Apr 10, 2019 | 3 min read

Podcast #54: Start Small to Ensure Digital Success – A Conversation with “JT” Jean Turgeon

“JT” Jean Turgeon is  VP and CTO for Digital Transformation at Avaya, with a career in technology and communications that spans decades. Our conversation explored different dimensions of digital transformation, including the evolution of IoT and the impact across multiple industries. JT shared where Avaya is focusing its digital transformation efforts, in particular in the Health Care, Public Safety and the Hospitality industries. One of the key points he makes is that companies should start small and build on incremental successes rather then trying to “boil the ocean”. He also shares his insights on the compelling opportunities around AI, blockchain, VR and other emerging technologies.   



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Good day everyone, this is Ed Maguire, Insights Partner at Momenta Partners, and today our guest is JT, his name is actually Jean Turgeon, but everybody calls him JT. He is the VP and CTO for Digital Transformation at Avaya, and today we’re going to explore some of his experiences and thoughts, and dive into the perspective around digital transformation. So, JT it’s great to have you on, thanks for joining us today. 

It’s a pleasure to be here and thank you for having me. There’s so much to talk about, so I look forward to it. 

Great, let’s start first with a little bit of your background. Could you share some of your experience and what has led you to your current role and focus on digital transformation? 

Well, I started my career all the way back in 1982-83 timeframe, so it’s been quite a journey from the lovely IBM mainframes, or the fully centralized platforms, I navigated through the evolution of a series of technology waves, we like to say that every 10-years there’s a major disruption happening in the market. So, I’ve been through a few of those, and then I was always driven by technology, I was one of the first, if not the first one to raise his hand to endorse something new, learn something new. I was always focused on that aspect to drive to the next level, and through that as I’ve evolved my career I played various roles I believe across pretty much any organizations, so from marketing to sales, to technical marketing, to support, to professional services, to product line management, to leading an entire business unit with substantial budgets, to develop new innovative technology. 

But then I’d say over the last six or seven years, it became apparent in the market that the consolidation of various technology was going to be the way to go, it was no longer about a single-vendor solution, it was about bringing the right technology together to deliver on the new experiences. Obviously, the buzzwords were not all there, but that’s when I started to focus on bringing our own technology as I transitioned from Nortel to Avaya; how do we generate/create something unique; how do we create something differentiated? Then as I saw the industry transform, and the type of engagements that we were having with customers was transitioning from very technology-oriented, to very line of business, and business priorities oriented. So, that’s where I’ve been focusing in the last, I would say six or seven years, very extensively in the last five, and this is why it’s so exciting to be engaged and looking at the various industries, what’s happening out there, and how new services and application are being consumed. So, it’s exciting times. 

Could you talk a bit about your role in enabling IoT? Before we dive into digital transformation, we’d love to look at what we call this term, Internet of Things, or we like to call a Connected Industry, and how you’ve looked at that from your perspective? 

Well, the way I simplify it is, the IoT platform in analytics are going to come and fuel digital transformation and personalization. We’re all wearing some type of IoT, we’re consuming them, we’re installing them; look at smart homes, smart buildings. But the key is, as we start deploying various sensors technology, or various smart devices in all kinds of technology, including connecting cars and the list goes on and on, we have to look at all the analytics output, and we have to make sense of all of this in real time to truly be transformative. Think about crisis situations, and a lot of times we tend to focus on unfortunate and negative types of circumstances, bombings, shootings; but think about your heart-rate slowly becoming abnormal, the key is to take all this input in real time, and in real time notify all the right people to be able to take action in real-time, and hopefully have a positive outcome.  

There are a series of examples where IoT’s can be consumed, but to me, and I know it’s a term that’s used and abused these days, but it's about positive outcomes or changing the outcomes to something that’s positive, that’s possible, and IoT’s are going to continue to play a very-very strategic role as we look at this. But I also like to combine that because of the analytics, so it's great to have sensors but if you don’t have a powerful analytics platform that makes no sense of all of this data being gathered in real time, hence it ties to artificial intelligence assistance and so on. But as we talk more about digital transformation this is going to be a critical component of delivering something in real time that is really impactful. 

Let’s move a little bit downstream and talk about the term digital transformation. How do you define digital transformation, and what differentiates digital transformation from say earlier waves of technologically-driven change? 

