Speed. Digital transformation allows businesses to move at a faster pace, making them competitive in the market. People have become accustomed to instant access, instant results, they want everything now. Speed matters!
As part of our series about the “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pieter VanIperen.
Pieter VanIperen currently runs a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security, and design industries. Prior to that he has done everything from coding to secure software architecture to holding executive level titles at Fortune 500 companies. He has worked with law enforcement, medical facilities, government agencies and NGOs. Pieter is a certified ethical hacker as well as a professor at NYU where he teaches secure coding for coders, as well as the author of the HAZL (jADE) programming language. He also volunteers his consulting services to local healthcare and law enforcement agencies.
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 started coding when I was 12 and working professionally when I was 16. I took some left turns in my career, but by my early 20s I was back coding professionally again full time. I have since done everything from coding to secure software architecture. I have founded startups, authored a programming language, held senior executive titles in Fortune 500 companies, and I even teach at NYU. Now I am taking all that experience and applying it to fix the broken tech consulting models that normally leave everyone unhappy.
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 think patience is the lesson I usually link most to comedy. It’s normally learned through something that at the time is painful, but later is laughable. Whether it’s hunting for a bug for 3 days only to have an intern innocently point to right where the bug is out of pure curiosity or building a system that is incredibly robust and amazing and suddenly no longer needed by the client. Patience is what makes great technologists. For every moment of genius breakthrough, there are hours banging into a wall. If you can’t live with that, you won’t go very far in tech.
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 am asked this often. I think there are people who definitely influence you growing up and who you look to as you hit those uncomfortable fields of growth. My grandmother, my “Baba,” was a holocaust survivor who lost her dad at a young age following the Bolshevik Revolution. She was whip smart and came to this country with only her two children to raise. Despite everything, her steel attitude and stubborn mindset made her one of the strongest people I have ever met. Whenever things are hard, I look to her spirit.
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?
The movie, Apollo 13. Growing up, I saw the scene in Apollo 13 where they throw out all the materials that are in the Module and Shuttle and tell a room full of engineers to figure out how to fit a square air filter into a round air filter installation. That scene made something click in me, it felt so much like what I wanted to do: High stakes — do the impossible and figure it out.
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?
My entire life, I have held the belief that if something is useless, get rid of it. In short, I think that software development as an industry needs a healthy dose of reality. That is to say that it’s time to accept that often the reality of a situation is just that — the reality. I started PWV specifically to bring our client’s projects into reality. Project management and software development need to adhere to and respect the same reality in which we all live. In starting PWV, I’ve gone to great lengths to stop pretending like projects can deviate from our own human nature, including creating our own system of transparency as it pertains to software production called Radical Production Transparency, or RPT. I set out to build the anti-agency, the antithesis of Blackbox software development, and the antidote of project management handwaving.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
All of our projects are exciting! At least, that’s how it feels when you enjoy what you do. We work on a variety of different projects that customers find helpful, from rebranding to marketing to building new automation to operational changes to software development and design work. But the biggest thing we do that sets us apart is practice RPT. We believe that everyone involved in a project, both internal and external, should have access to all the information and decision-making, and everyone should be able to give input. We believe that projects live in reality, and reality sometimes isn’t kind, which is why transparency is crucial to the success of a project. Everyone needs to be able to pivot at the same moment to keep moving forward.
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 the process of taking analogue (paper/offline) systems and processes and bringing them to the digital landscape. This often involves modernization of systems and processes, cloud migration, updating security protocols and following tight access management controls along the way. One thing companies have to remember, too, is that employees will need updated training on all new systems. They should also have input on new software they will use on a daily basis, keeping them happy along the way is important. People are generally averse to change, so it’s important to keep the process clear.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
Every company can benefit from digital transformation. In order to stay competitive, businesses have to continue to evolve with technology. That means modernization, cloud migration, digitization of processes must happen. Not only does it keep businesses competitive, but it also helps keep costs down. There’s really no business that cannot benefit from digital transformation.
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 the number one thing you see is speed, pure and simple. We live in a world where people expect immediate benefits and responses to experiences. I have worked with clients where it takes days to get a quote, require paperwork to be faxed back and forth or people must come in to handle a simple signature task. If you are asking people to fax back a form they filled out online, you are going to see a lot of folks fall out of your funnel. Especially when other companies offer a fully online service that happens in moments, not days. The majority of disruption in existing sectors with long established business are around customer convenience and speed, not product differentiation. Digital transformation lets businesses compete and disrupt sectors they may already lead.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
It is almost always a challenge. Digital transformation often means taking a process that may not have changed for decades and turning it into something new, maybe even automating it fully. The biggest challenge is often overcoming a culture of fear — fear of the unknown, fear of how workers will fit in, fear of whether customers and employees will adapt. To overcome these challenges, digital transformation plans need to focus on the positive outcomes for all involved, and not at a macro level, but at a more micro level. If you want buy-in from a given employee, find some arduous process they hate and show them how it will be easier, or better — gone.
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.
- Speed. Digital transformation allows businesses to move at a faster pace, making them competitive in the market. People have become accustomed to instant access, instant results, they want everything now. Speed matters!
- Innovation. When you build on old tech, old systems that have not been modernized you hit fragility. When you build on new technology after the digital transformation process, your systems and infrastructure is stable. You have more ability to innovate freely without worrying about fragility.
- Customer Feedback. Reviews and feedback from customers should always garner a response. With digital transformation, that feedback comes through faster and allows for quicker responses to customers in the form of new features.
- Employee Retention. Digital transformation typically leads to higher employee satisfaction and retention on a long-term basis. When a new piece of software or a new process is developed that makes an employee’s job easier or less stressful it will improve the happiness of that employee. Happy employees tend to stick around!
- Competitive Advantage. Every industry has its leaders, but when your business pushes out digital transformation as the first or second company in your industry, you put your business in a much better position to succeed. Other businesses will be playing catch-up to you, versus you playing catch-up to someone else.
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
It is important to keep a culture of ideas. That means there are no dumb ideas, and everyone is allowed to share their thoughts. Innovations often come from the most unexpected places, so it is important to ensure employees know they have a voice and can contribute to moving forward. Allowing everyone to pitch ideas and solutions is paramount to creating a culture that supports innovation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This too shall pass. Being an entrepreneur is hard. There are roadblocks, difficult moments, failures. But there are also successes and times when things actually work. Even roads we drive on aren’t straight, so are the paths of life. There are twists and turns, but in the grand scheme of things, those difficult moments will seem much less significant as time moves forward.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!