DX Leaders Series  Tony Byrne

As a long-time advisor to enterprise technology customers, Tony Byrne is keenly aware of how often the wrong choice of software dooms a digital experience project before it’s even begun.

For over 16 years, Byrne has led Real Story Group (RSG), an independent analyst firm which provides enterprises with research, tools and consulting advice on digital workplace and marketing technologies. Prior to founding RSG (formerly known as CMS Watch), Byrne worked in the software industry, where his roles included vice president in charge of engineering and production teams at IDEV, a systems integrator and digital design agency.

That knowledge combined with an earlier stint as a journalist at a political magazine has led Byrne to “trust my instincts, especially around bullshit detection.” One of RSG’s functions is, like an investigative journalist, to expose “things that vendors and their supporters say that turn out — in the light of day — to be ‘alternative facts,’” he said.

Make the Correct Choices

Byrne also leverages his earlier work in international technical assistance where he saw poor international communications and information-sharing capabilities become the major roadblocks to “people-to-people diplomacy.” 

Working on projects to expand internet access in post-Soviet regions gave him an education in “the spontaneous, unpredictable, but glorious side-effects of allowing people to connect and self-organize across borders.” In Byrne’s work today at RSG, he additionally calls upon what his degrees in international relations taught him about conflict management, which he quipped “certainly helps” in advising large enterprises “make highly consequential technology decisions.”

Byrne and fellow RSG analyst Jarrod Gingras have now encapsulated some of their experiences with enterprise clients in a new book titled "The Right Way to Select Technology."

“We saw the same problems recurring across two decades of helping enterprises make good technology decisions and thought it was high time to provide a definitive primer on doing it right,” Byrne said.

Byrne will be speaking at CMSWire’s Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit taking place November 13 to 15 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He will give a workshop titled “The Right Way to Select Digital Experience Technology” on November 13. We chatted with him about the recent shifts in the DX world, the obstacles companies encounter when choosing DX technologies and why they should still use an RFI (request for information) and/or an RFP (request for proposal) in the software decision-making process.

Remember to ‘Floss Your Content’

CMSWire: We interviewed you in May 2016 in advance of last year’s DX Summit. What, in your opinion, have been the most significant changes in the digital experience world since then?

Byrne: Two things come to mind:

One, there is a much greater enterprise understanding of the 'capacity gaps' they face internally. This is leading to a growing intensity of competition for digital talent across the board, along with a greater focus on product management and team collaboration internally.

Two, there is a strategic rethinking of technology investments as enterprises have a better handle on what constitutes their CX 'stacks,' and what’s core versus what’s experimental.

CMSWire: What are the key stumbling blocks organizations face in selecting the right digital experience technologies? How can third parties help or hinder that decision-making process?

Byrne: There are many stumbling blocks, but if I was going to generalize, I would say most of them fall under the category of 'waterfall' decision-making. Over-analysis with spreadsheets followed by making big decisions all at once, usually by gut, rather than following a more adaptive and empirical process.

There’s a role for third parties to help enterprises make good selection decisions, by applying a rigorous methodology, by injecting expertise about vendors and marketplaces, and by facilitating group decision-making. Vendors are expert at selling you stuff, but you typically are not an expert on buying technology. You don’t have to do this alone people!

CMSWire: How should companies go about building an optimal software selection team? How does your advice on technology selection apply to organizations looking to experiment with new technologies?

Byrne: The optimal technology selection team is cross-disciplinary, with a strong business lead. Everything else (size, specific make-up, etc.) is all situational.

In terms of selecting newer or more experimental types of software, our advice is that you should apply the same methodology, but meter your level of effort to match the level of importance of the technology.

If the tech is an experiment, don’t spend as much time; if it’s core, then put a lot of effort into doing it right. In the book we recommend several handy short-cuts for doing a rapid test and selection of emerging technologies.

CMSWire: In today’s fast-paced world, do companies still need to craft RFIs and RFPs? Should vendors provide a different kind of DX to prospective customers?

Byrne: Yes, RFIs, RFPs or RFDs (Request for Demos) still have a highly valid role. You just have to do them right, and there’s an art and science to that. One key is make sure that you emphasize user stories over feature checklists.

I’m not sure vendors need to supply different types of information. Actually, I almost always find that vendors do a good job of responding to the type of agile, test-based selection that we recommend in the book. Vendors typically prefer showing what they can do for concrete use-cases to more abstract or disorganized selection processes.

CMSWire: Once your clients have made their DX technology purchases, what are the most common post-sales challenges they share with you?

Byrne: Enterprise customers frequently underestimate three things:

  1. The amount of time and effort it takes to sign final contract agreements. This slows momentum — we offer some ideas about this in our book.
  2. The level of effort required to migrate existing information. It’s always a trip to the dentist … so floss your content!
  3. The thought and prep that needs to go into identifying and implementing an initial pilot. Good product management is always your friend here.

CMSWire: What’s your favorite story — whether real-life or fictional — and why does it resonate so much with you?

Byrne: Hmmm, it’s hard to say. But if you want to read a memoir that will stick with you for a long time, check out "The Forgotten Soldier" by Guy Sajer, an Alsatian impressed into the Wehrmacht during the Second World War.

Sajer sees several years of combat on the Eastern Front, all narrated with brutal honesty. It’s a terrible symphony of emotions and experiences, yet somehow his humanity endures. Combat memoirs bring perspective to our notions of what constitutes a 'bad day.'

Editor's note: Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit here