome. Just walk down any street in the historic city and you will be greeted by a myriad of pizza shops that all appear on the outside to be the same. They all sport the same menu, the same shop fitout, ditto the sly fast talking and overly colourful waiter and of course the pizza chef that spends more time talking (or yelling with his hands) to his friends who drop by randomly on their scooters than preparing your pizza. When it comes to the juxtaposition of pizzas, pasta, culinary preparative flamboyance and urban chaos, no one does it better than the Romans.
This melee of roman activity is akin to what I see as the “noise” that often surrounds one’s bustling navigation through the modern digital economy. Just like their food orientated counterparts in Rome so many technology businesses are engaging and trying to get air play with the market through various channels, but many of them rarely have the opportunity to truly differentiate themselves and rise above the tide. It seems that finding that divergent business in the digital marketplace that has a transformational and valuable story to tell is getting tougher and tougher.
It was with that thought firmly in mind that I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Nicki Page, CEO of MOQdigital.
MOQdigital is an innovative firm that was recently created as a by-product of the merger of Breeze and Technology Effect which was settled in June 2015. Since then it has been a busy 6 months for Nicki and the MOQdigital team pulling two organisations together and forging a new collective way forward.
It was in a quaint coffee shop located around the corner from the MOQdigital office in Edgecliff in Sydney that I sat down to hear from Nicki about MOQdigital, its purpose and what her view is for organisational success in the digital economy of the future.
JF: Nicki thanks for taking the time out from your busy schedule to meet up today. I am sure that schedule has been truly unrelenting for the last few months. Tell me about the recent ride leading up to and post the merger…
NP: Yes it has been quite a ride bringing the two businesses together, rebranding as MOQdigital and a reverse listing on the stock exchange under Montech (MOQ). One thing is for sure if it wasn’t for the people that were at the table with the right mindset and attitude pulling it all together it would make for a tough journey. Having the right experience at the board level has been critical to success but also strong management team culturally aligned all working together to make it happen.
JF: What would you say was the most challenging, the easiest and the most surprising aspects of the merger?
NP: The most challenging was trying to run a business as well as sell a business over the time it took to complete the transaction. It’s difficult not to get distracted from the day to day and making sales. The easiest was looking my colleagues in the eye and letting them know this was the right thing to do as I genuinely believed it would be a better future for everyone and the most surprising was the response from friends and colleagues in the industry. The support and well wishes has just been incredible.
JF: When organisations merge sometimes there is always “learning” that goes on as the different organisational perspectives are fused into one. What was the standout learning or “new perspective” that you acquired from the merger with Technology Effect?
NP: You’re absolutely right, there’s lots of learning. A lot of new people, systems and processes, diverse cultures and life experiences. You have to stay open to change and learn to adapt and focus where your attention is most needed but not taking your eye off the ball with obsessing about your customers.
The most stand-out learning for Breeze was quickly getting used to a new business model, systems and processes whilst still maintaining high level of service for our customers. You really go through a phase of needing to perform and transform at the same time and take all staff and customers on a new journey with you. It always takes time to adjust and settle down. In the meantime you have to step up communication and remember your colleagues and customers are human beings.
JF: And conversely what do you think the crew from Technology Effect learnt from the Breeze team?
NP: I believe they learnt a whole new world according to developers. A very different way of thinking and operating to an infrastructure business. Our developers are very creative and believe they can create magic with code which for non developers is a different world. For both parties it was also a change being public listed, introducing new duties and requirements we need to perform as a company. But I am most proud with how it’s all come together and how the team have pulled together.
We’re through that now and running a business as one.
JF: Why would one think that MOQdigital is now greater than the sum of its parts?
NP: The world has changed and we are better together. The industry has significantly changed in the last year let alone the changes in the last decade.
People and businesses want to achieve more with less. Everyone is looking for smarter and faster ways of doing business and the cloud is enabling this movement. Disruption is around every corner and every day with our customers is an opportunity to improve productivity and re-invent business processes. Customers were telling me they are more confused than ever about when to use what technologies and didn’t enjoy having to go to different vendors to solve different challenges. It became clear that we needed to broaden or capabilities and a merge was the obvious answer.
JF: Tell me about what unique position or purpose you are pushing for MOQdigital to have in the market, to separate you from the “noise”?
NP: There’s a number of things that separate us in the market.
