Michelle Bates of Involta: “Create a culture of transformation”

Create a culture of transformation — ensure that your organization is aligned to the vision. Everything starts with people, and digital transformation requires both organizational change management and changes to IT operating models. As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of […]

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Create a culture of transformation — ensure that your organization is aligned to the vision. Everything starts with people, and digital transformation requires both organizational change management and changes to IT operating models.

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 Michelle Bates, CIO, Involta.

Michelle Bates, Involta’s Chief Innovation Officer, is passionate about enabling technology solutions to position her clients for success. An innovative problem-solver and strategic thinker, Michelle embraces a holistic approach to IT transformation to drive successful business outcomes.

Michelle joined Involta in 2018 with more than 20 years of experience working with Fortune 500 and start-up companies. Throughout her career, Michelle has garnered extensive experience working with cloud service providers such as Google and Amazon Web Services™. She was recently named CIO of the Year by the Technology Association of Iowa and is a celebrated leader in organizational change management and digital transformation.

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?

I’m an accountant by trade who took a left turn into technology 25 years ago — and I’ve had a wonderful ride. Prior to starting my own company, I worked with Fortune 500 and mid-market organizations across aerospace and defense, manufacturing, financial services and technology. In 2015, after success at Collins Aerospace driving cloud transformation, I started my own consulting company focused on cloud services in the mid-market. Thanks to strong growth, I sold my company to Involta in October 2018 and joined the organization as the Chief Innovation Officer.

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 was working as a Product Manager in Unclaimed Property for a large financial services software company. We were getting ready for our annual user conference, and it required me to train customers on “Unclaimed Property 101.” I spent hours preparing my “script” for the training and memorizing every word. When it came time for the dry run of the course, I completely froze. It was as though I knew nothing about the topic. My VP at the time just started laughing and said, “Go home, Bates. I know you’ve got this; just don’t try so hard and be yourself.” I was so thankful he recognized that I had prepared, but because I was so focused on perfection, I forgot to just share the story and connect with people in my own way. I learned that day to be prepared and to be real — but not perfect. Needless to say, I never focused on memorizing or writing a script again. Instead, I outline and frame up my narratives, and then I simply tell a story.

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’ve been blessed to have many amazing mentors in my life, starting with my dad. He was a man with only an eighth-grade education who started and grew a business that spanned two generations and lasted for more than fifty years before it was sold. He owned and operated an insurance agency specializing in farm and crop insurance along with personal and commercial lines. I worked in the agency from a young age, and he taught me about the value of the customer and that if you could get someone to “invite you to the kitchen table” and establish a relationship, you could do good business. I’ve held on to his teachings about the importance of people and relationships and kept them as core values in my leadership style.

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?

It’s an oldie but a goodie, but I love the book “Who Moved my Cheese.” It reflects on the notion of how different people approach and embrace change differently, and you have to meet each individual wherever they are. This concept is so important as we consider digital transformation today, which starts with people — who often have different perspectives and competing priorities — embracing and aligning around an organization’s vision for the future.

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?

When Involta started, we were a data center and colocation company designed to remove the burden of operating IT infrastructure, network and services so organizations could focus on their core business. The company expanded its footprint to six states after finding a niche in secondary markets serving compliance and regulatory-driven industries. The foundation in physical infrastructure has provided a solid ground for Involta to continue to build upon as the technology industry leverages public, private and hybrid environments.

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

I’m very excited about our edge strategy. We’re actively working with our customer base to understand the use cases required across our strategic verticals — healthcare, manufacturing and financial services. Ultimately, the answer lies in understanding what data is required, when it is needed, and how it must be accessed to create the best customer experience. From there, we help build a solution to enable the people, processes and technologies across an organization, ensuring our customer is well-positioned from a business perspective. I’m incredibly excited about what the world of edge is going to look like for Involta over the next couple of years.

