Create a digital roadmap and vision. Please make vision people centric. Digital transformation isn’t just about adopting new technologies, company need to know what goals they want to achieve, what integrations are needed for that and how to get the best out of it. We put our money where our mouth is at and by evaluating each of possible tools we can use for marketing, sales automation, development and so on we check what value we can create for our people. Because if we can’t benefit ourselves from our product — how our customers will?
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vytenis Pakėnas.
Vytenis Pakėnas, during his 15 years in the IT industry, was helping companies from Start-Ups to Enterprises in Europe to benefit from various processes of digitalization and transformation. With his latest venture, Vytenis focuses on communication, speech, and AI technologies to improve productivity within remote teams and stakeholders. Vytenis is always willing to share his knowledge on IT best practices, which can be introduced to the more “standard” businesses and innovation brought by advancing tech.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
As long as I remember myself, I loved to create stuff — Lego buildings, paper planes with metal engines that could never lift off no matter the number of batteries I was adding (laughing), or first small computer programs on Turbo Pascal. It was easy for me to decide to stay in the IT industry. Especially due to my family’s support and given opportunity to take risks, explore and find myself.
Professional career started in the PM role, and quickly I grew to a PO position where I was responsible for multiple product development. Bridging IT and non-IT people was always my thing. Soon with my colleague from NGO, we started a new company that grew to the biggest marketplace of handmade items in Lithuania. With a terrible business model. A really terrible one 😊.
These lessons quickly enabled us to create an IT company providing web development services. We helped shape ideas and build digital products for offline businesses, bringing new product development for various clients, including corporates like Tele2, Bonnier Publications Group, and more. Due to our small and ambitious team, a need to work remotely, adapt, take the best practices, improve, sell and repeat the process was always here. We had multiple iterations of Digital Transformation inside. We helped a lot of businesses to get change and finally our company was acquired.
After some reflection, I understood what I want to do — to bring clear, easy to understand — lucid communication to remote teams. That’s how my new venture — Lucid Agreements and its first product isLucid was born. With Covid19, 90% of our communication became fully digital. This transformation brought us the opportunity to help capture every detail we share for the task we create. Many standard businesses are now playing and adopting Agile principles and Tools, mainly used in IT before. IsLucid on MS Teams captures what was said (transcribes), helps identify action items, and creates those as tasks in existing PM tools. Also generates meeting minutes.
Now 99% of my time goes to listen to the client’s needs actively and shaping the product, so in this time of “forced digital transformation” businesses and people would benefit the most. At the same moment transforming our own company too.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Both funniest and saddest mistakes came due to poor communication. We made and still making many mistakes. With Covid19, we face a real lockdown. It means that we are forced to have full digital communication. We created routines for daily stand-ups, for online lunch breaks to chit chat, and to be more connected. One day I had this “great” idea to celebrate a small milestone. I planned that for online lunch talk, my colleagues would receive Pizzas, and we’d virtually share a meal. I found addresses (somebody was working from parents home), carefully planned all the details and the time had to come great.
One person ignored the call from the food delivery guy. Because it was unexpected and sent way before. Another person received a call from Pizza Place telling that they will be late for 5mins.
We all enjoyed pizzas, but I understood that combining online and offline is really hard and requires a lot of planning. And that people still love pizzas 🙂
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I like to be recognized, also do my best to recognize each and everyone who contributed. Usually, I do it on public posts on social media, small emails, or random messages. It helps to bond with people and to maintain a healthy relationship. I met a lot of smart people during the time, same as brave and kind ones. But the most important people next to my family were people surrounding me on AIESEC years. While studying, I was involved in this students’ NGO, and for some people, the unknown fact is that this organization was and still is values-driven. Now it became popular to speak about sustainability, giving opportunities, and so on. Those special people around me back in my uni years were already focusing on these values. Living those and being in the same environment helped shape inner me and get a better understanding of what inner powers move me ahead. To name a few, I’d say Andrius, Andželika, Dan, Danny, Giedrė, Rytis made the most significant impact.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
In 1995 there was a new movie released — Hackers. I saw it on television, I guess, in 1997–1998. And I fell in love with computers. Even not having one at home. The computer romance was following me happily ever after and still is. But think when you are a kid, see the schools, bullying, cool kids-nerds, possible impact… Think how hard it is for a boy growing in a post-Soviet environment to project himself into creating on a computer and start fighting for the right cause, not with muscle. This passion and my parents’ investment in the used 486 machine gave me the basics 😊.