First and foremost our people. Now I know all companies say that but we work hard to walk the talk. We’re very lucky to have David Shein as our Chairman who is very strong on culture and has a reputation from the Com Tech days of treating people with high regard. We have shared the same values since the day we met (if not before) and no one is taken for granted at MOQdigital.
MOQdigital is only as good as it’s people and we have a tremendous team of talented people that genuinely believe they can make a difference to the world through the smart integration of technology.
Secondly our value proposition with helping our customers transform in a rapidly changing digital world.
Digital transformation means very different things to each customer. To healthcare it means getting a 360 view on the customers’ health, to our retail customers it means improving the buyer experience, to our schools it means enabling students to achieve the best education they can for a bright future.
One common theme through-out all digital transform is the integration of technology. It is at the heart of every solution. Even more so as we push the boundaries of the Internet of Things and providing data insights or predictive analytics. It’s an exciting future.
JF: I am seeing how Big Data is now coming onto the radar for a lot of organisations but for me most organisations struggle with it dramatically. What has been MOQdigital’s experience thus far on how well prepared clients are to deal with the Big Data story?
NP: I see that as an opportunity – please refer those customers to me! (laughs)
Data is the new oil.
A lot of customers are struggling with data and for very different reasons. We all know the value is in the data but getting value out of your data is easier said than done. That’s where most customers need help and we can take them on a journey. Forget the term Big Data, it has been misused and most customers are way off a big data strategy.
I tend to talk to customers more about their data insights – what results they are wanting to see and what would they like to do with those results.
More often than not it’s about making customers data fluid and meaningful. Integrating, cleansing and bringing to life through business intelligence tools, portals, apps, etc.
JF: My take on the key to success in this area is that the focus is less about holding or handling Big Data and all about extracting data insights and the subsequent derived business intelligence. What is MOQdigital’s view around how organisations should go about getting the competitive advantage that Big Data, Analytics and BI promises?
NP: I believe it starts with what information do our customers need to stay competitive or service their community better.
For example the customers we work with really want to get closer to their customers, create stickiness for their business in order to gain market share or just understand how their rapidly evolving business is performing and data unlocks these secrets.
Nowadays we are working to service our customers’ customers. Everyone wants to predict their next steps or gain better insights in real time to their customer demographic and behaviour to create a richer customer experience and new revenue streams. In order for businesses to stay competitive they need to provide a better experience and data insights is the key to this.
Every business has different data requirements and challenges so it is therefore crucial to work with data integration & business intelligence experts to create the right data strategy for their company. It’s about driving outcomes.
JF: Recently I have been having Terminator like ideas about the “rise of the machines” when it comes to “machine learning”. Just how far can we push the technology today and what is MOQdigital doing in this space that makes you excited about the prospect of building clever machines that learn?
NP: You are right, we are in a world where the only limitation is our imagination. The technology is there to support every dream for those who have the courage to take advantage of it in the face of adversity.
Machine learning will change the way we do business and the way we understand and support our customers. It is already happening.
Watch this space in Australia over the next 2-5 years. We’re already seeing it but the best is yet to come! There will be whole new companies and products that pop up specialising in machine learning and predictive analytics for all sorts of pattern recognition. From smarter farming, driverless car navigation to intelligent devices on every street corner to predicting peoples’ movements, the possibilities will be endless.
MOQdigital is fortunate to have customers already using ML as we evolve their data IOT strategy and we’re entering in to a whole new realm of fun, services and pricing models with our customers.
For me this is where human beings, science and technology really come together to create artificial intelligence and cognitive computing.
JF: What organisational characteristics will be required for success in the digital economy of the future? And just as importantly what type of leader should run them?
NP: This is a BIG topic and whole workshops can be run on this. In my opinion there are key characteristics that all companies should adopt when embarking on a digital transformation journey.
Be open to change. Think differently. Engage someone to challenge your thinking when building your digital strategy.
Be clear on your ‘why’. What outcomes are you trying to achieve.
Where are you now, where do you want to be and what hurdles do you need to over-come to get there?
But my biggest observation is that it is just as much a cultural shift from the leaders as it is a people, process and technology investment. Leaders have got to want to embrace change. Be open to doing things differently, be more flexible and agile. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Everybody can have a growth mindset.
JF: Where do you think organisations fail in their quest for digital economy success?
