DXS21 Leaders: Gary Schoch and Andrew Manby of HCL digital experience
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Gary Schoch and Andrew Manby: Start With the Problem You're Solving, Then Talk Tech

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HCL Digital Experience's Gary Schoch and Andrew Manby discuss how everything old is new again, digital transformation and more in this DX Leaders interview.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and headless technologies are changing everything in the global market, but as Gary Schoch and Andrew Manby note, the technology itself isn’t new, it’s just more accessible. “We’ve come a long way since the beginning of my career, back when I was playing with Nixie tubes, but the seeds of a lot of what we do were already sown in the last 10 years,” said Manby.

Another thing that isn’t new is the design problem. "What I’ve found is that people come up with new names to be able to sell things, rather than solving a problem, but if we don’t pay attention and learn what people are trying to do, the technology is irrelevant," said Schoch. "It becomes valuable when it becomes an invisible, integrated part of helping you do something better."

At HCL Digital Experience, Andrew Manby is head of product management and Gary Schoch is VP and global GTM leader, digital experience and commerce. Both are passionate about effective marketing strategies for global brands.

HCL Digital Experience is a sponsor of Simpler Media Group’s DX Summit spring event, taking place online on May 27. Schoch will present a session on “Practical Steps to Solving Complex Digital Transformation Challenges.”

We spoke with Schoch and Manby to hear their thoughts on how the industry has (and hasn’t) changed, and gleaned some tidbits of wisdom on how global brands can succeed with transformative digital marketing strategies.

Think Business Project, Not Science Project

CMSWire: Describe the path that led you to where you are now. When you studied Computer Science in college, did you have a pretty clear vision of what direction you wanted to go? If so, how has life diverged from that vision?

Gary Schoch: I had an affinity for computers from the very beginning because my father worked at IBM and NASA, and I got to hear about his work. My love for computer science really evolved into machines, networking, infrastructure middleware, and then ultimately into the business analytics side, what business problem this stuff is going to solve. On the software side when people say something can’t be done, the answer is, of course it can be done. But my curiosity about solving business problems keeps me grounded in reality.

Andrew Manby: At 16 I was busy writing games with funny titles on a TRS80 and I had these notebooks in which I would physically hand write the code, and when I got to a keyboard I’d type it all in. My career started in electrical and electronic engineering and computer science with people who invented radar. Then I moved into a field service for a solid state laser company, then I sold computer services. After that, I sold Martech software to marketers, and realized I wanted to be closer to creating and marketing software.

CMSWire: Ten years ago, did you foresee that so much in the operations world would be digital? How have things changed in the industry in ways that do or don’t surprise you?

Manby: What I’ve learned in this industry is that three things have to be in alignment: technology, product value proposition and market timing. I’ve seen a lot of new software that didn’t make it as the market wasn’t ready for the technology and they weren’t willing to invest to solve that problem yet. Sometimes, technology needs to go through a couple of evolutions to mature to the point of being full vetted. 

Schoch: In my programming days we were building three tier extraction layers, and even then we were able to build asynchronicity and transactions across multiple layers. But then all of a sudden someone decided we needed asynchronicity like it was a new thing. What I’ve found is that people come up with new names to be able to sell things, rather than solving a problem, but if we don’t pay attention and learn what people are trying to do, the technology is irrelevant.

CMSWire: When it comes to tuning a global brand to local market opportunities, do you have some general advice or wisdom you’d like to share?

Schoch: Global brands have been a passion of my career since 2004 when I had the opportunity to spend a few years embedded in China. From a branding perspective, that opened up my thinking around how global brands operate and I started to identify with the phrase, “Think global but act local.” If you don’t have a local presence that will embrace what you’re doing, your brand isn’t enough. If you don’t get into the culture, you’re going to miss, and that can be as simple as using the right color or changing your messaging to align with a micro segment.

Manby: The most effective go to market activities I’ve seen happen when the local leaders adapt their corporation’s strategy for their local market. You can’t homogenize entire regions like Europe and Asia and expect things to work the same, especially how the local sales channels work. Those in the local country are the ones who understand what the business is about and what’s going to work and not work.

CMSWire: What recent or upcoming advances in AI/machine learning are you the most excited for?

Manby: This goes back to my comment about the three things that have to be in alignment. When technology gets invented, you have to research the practical application of it and find the business problem that people care about solving. There are a lot of exciting advances and I’m all for machine learning as that can open a whole new range of advanced analysis possibilities, but in the end, the technology itself should be invisible (or easier adopted) to be useful.

Learning Opportunities

Schoch: Everyone is trying to boil the ocean with hiring data scientists, and they point out fun factoids, but so what? I’ve watched major projects fail because they treated it as a science project rather than a business project. You need the scientists, but you’ve got to direct them. The goal is to land on the moon, not just to build a rocket.

The Path Forward for Digital Transformation

CMSWire: Has the pandemic done anything to change your perspective on digital transformation initiatives? What are some unexpected takeaways from the lessons of this last year?

Schoch: The pandemic has changed everything in terms of the necessity for digital transformation and the ease to get to it. In key moments like this people start trusting technology because they have to. Look at how much telehealth has been adopted out of necessity and think about what that means: we trust that the connection is private, we share our most critical health information, and we’re willing to forego some personal data as long as we get back something valuable. For businesses, the pandemic highlighted previously unidentified needs that they suddenly have to provide for, and what they are finding is that as we do this more digitally we can automate a lot. We don’t need as many employees (I hate to say it), and that’s here to stay.

Manby: I think what we’re going to see as we come out of this is the momentum of the leaders who have truly innovated to keep their businesses moving. During COVID, I’ve seen a lot of ingenuity in the way that organizations have augmented their online capabilities with new services to meet the needs of their customers. Digital has helped fill some of the gap, but the successful business leaders have done this in a very thoughtful way that has increased engagement and brand loyalty.

CMSWire: What role do you think headless technologies will have in digital transformation projects?

Schoch: Headless technology is an example of nothing new, just a new name; it’s the same underlying technology stack. What’s missing in the industry right now is design. We need practicality of design that is rooted in employee engagement, and that gets back to studying the consumer.

Manby: To me, headless technologies there’s an interesting innovation that accelerates the deployment of a DXP solution. In the next three years, low-code platforms and DXPs will make it easier to build richer omni-channel experiences from web to wearable to mobile across more digital touchpoints, and it will be seamless. Headless is going to be that place where your content is curated, enriched and governed.

CMSWire: What do you most look forward to doing when pandemic restrictions are lifted?

Manby: Hugs. Can I say that? We used to have a lot of in person user group meetings throughout the world. I miss having a chat about nothing in particular. I miss that level of interaction that isn’t constrained by time slots, where we build social equity and that special relationship with our team, partners and customers. The important topics take time to discuss with dinner or coffee.   

Schoch: The best ideas we’ve ever come up with have been in those situations, and that’s the number one thing I think we all miss the most, along with a proper cocktail, not made by me. What I worry about is if the restrictions continue for another year around the world will creativity suffer? We’ll sustain and get through it, but will we have new and interesting ideas?

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