David Maffei

David Maffei: 'Give a Voice' to Every One of Your Employees

8 minute read
China Louise Martens avatar
Find out what Akumina president and CRO David Maffei has to say about delivering digital workplaces that work for all employees.

Looking back at his career in technology, David Maffei sees a cyclical pattern. His first role focused on improving remote workers’ productivity, he then moved on to honing customer experiences, and then back to a deeper focus on employee experience.

“Ironically, where I started was in trying to drive a more productive workflow to allow field workers to be more effective away from their desks,” he said. “What I’m doing now is a bigger, more advanced version of what I did out of the gate.”

Maffei is currently president and chief revenue officer of Akumina, the employee experience platform company, which he joined four years ago after executive roles at companies including Bridgeline, Carbonite and Ektron.

Your Employee Is Your Customer

Maffei notes a lot of parallels between the work he and Akumina CEO Ed Rogers did together on customer experience at Ektron and the work they do now on employee engagement at Akumina.

“We thought if you could transform the way enterprises interact with their employees, you could drive a larger opportunity to have a more productive and efficient workforce and therefore produce more things,” Maffei said. “The number one thing is that the customer isn’t your customer, it’s your employee, so we built software based on that.”

When Maffei graduated with degrees in business management and political science, his initial plan was to become an attorney. However, his father, who is still a practicing attorney in Boston, made him an intriguing offer: If David completed a full year in a job, which could be “anything,” his father would then pay for law school.

Maffei got a job at B2B telecom SBC and was “thrown into the deep end working with companies like Microsoft, Raytheon and AstraZeneca” and helping to make remote workers at those enterprises more effective on their mobile devices. After receiving his first commission check, which was 25 percent of his actual annual salary, “law school literally went up in smoke, and I’ve never looked back.”

Akumina is one of the sponsors of CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 17 to June 19 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago.

‘Enable, Connect and Grow Every Employee’

CMSWire: How have you seen collaboration and communication technologies and the digital workplace evolve over the years?

Maffei: Back in 2005, a website meant a website, but over time it has morphed into an engagement tool, not just pretty pictures and text. The same thing has happened on the digital workplace side of things.

We have accepted 24/7/365 connectivity, which enables employees to interact with all the intelligence you provide them. The challenge is in the tools and data, which are so siloed. For instance, our customer MetLife has 37 different systems that kick off intelligence and data to its average knowledge worker.

Where true digital workplace systems are going right now is to take that vast and disparate world, which is largely overwhelming to employees, and distill it down into consumable elements that knowledge workers can just use.

The days of expecting someone to become an expert in a tool via attending a boot camp are gone. If you can’t make someone productive in a matter of hours, you now have an unengaged and inefficient worker.

How you put a wrapper around today’s sprawl of tools will be the difference between whether the digital workplace works or becomes another tech boom.

CMSWire: What do you think will be the next major digital workplace evolution and why?

Maffei: Over the last six months, we’ve rebranded from ‘modern intranet’ to ‘employee experience platform.’ Intranet has a bad rap as a place to go that doesn’t help staff do work, where the content may be outdated. It’s a tool and nothing more.

A true employee experience platform totally changes the game — it’s a mechanism where I can actually do my job. You can consume it at any time, anywhere and in any language.

Gartner has started talking about the ‘new work nucleus.’ That’s like the future of work, where you’re not in the mode of getting the data to the user — that ship has sailed — the data is there. It’s all about how do you put these users in a position where you’ve created an umbrella under which they can do their job easier, faster and better.

It’s like building a new house. All the lumber, wire and tools are there. But it’s not just anybody who can take these tools to build a house so that a family can move into it, use it and live in it.

CMSWire: Where do you currently see organizations struggle in terms of enabling employees to collaborate effectively with each other?

Learning Opportunities

Maffei: What we’ve seen traditionally is that organizations have taken collaboration, communication and engagement and put it under the banner of a social network and then have thrown it at employees’ feet. So, they just turned on the technology and then asked employees, ‘Why aren’t you doing more?’

It’s so short-sighted of enterprises. What happens is that some people will learn that tool that’s thrown at their feet, but then they’ve created an identity around a single tool. Most employees don’t care about being better at a particular tool, they care about how to do their job better, so how to process more tasks and create more product. Organizations have to accept that you don’t just throw technology at problems any more — it just doesn’t work.

You’ve got to figure out how to enable and give a voice to every one of your users. The amount of deskless workers is huge and only growing across retail, hospitality, financial services, manufacturing, technology, etc. Mobile devices are the only mechanism people are using to interact across vast ecosystems.

What organizations need to understand is how to enable, connect and grow every employee in the same way — that should be the lowest common denominator. When organizations don’t understand that, it’s because they’re lost in a sea of technology.

CMSWire: Which areas of business do organizations tend not to include when building out their digital workplace platforms? What are the disadvantages in not integrating other parts of their businesses with collaboration software?

Maffei: I’d argue the thing they’re leaving out is the entirety of their workforce! I don’t think they’re leaving out pieces of the business or not integrating technology processes. So, an organization will say, ‘We need to integrate our task manager, document collaboration and time-off, and it’s going to be great.’

What organizations are still not accepting of is the fact that, from the CEO to the part-time manufacturing shop floor worker, every employee is the same. A company’s whole business is based on the entire group of staff coming together to deliver a service or manufacture a product. The miss is in not engaging with the entire workforce.

You need to start at the user and then work back to the technology. That’s a much easier conversation. If you start at the technology, you’ll never get back to the user.

CMSWire: On Twitter, you describe yourself as a ‘Red Sox Fanatic,’ how long have you been a fan? What’s it like having the Red Sox as an Akumina customer? How do you expect the digital experiences sports clubs offer their fans and their employees to change over the next five years?

Maffei: I’m an athlete and pro sports fan. There’s a strong sports culture in New England, which starts with the Red Sox. My family and I have been season ticket holders for years. Landing the Red Sox as a customer was something of a dream come true. The backstage access I get to the Red Sox satisfies my need as a sports fan. The only problem I have is that the Yankees are also a customer. I never want either team to think I like one more than the other!

Sports teams present a unique challenge that other organizations don’t. The number of employees is usually how we can define a company’s size, but a sports team may be a $100 billion organization with only hundreds of full-time staff out of season. They tend to have tons of seasonable workers and a huge turnover. But when you give everyone a voice through a digital workplace, we’ve seen staff’s level of engagement go up and turnover go down.

We’re seeing sport teams using more and more technology like AI and VR to try to put fans more inside the game so the game becomes more of an event. It will be the same thing for employees too in terms of sports teams trying to offer a more immersive and enjoyable experience.

If a team can turn work from more than just a job — or a part-time job on the side — into an experience, that’s the way to drive higher profitability, improved engagement, and better NPS scores.

Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience here.