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Shelley Iocona of ON ITS AXIS: “Business Model Innovation”

…Business Model Innovation. Having clarity around business strategy is really the first step in any business-related transformation. Revisiting this strategy annually is good practice. As a company grows, new areas of opportunity emerge and optimizations are necessary for an organization to realize its potential. These shifts transform the business by having a cascading effect into […]

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…Business Model Innovation. Having clarity around business strategy is really the first step in any business-related transformation. Revisiting this strategy annually is good practice. As a company grows, new areas of opportunity emerge and optimizations are necessary for an organization to realize its potential. These shifts transform the business by having a cascading effect into other areas of the organization.


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 Shelley Iocona.

Shelley Iocona is the founder of ON ITS AXIS, an award-winning innovation consulting firm connecting experts, evolving industries, and delivering results. Her team helps the most forward-thinking companies to spark change, enhance agility, and optimize growth through a product and people® framework designed for growth outcomes. Prior to ON ITS AXIS, she held product and engineering roles at companies such as Outcast Media (now Verifone Media), Yahoo, Connexity (formerly Shopzilla/Bizrate), DIRECTV, and various incubators and startups.


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?

My career started in web development at a San Francisco media company. From there I was fortunate to land opportunities in technical project management and engineering management before moving into product management. Having worked in large high-tech enterprises as well as small start-ups, I grew to love the diversity of working with people around the globe creating solutions to problems that delivered better outcomes with technology. Throughout my career, the theme of transformation has always been present and so starting my own firm ON ITS AXIS was a natural next step in my career journey.

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?

I’m not sure how funny this story is but it brings a smile to my face. Starting out I thought I had all the answers and yet I didn’t think too much about the future. Although parents and colleagues would share their own stories of life evolution, I saw mine as following some predictable path which is totally unrealistic! Life is always changing and evolving for all of us at any age.

What’s great about this life lesson is that today I work with companies helping them become change-agile; in their product development, people management, and in their thinking and planning of what’s next to support their growth plans. As a recovering perfectionist I know that the only constant is change, and how we respond to change is key to our success in life and often our fulfillment.

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’m forever grateful to my parents for supporting me on this journey. They were patient, kind, and encouraging as I made my way to the West Coast from our home in the Philadelphia area. My Dad inspired me to get into technology after witnessing my love for computers as a young person, and my technology career has been a fun and rewarding journey.

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?

One of my all-time favorite films is The Shawshank Redemption. I first watched it at an impressionable age and was truly touched and inspired by the themes of integrity, adaptation, resilience, faith, and friendship.

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?

Our vision was to bring fresh perspectives to how technology was designed, built, and delivered and to do so in a lean fashion to reduce over-working, over-building, and over-spending that is so common in product development.

Our vision has expanded to include helping people within organizations be the best leaders they can be, support the employee experience in ways that bring better results to their bottom line, and ultimately help create businesses that are purposeful and create value on the world.

Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

One of the benefits of working with enterprises across industries is that we have ongoing opportunities to help in creative ways. Our big focus right now is supporting the Fortune 500 with internal innovation initiatives.

We achieve this in two ways: through structured learning programs and virtual workshops designed to develop their internal innovation talent so they can optimize company relevance and growth, and product consulting that takes the novel ideas they generated that have a massive impact and assisting with the next-level business modeling, prototyping, product design, and commercialization activities.

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?

There has been an evolution of what digital transformation means over the years. On a practical level, it’s bringing digital technology to business practices and processes; but on a larger scale, it’s really about organizational transformation at a cultural level.

We see this when tasked with supporting an organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts, where bringing not only a process but a mindset that challenges the status quo is what’s needed for true transformation to take place.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Companies that are at risk of disruption can most benefit from a digital transformation engagement. Identifying these types of organizations may be challenging but those that stay in the status quo know they are at risk. If they think they are doing everything right they are perfect candidates for Digital Transformation! Operating with an assumption of predictability can result in a competitor identifying a weakness and before they know it they are disrupted.

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.

A recent ON ITS AXIS case study involves assisting a client through a key product recall. In order to reduce employee turnover during the crisis, we designed a comprehensive change management communication plan that would effectively empower their team to deploy positive retention strategies that ultimately improved employee satisfaction ratings by nearly 13% in spite of the company undergoing a very public product crisis. In fact, the employee retention rating was 97%. Simultaneously we helped the team by assigning impacted team members to existing client projects in other company verticals that were actively sourcing talent through agency partners. By applying an effective talent retention and organization design strategy, we helped them achieve a 56% quarter over quarter increase in program productivity across five business verticals.

Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?

Some companies say they want digital transformation but either isn’t ready to make the decisions required that lead to real transformation or aren’t willing to. We see this in companies where the culture is eroded and employees have become disengaged. Despite good intentions by the C-suite, if leaders have allowed the company to get to such a critical point or aren’t leading authentically by matching words with actions in their change management approach, little can be done to turn things around. One way to resolve a dire situation like this is to bring executive coaches in that can work with leadership at different levels across business units to start to bring forth an alignment in values and purpose to be reflected in products and services. Once the day-to-day employee experience shifts — and a long-term view is seen as possible — adoption begins to occur.

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.

It’s important to remember that not all digital transformations are 100% technical in nature. I read an article suggesting that nearly 70% of all digital transformation efforts do not reach their goal and think this is due in part to organizations having not fully considered all areas a digital transformation touch. Organizational and business processes need to be reviewed — and a mindset that supports transformation and innovation is required — in order to realize the gains a digital transformation can provide or else efforts will most likely fall short of their goal.

Here are some ways a company can use digital transformation to take it to the next level:

1.) Business Model Innovation.

Having clarity around business strategy is really the first step in any business-related transformation. Revisiting this strategy annually is good practice. As a company grows, new areas of opportunity emerge and optimizations are necessary for an organization to realize its potential. These shifts transform the business by having a cascading effect into other areas of the organization.

2.) Organizational Transformation.

In order to prepare the workforce for business-related transformation, we might decide to embark on upskilling their internal talent or running a workshop on diversity and inclusion, or hiring best practices geared for a constantly changing workforce. If bringing in an outside firm to help with this work, it’s critical to identify and empower internal champions who can “take the reigns” and ensure the principles set forth are infused within the entire organization and the framework to review and adjust is revisited on a regular basis.

3.) Process Transformation.

Transforming processes by identifying how people work towards a goal and achieve them more efficiently is one of the least talked about areas within digital transformation. Agile coaching is a great example.

When we take on a role such as this within an organization, we’re responsible for designing and delivering an agile methodology customized to the needs of that specific company in order to foster better outcomes. The real power — and when the transformation occurs — is through the implementation of the process itself by guiding the team on their estimating and forecasting accuracy. By going through the process with them, we’re better able to optimize it and come up with a method for a repeatable, predictable process.

4.) Technical Transformation.

One of my favorite examples of technical transformation initiatives is moving business processes and practices from paper to electronic. We see this as an imperative, especially in the healthcare field. Taking 50 paper forms and turning them into 10 responsive web application screens, backed by algorithms and logic has the power to transform the lives of medical professionals, front and back-office teams, and ultimately improve the overall patient care experience.

5.) Customer Experience Transformation.

Small wins achieve big results and often customer experience transformations that are fully adopted by internal staff and external customers are best achieved through an incremental approach. We assisted a client with improving their customer satisfaction ratings in order to boost their Net Promoter Score (NPS). While conducting discovery with various stakeholders, we began reviewing the internal processes that may be leading to inefficiency and overhead. We then mapped that to the desired outcomes for the customer and saw a number of breaking points. We saw how the first step could be to improve the Customer Effort Score (CES) by simplifying how solutions get surfaced by the customer success team for customer benefit.

In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?

Companies would do well to make an investment in their existing internal talent by developing the innate creative, problem-solving skills employees already have. They can do this in a number of ways, one of which is to leverage an innovation assessment tool that can be used to inform team design and project assignments as well as employee development and workforce planning. Uncovering the abilities of the existing workforce and being thoughtful about how it runs is one of the best ways companies can create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages. This is a large part of the work we do at ON ITS AXIS and an area I’m particularly passionate about.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” by Mahatma Gandhi is a life-long reminder to live with integrity, to strive for authenticity, and try to do my best.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Follow and engage with us across our social channels! My partner and I co-host weekly Clubhouse talks with industry thought leaders and we co-host a monthly webinar series, Business Bites, with SAP’s HanaHaus facilitating conversations about business, growth, leadership, professional development, product, and creating innovation in the workplace.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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