TecHR Interview with Ed Rogers, CEO and Founder at Akumina
Tell us about your journey into Experience Technology.
I’ve spent my career in software engineering and IT architecture. A significant portion of that time was at Ektron, another company I co-founded in 1998 that ended up as one of the most successful and recognizable companies in the web content management space globally. These experiences helped me form a deep understanding of how business needs to intersect with technology to create innovative solutions, and how customer experience and employee experience come together to form a business’s overall digital experience. As businesses think about their overall digital transformation goals today, I’m passionate about helping them navigate how their technology deployments impact real-world workflows and outcomes from the end-user perspective.
What galvanized you to start Akumina?
I co-founded Akumina to help business leaders successfully navigate their digital transformations and obtain value from the tens of billions of dollars spent annually on the cloud. More specifically, having worked in content management, I saw how challenging it was for companies to deploy truly effectively cloud-based solutions internally.
From a leadership perspective, executives and stakeholders recognized the importance of moving to a digital workplace, but had a hard time finding where to start. It was often restrictively resource- and time-intensive to build custom solutions that both integrated with a company’s unique enterprise app ecosystem and could to scale with the business. In the end, most would conclude that an intranet-in-a-box product was the most cost and time effective entry point.
Unfortunately, when it came time for the boots-on-the-ground technical team to deploy these solutions, they would encounter significant limitations in brand-ability, customizations, third-party integrations, and ongoing enhancements and upgrades as the company grew. As a result, the end users – the organization’s employees – would find their intranet content becoming stale, outdated, and limited. It’s a situation that wasn’t working for anyone, but one that I believed we could leverage our business and technical experience to help address.
What is Akumina and how does it fit into the current Employee Experience landscape?
Displacing stale intranets, Akumina provides an Employee Experience Platform that can meet businesses’ needs now, with fast time-to-value, but also lays a foundation that companies can build on, expand and evolve as their digital workplace transforms. We sit squarely
between the worlds of product and platform. Our platform has an abundance of out-of-the-box product capabilities that can be configured quickly to deliver an immediate impact to each business, but we also deliver the underlying API framework and SDKs that allow for a more expansive evolution over time by integrating other software platforms – both on-premises and in the cloud.
The platform is really six parts: a modern intranet, a communications platform, a collaboration engine, an integration layer, enterprise native mobility, and a decupled content management system.
Our modern intranet is built on the core engineering principle of abstracting and decoupling, which allows businesses to deliver the right personalized experience to each user, as opposed a single one-size-fits-all experience. The communications platform leverages a multilingual approach that complements the core platform functionality for globally dispersed teams operating in different languages. Akumina also connects all components of a project (tasks, milestones, conversations, documents, and more) into a single user experience through our collaboration engine, so users can work together in one place and in real time without having to jump between multiple applications, chat tools, and email to get work done.
From the technical side, our integration layer has ready-made connections to leading systems like Concur, ServiceNow, Workday, PeopleSoft, Salesforce, Kronos, and others, including enterprises’ custom, back-end systems. It allows enterprises to extend and evolve the integration layer to meet their specific needs. Our solutions offer enterprise native mobility, meaning they’re built to offer mobile-first experiences to all employees’ iOS and Android devices, all while being centrally managed through the Akumina platform. The content management system is powerful but simple enough for businesses to grow and expand their sites without requiring developer assistance.
At a high level, the Akumina platform allows businesses to ditch stagnant intranets and offer digital workplaces to their employees that are tailored to individuals’ roles and needs, and accessible across any device. These employee experiences are easy to implement, easy to operate, and easy to manage, making them the ideal solution for building a digital workplace that improves productivity while setting the business up for success in the long term.
What does your Ideal customer profile look like? Which businesses are the fastest to adopt your HR Technology products?
We’ve deployed hundreds of intranets, extranets, and websites for clients of all sizes and industries, but we most often work with large enterprises with sizeable and dispersed employee userbases. The Boston Red Sox, GlaxoSmithKline, Church’s Chicken, MetLife, Big Lots, Valvoline, and Big Brothers Big Sisters are just a few examples of the businesses we’ve worked with, and each has used Akumina in a different way to address their unique business challenges. There are some great customer stories on our website that give a sense of the competitive advantage these companies feel they’ve gained with our platform.
How should a Head of Businesses leverage technology to digitally transform their department and organizations into effective workplaces?
The biggest mistake we often see business leaders make when they look to create a digital workplace is deploying technologies that work for now, but wind up limiting them in the long run. For example, an intranet-in-a-box might seem like the most cost-effective way to give your employees access to a cloud-based workspace, but you’ll ultimately run into issues with stagnant content and version control as employees take documents offline to the desktop or import it onto other enterprise applications. Or perhaps your company grows internationally, and you find your team trying to communicate across borders and work with content translated into different languages. Businesses leaders need to avoid band-aid fixes that get them from analog to digital and think long-term when it comes to structuring their digital workplaces for growth.
How do you see Culture-driven Workplace Automation and Performance Management impacting business growths in the next two years?
As consumers today, we’re constantly being introduced to new automated and high-performance solutions. We expect Netflix to know and deliver what we want to watch, Uber to bring us rides or food quickly and seamlessly, and Google to complete our sentences as we type an email. Culturally, we’re being conditioned to expect everything to be data-driven, flexible, and “always-on.” The customer experience is highly digital and sophisticated.
In the workplace, however, the experience has stagnated. Our intranets are inactive, slow and clunky; enterprise apps either aren’t integrated or have quirks and bugs when they’re asked play nicely together; and, it seems there’s always a manual workaround needed for the tasks we perform each day.