To speak about books is more challenging, I read a lot. In the third week of 2021, I’m already on the 7th book I’m reading. Mostly I read sci-fi and books on how to build start-ups. Yet the book I want to recognize is The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil. It was a tough reading where I was competing with my father, who will finish it first. The questions raised about the meaning of life, opinion on how society organizes ideas made me understand that context is king. Not content, not actions, but context. The only context enables people, businesses, and ideas to grow or die.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Lucid Agreements initial idea was born in January 2019 and got a form of current product in March of 2020. Main ‘why’ never changed. There were and still are too many broken business relationships due to miscommunication and poor expectations management within the verbal communication. I could name myself as an early adopter who likes to find new use cases. I was using speech 2 text with Lithuanian language for personal needs. After having frustration that one person did not deliver what he promised multiple times and lied to us (yes, it was a nasty situation in this specific case), it made me think — why I can not fill in needed forms just by voice? It was a singing practice for my boy. During it, I send a message to 30 or so people in my contact list and respond that they want to buy the product once it is made — a tool to fill in job role description with responsibilities from voice.
We built mobile apps for agreements — contracts, annexes, etc. — documents that are not being correctly updated, maintained, prepared, and were significantly stronger in the knowledge party. And we wanted to bring the same level of clarity and understanding for all meeting participants.
Covid19 era made me understand three things:
1) people will not speak to the same mobile device from a close distance (I don’t have a business anymore 🙁 )
2) people will do more conference calls (same technology, a new channel with more opportunities, yay!)
3) document (contract, annex) is important, but way more important is to create action items.
And that’s how isLucid was born — a product which on MS Teams enables meeting participants to focus on conversation, explaining themselves while we automate the creation of the task and organizing within existing Project Management Software tools for meeting participants. Having a clear purpose of assisting people in lucid communication helps us prioritize our effort in terms of the new features development and product improvement. I guess it is not hard to motivate yourself when you know that your work contributes to making remote work stress-free and productive for potentially billions of people.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
isLucid is the only exciting project I have now. I learned the hard way that it’s not healthy to have roles in multiple organizations, especially early in a business. But the joy of a start-up environment is that you have new exciting (or sometimes boring) tasks every day. I’m focusing on a few aspects — creating a company culture that supports the growth of everybody around me; focusing on the value brought by-product to people working online; bringing good governance practices simply and effectively.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
Digital transformation means integrating digital technology into business and fundamentally changing how you operate. I’d say it is a change within organization processes, technologies used, and culture. In theory, you can consider it as a project with fixed results to achieve and changes to implement. In practice, it means that you innovate your company, create a culture to support this innovation, and find relevant tools helping to achieve the desired result. A positive effect you gain from that is changing the way how you think about the organization as a unit, it’s processes. Once you start automating the work, once you understand what human effort brings the best results for your business, then it will be super hard (or impossible) to “stop this project”. And then, IMHO, digital transformation will be printed into your DNA as a need to seek for changes.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
It is hard to find a company which couldn’t benefit. I believe in the manufacturing and service industry, you can find low hanging fruits for a quick result if you did nothing on optimizing your processes with existing IT solutions. In the market, you will see many tools prepared for already “digital” businesses (e.g. IT companies, Marketing agencies, etc.) or sales of big data analytics for current enterprises. However, I’d focus more on the paradigm change related to remote work on blue and white-collar workers.
Companies experiencing the lack of innovation with existing processes, existing products, existing services can benefit the most from these digital updates. Increased productivity, mitigated risks (especially due to human factors), increased job satisfaction — benefits which could hardly be turned off by the management.
Finally, companies experiencing the talent shortage could benefit from the global workforce a lot. Working with freelancers might be hard at the beginning, but if you experienced the digital transformation, changed traditional methods how you onboard people, train and enable them, the difference between a contractor and full-time employee is close to non-existing one. And the reward of the expanded talent pool increased hiring speed is very high.
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
Before the acquisition of my IT development house, we had multiple projects to help companies digitalize their documents. They already had digital spreadsheets, flows how they were exchanging the data, some even approval processes. 9 out of 10 clients were coming to us knowing exactly what and how they want. They just wanted a quote for development services. They were looking for service providers. At the same time, we were looking for partners.
After careful analysis, understanding why one or another development requirement was made, with almost all of our clients, we started analyzing existing processes in terms of how the process is running. What stakeholders are involved, what are the costs, what risks we need to mitigate, and what possible gain can be achieved with technologies. It was a common pattern that we ended up with less development job for now, but more for the long term relationship.