NP: My opinion is that those who are not open to change, seeking help or cannot move fast enough will get left behind. Strategy is only part of the journey. Execution of the strategy is what really determines success along with market timing.
JF: What do you think about Educating and Enabling people to be able to interact and thrive in the Digital Economy? Are they competent now? Or are people falling behind as the technology races forward? What is your view?
NP: We should never stop learning and challenging ourselves. I’m the sort of person that reads too many books at one time and there are not enough hours in the day to satisfy my curiosity. So I don’t believe we are competent now or even close to keeping up with the rate of change.
Every day is an opportunity to read, learn from others and improve yourself. Technology is evolving so fast that we cannot possibly keep up. So it’s about surrounding yourself with great people to build competence in a collective!
JF: A lot of organisations are talking technology and capability, but few are talking people and culture. Tell me about what your philosophy is for MOQdigital?
NP: Nothing happens without great people and culture. We are only as good as the people we surround ourselves by.
The way you treat your people and how they treat each other will determine the type of company you want to be known for. Technologies come and go quickly but people will always remember how you treated them. My personal mantra is to be human first, business person second. But words are cheap it’s how you act that counts. Sure we can’t be perfect everyday but the intention and possibility is everything.
To foster creativity and innovative ideas you have to create a collaborative environment that is open to change, open to learning from mistakes, sharing progress and clear communication.
I’m not one for reading motivational books but personally I really like Dr Jason Fox theories on culture where people need goals, rules and feedback. He likens this to computer games which of course we can all relate to. Who hasn’t had a go at fruit ninja or is a closet pacman gamer.
He explains that a good game is goal driven, challenge intense and a feedback rich experience geared towards progress. I can relate to that in the workplace too with a company filled with incredible technologists!
JF: I am a big believer in fostering innovation and leveraging the creativity of great people to accomplish great things. Do you concur and if so why?
NP: Without fostering innovation businesses can very quickly get left behind. A great mentor of mine used to tell me to always be in search for your own blue ocean to stay relevant in business. Sure it’s the red ocean that puts money on the table but we’ve always got to be looking for our clear differentiator.
For me innovation is exciting, it’s in our DNA so it’s natural for us to want to push the boundaries of the latest technology. If you create an environment that allows creativity and not to process heavy then magic can happen. It’s how you commercialise that magic which is the real talent!
JF: Over the last few years so many organisations have had their output defined by the “spreadsheet masters” in Finance. What is your view on this and what do you see as the long term effects of having financial logic and it alone ruling a company’s destiny?
NP: Numbers are everything as there’s no point in being in business if the numbers aren’t moving in the right direction but they shouldn’t be the start of defining a company’s destiny. It’s more important to find your business purpose first.
I believe the numbers tell the story of your strategy and if we lead with a winning strategy then the numbers will move in the right direction.
To quote startup guru Guy Kawasaki: “If you make meaning you will probably make money; but if you set out to make money you will probably not make meaning and you will not make money.”
If the numbers aren’t responding to your strategy, then you know you need to keep tweaking it until you see results. We shouldn’t be defined by our spreadsheets but we can’t afford to take our eye off the numbers either.
Probably not the answer you were looking for but I’ve grown up with a Swiss mother who was an accountant!
JF: “What new year’s resolutions have you made for 2016?”
NP: To try and be a better wife, mother, friend and CEO then I was yesterday.
JF: “What would be the book that you have as a MUST read this year?
NP: Ooh tough question as there’s so many favourites. This year so far I’ve really enjoyed reading MINDSET by Carol Dweck and Game Changer by Dr Jason Fox.
We’re taking MOQdigital through a growth phase so it was important for me to encourage a growth mindset in the team. I’m loving the new conversations and framing things differently to encourage a different mindset when faced with a challenge.
JF: Who would you say has had the greatest influence on you to date and why?
NP: My dad.
In business I’ve been truly blessed with great support and mentors by industry Leaders through-out my career in Australia. Starting with Peter Kazacos who brought me over from the UK and taught me so much about business at KAZ. To the late Steve Ross (“Chipper”) who gave me a first chance to be a business partner at Breeze (and jokingly called me a “Wombat” more times than I can remember as he helped me navigate business in the early days!).
Today I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to work closely with David Shein and learn from his wealth of experience.
But my Dad is the one who taught me to be brave, curious and to believe I could achieve all that I put my mind to. He taught me to play with technology from a young age and always believed in me as I took a leap of faith with my career.