As the gap between customer experience and employee experience widens over the next two years, I expect employees and organizations alike to start taking notice. The overall digital experience a business offers is dependent on both CX and EX, so the productivity gains (not to mention employee satisfaction) that companies can achieve by putting more attention to the EX side will yield serious competitive advantages for the businesses that recognize it.
Tell us more about Collaboration Engine and how it benefits an enterprise to improve their workplace performance?
Collaboration means different things to different organizations. Some use team collaboration software like Microsoft Teams or Slack to share ideas and promote discussions around a broad range of topics, while others use entity-based collaboration, or what Gartner calls “Collaborative Work Management,” to orient their collaboration around specific stakeholders, timelines and milestones, tasks, workflows, assets, and interactions – all structured and started from pre-created and relevant templates.
Akumina’s collaboration engine connects all components of a project together from tasks, milestones, conversations, documents, and more, into a single user experience and under one object model. Encompassing both of these types of collaboration, we enable users to work together in one place and in real time without having to jump between multiple applications, chat tools, and email to get work done.
What is the state of Communications Analytics in 2019? How much has it evolved since the time you first started Akumina?
Communications analytics is another one of those areas where businesses have focused on the customer experience without giving equal consideration to the employee experience. While communications analytics have led to better anticipation of customer needs and how to meet them, that same type of enablement hasn’t been applied effectively to employee communications.
While enterprise efforts to deliver employees communications that are relevant for them have largely failed to date, we’re beginning to see the tides turn. Businesses now understand that employee communication is not a one-way mechanism, it’s just as much about the enterprise communicating with the employees, as it is with the employees’ communication with the enterprise and other employees. Analysis of these multi-direction and real-time employee communications is growing even more critical in a world where socialization and interactivity are more prominent than ever.
How can modern HR teams fully-transform their overall organization and promote diversity/inclusion using technological capabilities?
HR teams are increasingly getting a seat at the table with the C suite, which means they have an incredible opportunity to advocate for the employee experience when it comes to technology purchases. Modern HR professionals should have a deep understanding of the different roles, workflows, and tools being used by the organization’s employees, and then educate themselves on the technologies and options for augmenting the employee experience in the long run.
How can customers connect your technology to HRMS? Tell us about your integrations and technology partnerships with other platforms?
Akumina integrates with HRMS platforms in a similar fashion in which it integrates with any other non-Microsoft or third-party service. For example, the approvals function of the Workday HRMS is a simplified micro-experience, but links out to the full HRMS experience if a more complete or detailed experience is required. And, as necessary, Akumina’s Service Hub provides deep links to get the full HRMS experience.
How do you play a part in the Digital Transformation of such culture-driven organizations?
Ultimately, Akumina is all about helping businesses improve their employee satisfaction and overall company culture by creating digitally enabled employee experiences that help people “love the way they work.” Our platform makes that type of digital transformation accessible to businesses of all sizes, practical to implement quickly, and sustainable as an organization grows over time.
Which Marketing and Sales Technology solutions do you use at Akumina?
At Akumina, we leverage WordPress for our external facing website, Marketo as our marketing automation platform and Salesforce as our CRM. We also use a number of ancillary tolls to aid in our demand generation efforts like Drift, Discover.org, G2, and others. It is crucial for our marketing team to utilize a set of tools that easily integrate together so we can best measure marketing’s impact on the business.
Which start-ups in the tech industry interest you the most and why?
A company called New Auto has piqued my interest lately. Its has a system that associates human expression with what’s happening in the world in front of them, collecting that data and building a model that will help autonomous vehicles drive. Self-driving cars are fascinating in themselves, but I’m particularly interested in how the company is creating a digital model of something that wasn’t digital before. It’s really taking data and automating something that people never thought would be automated.
Over the next 10 years, software and automation will have a bigger impact and take on a fundamentally different role than they have in the past 10 years. Until now, the processes we’ve automated are largely mechanical, but we’re now reaching a point where we can automate higher-level functions – that will be an interesting space to watch.
What technologies within AI and HR Technology are you interested in?
We have worked deeply with the Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services and Machine Learning, which provides language and speech recognition, intelligent search, predictive analytics, and we’ve found it to be very powerful and continuously improving.
In HR Technology, what are the new emerging markets that you see providing the biggest opportunities?
There are several, but I expect to see big opportunities when it comes to getting a complete view of your employee and how they are interacting with their personal information, required business processes, as well as other employees. Just-in-time communication is a powerful tool.
What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?
Without getting too specific, anything I can do on my digital phone instead of at a desk is a great shortcut. A “hack” might be finding ways to use my phone to get into systems aren’t actually optimized for mobile. The more we can do to bring information to our digital phones, the more productive we can be.
Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella
Thank you, Ed! That was fun and hope to see you back on TecHR soon.
Ed co-founded Akumina business leaders change the way they do business and obtain value from the tens of billions of dollars spent annually on the cloud. Before founding Akumina, Ed was the COO of Ektron, which he co-founded in 1998 and led to one of the most successful and recognizable companies in the web content management space globally. Ektron was consistently recognized as a leader by Garter, Forrester and other prominent industry analysts.
Ed serves as a member of the New Hampshire CEO consortium, has four children and can often be found at a rink on the ice with a hockey stick.
Akumina is the employee experience platform founded on a simple yet powerful belief that empowering employees through technology to work smarter, not harder will make them more engaged and more effective at building your business. Akumina makes building and deploying customizable, branded workplace experiences quick and easy.
Akumina’s customers include Whole Foods Market, GlaxoSmithKline, Vodafone, iRobot, The World Trade Center and the United States Department of Defense, just to name a few.