Within the current business, we kept the same attitude. Now we are getting clients who are asking for different integrations, new features implementation before themselves sorting out all the internal procedures. With the usage of isLucid within meetings, we helped them notice that they could reduce up to 70% of their follow up meeting costs — the amount they are paying to employees and consultants per hour — just by clearly identifying action items on the meeting. A simple change in online etiquette results in a reduced amount of participants for the follow-up calls. How? By simply showing in real-time what as a task meeting participant made a note for himself. This transparency resulted in people on the call explaining themselves better, informing all relevant stakeholders, and later having only quick technical follow-ups based on the new knowledge gained.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
The complexity of digital transformation depends on the companies processes and level of how digitalized they are — if a lot of work was made manually, then it could be hard to digitalize processes. Yet, these companies, in the short term, can get the most significant positive impact. It is easier to grow from 1 to 10. However, we noticed unmanaged expectations for more significant changes within organizations. Our life is a bit easier due to the fact that we are working to combine already natural ways of communication — speech — with already used tools within our clients’ organizations. The biggest challenge for us is to keep the interface, design of our solution simple for those who are new at this remote work era.
To support them on this change, during the onboarding, we are close with our clients. We help to set-up everything from a really close distance and provide 24/7 support after. We do follow-ups and now started training partners — already trusted by clients’ solution providers so they could help more.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Create a digital roadmap and vision. Please make vision people centric. Digital transformation isn’t just about adopting new technologies, company need to know what goals they want to achieve, what integrations are needed for that and how to get the best out of it. We put our money where our mouth is at and by evaluating each of possible tools we can use for marketing, sales automation, development and so on we check what value we can create for our people. Because if we can’t benefit ourselves from our product — how our customers will?
- Analyze multiple technologies, multiple alternatives and start testing small. I saw many clients ditching huge platforms, marketers bragging about holy grails and people actually using complaining, that it is not helping. Look at alternatives, fix a small inconvenience, automate the small procedure, repeat. As long as your business is successful, you don’t need to reshape it entirely. You have the freedom to try fast, try alternatives, fail fast with minimum investment. And learn from it for a really low investment.
- Take inventory of your current tech stack. As long as you manage enablers of your digital transformation within the company, you can audit those if they are creating value for money. Pro tip — check if there are overlapping functions by a few tools. And if there are such — why people chose one over another. This will allow you to notice obsolete tools for the teams.
- Get the right organizational structure in place. For a successful digital transformation, you need to define a structure that supports your business processes, your organization, and all stakeholder relations, including your employees. Everyone must show who handles what and to put all the information into the right places, e.g., project management tools, CRM, DMS, and so on. Governance that was working before on a physical contact can be changed, extended in the virtual environment. Pro-tip — delegate more decision-making power and responsibilities for the end users from your IT department. SaaS enables to speed up the processes, and IT should not be the blocker.
- Collect data to make data-driven decisions. Status before and after — what are suitable measures to evaluate the success of change? Can you measure it or only guess? We all know that road to hell is paved with good intentions. But if you measure your speed, position, see where you are heading at — I hardly believe you’ll end up in hell.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
Hire the right people to start with. No matter if you are a newly established company or a business operating for hundreds of years — it is still about your employees. The fast track is to hire people who bring in the innovation needed. Then pair initiatives with strategic objectives, knowledge already existing in the company and get external consultants who could cover the gap of missing knowledge and raise challenging questions.
Next is to set the expectations accordingly. I saw quite a few companies with the right initiatives but unrealistic expectations. People with already working, yet not ready for digital environment processes, are fast to judge that something is not working. Communicating expectations, providing needed resources so expectations could be fulfilled is the only way to get long term support in the organization.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Oh, man… “The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without”. This quote is like an onion with lots of layers. It sends a message about personal health, about priorities in personal life. It also indicates the need for processes and joint motivators (values, mission, purpose) to keep people moving. It shows that we need to react quickly as we never know when the end will come. Finally, it is a reminder to seek for meaning in everything you do. Because it can be the last thing you did…
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can find us (isLucid) on social media (fb, linkedin, twitter) to follow what have we done, get some tips and hear new things about project management, work efficiency and communication. Also they can subscribe in our website www.islucid.com to stay in touch and get valuable information. To reach me out personally just ping me on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!