This is really a tough one, and I’m sure you’ve asked that question to many people, and then you’ve probably got as many answers as you’ve talked to people, but I look at digital transformation as a way to transform experiences, and provide choices to a broad population set that will be consuming services in different ways. My role is global, so we’re looking at various adoption rates of technology, if you look at some areas around the world where dictatorship prevails, things are moving sometimes a little faster for obviously some good reasons, but when you look at countries where a technology adoption is not really at the same pace, well I still see digital transformation happening. Now, it may not be as advanced, it may not be as complete, it may not consume all of the technology, but everybody is transforming. Then you can look at some third countries where they’re starting to leverage social media, and they’re leveraging the digital content to start promoting their services, where maybe 10-years ago that was just not possible. 

So, its adapting, providing choices, allowing the technology to be consumed, and the preferred choice of the consumer. I could go on and on, and maybe people will get tired of this, but I always talk about my dad, he’s 86 years old and obviously digital content is not his preferred methodology of consumption. So, he likes to talk to people, he likes to go to physical locations, being the bank, the retail store and whatever, and to me in the end there’s still some digitization of the content that he will be consuming, but his adoption and consumption rate will be different.  

I know it’s a vague answer, its wide-open, but again I’d summarize it; if customer choices let them consume services the way they want and prefer, and, start enabling them to have access to those services, and let them move at their pace. 

I think the way you answered it JT is unique, and that’s what I love about asking the question, because every perspective is different and brings a different nuance to the concept. 

I’d love to learn a little bit more about the work that you’re doing at Avaya, and from the perspective of Avaya just talk a little bit about your role and some of the work that you’re doing, to help define your mission, and then some of the outcomes that you are focused on. 

As I mentioned, every industry is transforming somewhat differently, there’s obviously some convergence and consumption of similar technologies in different ways. About five years ago we decided to put and double down on the understanding of various industries, and what digital transformation meant for them. We started to look at which vertical industries we had a deeper understanding, and one of them was healthcare, and we spent a lot of time understanding and dedicating resources, hiring external industry experts, not just technology experts, but industry experts that understood the patient experiences that were desired. The care team and an effectiveness, or how do we help them become more efficient, what tools are required. That kept on expanding and I can go into more details, but that’s not where we stop, we also looked at public safety in a big way. 

Public safety today we separate into two different areas, one enterprise safety which is applicable to various industries being healthcare, education, sports venues, convention centers, malls, and wherever, where safety of citizens, employees, customers are critical, but also the traditional public service access point to piece that market where an older traditional 911 voice services are no longer adequate, because we live in a mobile world. So, you’re on the road and dialing 911 from your cell-phone, how do we locate you? Well, x, y, z coordinates are easier with GPS and all sorts of technology embedded into our smart devices, but what if you’re on the 32nd floor of a building, how do I know where you are when you dial? So, the x, y, z coordinates then become a challenge as we live in the mobile world. 

So, we dedicated a lot of time to work with and know, our own development capabilities, look at third party vendors and focus on, and then seeing some of those capabilities to deliver something that is futuristic to some extent, but realistic because it's now possible today. So, this is another area of focus that we double down on, and there are so many others, but another one that we help transform is around the hospitality, and if you look at what’s different today than it was 10-years ago when you check into a hotel, not a whole lot of difference. So, we have to start consuming digital content much better, we have to enable new services be… on-facility experience has to be transformed because I know people don’t like it when they arrive at the hotel, to wait in line to check in, despite the fact you’ve been there 17 times in the last year, they still ask you for your ID, they still ask you for your credit card. Most of the time they give you a plastic key and you’re lucky if it works when you get to your room, so all of these things we have the ability to transform. 

We’ve also focused on bringing new experiences for the in-room experience and personalization, to the on-facility new services that are available throughout, and again a safety aspect which is also very critical to those. And I could go on and on about financial services, insurance, retail and so-on, but I’ll pause and pass it back to you. 

I think it’s really fascinating, if we could just take one or two areas, for instance healthcare is ready for a massive transformation, and safety in public spaces; when you’re working with a client how do you go about assessing what opportunities there are that you could digitize or apply technologies to, and prioritize those so that you can ensure you’ll have a successful outcome? 

Well, I think many people would agree and acknowledge what I’m going to say. It’s about various organizations that used to be somewhat siloed and bring them together. And by this I mean the IT used to deliver technology and the line of businesses, and the employers would consume it; now it's about the line of business that want to transform what they offer from an experience point of view to, again, either the citizens if you look at another smart city concept for smart communities, could be your employees if you want to drive effectiveness, or it could be your customers that you’re trying to offer services to. So, the key is to bring the two together, because alignment is what will allow the right level of acceleration and transformation.  

Where we’ve been successful is where we’ve helped IT, and I don’t want this to sound negative in any way, but it's to help increase the relevance of IT towards what the line of business owners wants, in order to get out of digital transformation, or business transformation. I can assure you that its magical when you have the two in the same room discussing their business priorities, and seeing how IT can positively contribute, as opposed to sometimes go and shop for various technology and applications that will further make things worse when it comes to silos of technology, making it extremely difficult to integrate, or definitely more difficult to integrate, and therefore adding complexity and slowing things down as opposed to accelerating. 

So, that’s where we’ve seen a lot of successes by bringing these folks together, open conversation, and from there I’m telling you the business priorities are clearly outlined and called out, and then we just have to prioritize and start executing. 

That’s a theme that’s recurring in our conversations about digital transformation, that need to bridge the cultures of line of business or operational technologies, and industrial technologies. I’d love to get your thoughts on some best practices for setting up  appropriate goals and benchmarks; when you’re kicking off a project initially, how do you ensure that you’re measuring the right things, so that you can tell whether a project is off on the right foot, and you’re able to keep it on track if you need to course-correct in the midst of it? 

I think a lot of people probably use and have heard of the agile model. Digital transformation is about small wins, but a series of small wins that will contribute to the end goal of the transformation that is desired, and there are different measurements. In the past again, we always looked at ROI mainly from a financial point of view, digital transformation as I said earlier, is about the broad set of population consumption, and sometimes there’s no financial ROI, it’s about transforming the experience of your citizens in this community. That means that your community, your city, has to make an investment to help attract new talent, to attract citizens to stay in the city, and so-on.  

So, depending on which industry, which market opportunity you’re looking, at we have to take different angles. If you look at some organizations they may use NPS scores because it's been in the twenties or in the teens and they want to start offering new services, therefore NPS could do good measurement for them as they continue to do surveys with their customers, by opening new digital channels, giving them more choices. So, rather than having to call us, being able to go to the website and engage into a webchat either with a machine or maybe a human being at some point, but being able to get assistance, and not being put on hold, but have the ability to know that someone can call me back at this precise time, or the whole time is going to be five minutes. 

So, there are different measurements which we can leverage from a return on this investment, but my key here is, it’s not always just a financial benefit to the organization, its sometimes about – and I don’t like to use the term, ‘Doing more with less’, because I think its misleading, but its making your people much more effective to better perform their functions, and therefore indirectly they will do more. But effectiveness of employees, effectiveness of your teams, making the experience easier to be consumed for your customers and citizens, I think these are new ways to measure and deliver some matrix that people can look at, and see how impactful the technology adoptions have been. 

Are there some best practices in aligning an organization appropriately to ensure success that you’ve seen? I’d be interested to see if there are differences in the types of industries or organizations that you’ve worked with, whether there’s maybe an approach that can really help to drive disruptive of new ideas effectively into an organization, where there might be resistance? 

I think we cannot distance ourselves from IT, the technology still has to evolve and sometimes has to be changed, and therefore staying close if you have a strong relationship with IT, just make sure that they know what I refer to as, the art of the possible, what could they be implementing, what technologies are available to them? And then give them a census to what other transformation the industry is ongoing, to get them outside of this comfort zone of just being technology oriented. And by the same token and in parallel, discuss with the line of business owners as to what they see as their priorities, and what technology is preventing them, or what do they think of the adoption rate and the consumption rate of various technologies that will help them to transform. 

Once you have a better understanding of that, it's to again bring them to a set of priorities that either you’ve defined and shared with them, but by bringing these two together, to me this is what has made us the most successful and I would call that a best practice. But how we’ve seen the adoption move as quickly as possible, is by again making sure that both of them have awareness of all the technology, and some of the challenges that they may be facing if the right framework is not set aside at first. I like to call it the customized digital framework, if you were to see this I use graphically pieces of puzzles, because those pieces need to be customized, and you need to be able to interchange various technologies that will align to the various industries, as you listen to the line of business priorities, and then also understand what IT challenges they are facing from a deployment and implementation model. 