So Tech Dad’s out there – don’t underestimate the influence you have on your daughters’ careers!!
JF: What was one pivotal “sliding doors” moment that you wish you had done differently?
NP: There’s many scenarios but I’d like to turn this question on its’ head and give you an example of trying to prevent sliding doors moments and missing out on opportunities.
It’s a story about a baseball game and putting yourself out there.
It was July 2012 and we stopped in New York on our way to a Microsoft conference in Toronto. Life couldn’t be any better. Business was great, we’d just won our first worldwide award and we were on our way to pick up the award at the conference. It was an exciting trip that my husband and I went on together and we’d made the decision that we were going to be open to all opportunities the adventure presented to us. We were going to say YES. Which is harder than it sounds. It is often a natural reaction of mine and many people to say NO before they’ve even had a chance to think about the opportunity that is before them. It is human nature to say NO due to fear of the unknown.
I loved New York – loved the buzz. We met my brother & sister in-law in New York and had a lot of fun together. My husband and brother in law wanted to see a Yankee’s baseball game whilst we were in town. To be honest I wasn’t in to the game at all and wasn’t really that keen to go. I couldn’t believe the first opportunity to say YES was going to a baseball game but went along with the idea as this was about being open and we’d made a pact.
My brother in-law was so excited. He’d even researched the position of the players, where they hit the ball most of the time and bought the best seats in the house. He was convinced we could be in with a chance of the ball being hit in to the stadium our way. I couldn’t see it and went against the mind-set of being open to opportunities that presented itself. We were among 60,000 people, there was no way it could come our way – the chance was one in a million.
To my surprise the game was exciting. The atmosphere was phenomenal with so much energy from the crowd. Music was playing when they hit the ball and I found myself enjoying it!
About halfway through my brother in law was tempted by the hot dog stands and moved out of his seat to get some food. Just as he’d left an unbelievable thing occurred and I still remember the feeling in slow motion today. The Chicago Cubs hit a home run and the ball literally came our way! It bounced off the caps of the people above us and to my shocking surprise landed right where I was sitting. As a reflex I raised my hand and caught the ball!!!!
So shocked I didn’t know what to do with it and could feel the pressure of the crowd around me shouting to throw it back as I was sitting in the Yankee’s stand. Being a tourist I had no idea of the politics of the game so succumbed to the pressure and threw it back.
Meanwhile my brother in law returned and when we told him what had happened he just didn’t believe us. Especially since we didn’t keep the ball to prove it. It wasn’t until he saw a replay on the big screen and then on the news of me catching the home run ball that he was devastated he left at that moment. In fact he spent the rest of the baseball game sulking in his seat being very quiet and cross with himself as people around us continued to shake our hand and congratulate us.
This trip continued to present opportunity that we have been forever grateful for. At the conference in Toronto we were invited to photo shoots and media interviews that were played in the keynotes in front of 16,000 people so really helped promote our business and continued to be used for marketing for years after the event.
It was a Microsoft marketing exercise we couldn’t have dreamed of paying for ourselves and it all stemmed from saying YES before saying NO.
From this experience I learned that you have to be open to opportunity as the biggest surprises may just come your way. But you have to be at the game to catch the ball.
JF: Assume for a moment that MOQdigital reaches every height and achieves every goal ever imagined and has conquered the world. What would Nicki Page do next?
NP: Do it all again ! (laughs)
I’d take time off with my family first to travel and trek through Bhutan. I’ve always wanted to go there!
The reality is we’re a long way off this with a lot of hard work ahead of us but I’m really looking forward to earning the right to win business with an incredible team of people we have at MOQdigital and having a lot of fun along the way!
With her final response on paper, Nicki and I joked and laughed over our last sips of coffee as we wound up the interview. What occurred to me as I bid her farewell was just how well positioned MOQdigital is to take advantage of the new world that the “digital economy” is producing and where it is getting harder and harder to stand out.
MOQdigital’s strong portfolio of capabilities coupled with Nicki’s philosophy and approach on how she values and nurtures the culture of MOQdigital will ensure that it will rise above the noise and make a truly valuable contribution to their client’s success.
And just like the mythical pizza shop find in Rome, once you have found it make sure you take a seat at the table…especially if Nicki Page and the MOQdigital team are taking your order. Perfetto!!
A big thanks to Nicki Page for taking the time out from her manic schedule for our interview.