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 is really about modernizing technologies in every aspect of the business — across applications, data, integration and platforms — so that every department in an organization can work in an optimal way. Also, we think about digital transformation in terms of the expansion of the business ecosystem. We used to talk about that ecosystem just as it relates to an individual enterprise, but we’re now a very connected world.

Every enterprise today is connected to its partners, customers, suppliers and beyond. So, we must consider digital transformation outside of the enterprise’s own walls and understand it as a method of creating a seamless experience for all stakeholders.

Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?

Organizations that have been somewhat laggard in leveraging new technology or those that have kept their existing technology within their organization and been hesitant to connect to their partners, suppliers or customers in new and innovative ways can benefit most.

The reality is that disruption is happening in every industry, and if organizations don’t do something with applications, technology environments, platforms and security, they really are running the risk of extinction in many ways. We’ve got to make sure that those organizations stay strong and stay viable — and technology can help enable that outcome.

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.

I think a key way we’ve seen digital transformation produce outcomes for businesses is by raising the visibility of data and insights to create personalized buyer experiences. We see banks delivering personalized offers or retailers creating custom pricing based on buying habits and needs.

To get there, that means integrating systems and making data visible — two very important foundations of digital transformation and of everything currently happening in the data analytics industry. Today is about getting data from a variety of sources to paint pictures differently and to allow speed to innovation.

We’ve seen digital transformation play out in the last year in healthcare with respect to the pandemic in the development and delivery of a vaccine. This rapid achievement was enabled by the digital transformations organizations have accomplished and the investments they’ve made in their technology portfolios. This is exciting to see when you’re looking at those kinds of real-world outcomes across the globe that serve our communities and populations so well.

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

Many challenges are a result of organizations avoiding incremental investments along the way. One example we’re seeing in the world of digital transformation is that technology investments must happen continuously and consistently. The companies that have treated their investment as a series of peaks and valleys are the ones having the most difficult times today. By smoothing the investment curve for the future — which is a lot of what we’re seeing in the transition of CapEx to OpEx models — you’re seeing organizations have an easier time in their transformation.

At Involta, we believe continuous investment in application transformation, cloud infrastructure and managed services is essential. Playing catch-up is costly in so many ways, especially when it comes to speed of innovation and mitigating risk from disruptors in the industry.

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 strategy — don’t wing it. Technology must enable your business strategy, and IT must have a seat at the executive table for success.

Create a culture of transformation — ensure that your organization is aligned to the vision. Everything starts with people, and digital transformation requires both organizational change management and changes to IT operating models.

Improve speed to innovation — again, look at what we’ve seen in the last year with the pandemic. Digital transformation in healthcare and pharma has enabled speed to vaccine development.

Gain customer, supplier, partner and business insights — for example, logistics data could be married with third-party weather data and patterns to reroute vaccines to locations that are able to receive them to avoid waste.

Manage market disruption — new companies are being born every day that are building from a new digital foundation. They don’t have technical debt to overcome, and they can build flexible environments that enable connectivity and insights out of the gate. Focus on digital transformation to ensure market viability and long-term success.

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

It’s really about making sure that everyone is aligned with the business vision. At the end of the day, that is the rally cry for an organization. At Involta, our rally cry centers around superior infrastructure and services, operational excellence and people who deliver. Everything we do comes back to those values. We also organizationally align with growth goals and make decisions that empower their fulfillment. You see other organizations with that same business vision that goes across everything they do — Amazon has its customer obsession as a guiding principle, for instance. That’s important because people want something to aspire to and believe in.

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

Be the change you want to see in the world — a mantra I’ve lived by most of my adult life. It’s also a lesson many people have to learn — if you’re not enjoying the course of your career or your personal life, you can pivot. In many cases, the first step in any course change is mapping out where you want to go and then educating yourself on how to get there — dig in to learn more and ultimately embark on your journey.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Check us out on our social channels — Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook — and learn more about what we’re up to at www.involta.com.

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

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