That’s a huge challenge, there’s so much technology to choose from with so many choices, many people have to face that paradox of choice of course that creates a bigger challenge of more decisions to be made than necessarily I think, people realize out of the game. What are some of the risks as you look at undertaking a digital transformation project, in your experience are there some risks or lessons that jump out at you? 

Yes, I mentioned, and maybe to complement the previous answer, the agile concept is very powerful, now having small low implementations, small low projects that people can very quickly see benefits from, this is again very impactful. The acceleration is key to help transform what the outcomes will be, so as we look at transforming these experiences, the more we can start aligning to smaller initiatives and gaining velocity, and not try to boil the ocean, what we’ve also see is there’s so many buzzwords out there, we started talking about IoT, but we didn’t even touch on artificial intelligence, and all of its subcomponents being machine learning, natural language processing. People have to come to realize that machine learning has to happen at a slow pace and trying to expect too much too quickly could be disappointing and drive to people feeling that they’re failing. 

So, I think its these series of small wins, understanding that the technology has to learn, the technology has to evolve, and things don’t happen overnight. That’s why I like the concept of the small projects, the small wins, small celebrations, and the wheel keeps turning. This is what I always warn people is, you know you’re surrounded by 8 to 10 major technology trends and adoption today, if you’re trying to consume them all, being IoTs and various business intelligence analytics, and then artificial intelligence, natural language processing, speech analytics, and you try to bring all of this at the same time together, it’s likely going to create some challenges, and eventually to me it's just too much to consume, and maybe you have to press the reset button.  

So, try to stay away from that, again, smaller consumption models, smaller projects, smaller wins will achieve in my opinion, better goals and better outcomes. 

That’s a great insight, getting those initial flagship wins, or the small steps are a key theme that we hear recurring in terms of success. You brought up artificial intelligence, and I would love to drill in a bit, and get a sense of your insights and your views on the current ‘mania’ I guess it is, or there’s certainly a lot of attention on AI, and understand where do you think there may be some misperceptions, or overly misplaced expectations about the potential and power of AI, and ultimately what you see as the true opportunities that machine learning technologies, and some of the other variants of AI can deliver? 

The one that I consistently have to answer is, ‘AI is here to steal our jobs’, I think it’s a big misperception in the market. I think AI is still in a learning phase, the AI implementations today are mainly there to assist, not to replace, and there’s huge benefit of having an AI assist a human being, a contact center agent being you as a personal consumer, think of the Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri experiences where you now have your personal AI assistant that can help you find the cheapest flight available in those time frames. So, that concept is highly beneficial and we’re consuming this slowly, but it's not about replacing me, it’s not about replacing travel agencies, it's just about helping me to do research and become much more educated, before I may have to engage with a human being.  

So, I think this is where we don’t want to over-rotate on these misperceptions in the market, where people turnaround and decide to… I wouldn’t say reject the technology but resist the technology. Look at it, understand it, understand its benefit, don’t focus on some of the negative noise that is out there. 

I remember my mum years and years ago when robots entered the manufacturing automotive industry, I remember clearly at the table, ‘My God what will our kids do, will they have jobs?’ and guess what, the world evolves and we continue to evolve with the technology adoption, and there’s always new things that will come about.  

So, I think when it comes to AI, just leverage it, embrace it. I always encourage people to go and purchase an Alexa, or Google Home, play with that technology, get yourself familiar and you’ll see huge benefit, and a lot of people will recommend us to very quickly get into smart homes, and really enjoy the ride. To me this is a great way to get familiar with the technology, adopt it, embrace it and evolve with it. 

That’s a great point. One of the conversations we’ve been having recently has come down to ethics about the predictive capabilities of analytics, and I guess when you’re dealing with peer operational use cases of AI, whether its optimization or just voice response, that’s not really an issue. But I’d love to get your thoughts on how AI can enhance solving certain business problems in ways we haven’t been able to do before, and certainly with communications of course, are there some use cases that you’re particularly optimistic about? 

I’m sure a lot of people would take this and say healthcare is an obvious one. The sophistication of analytics when it comes to leveraging the smart devices to take a picture of an example of your skin, to determine that this is a potential threat for skin cancer. Being able to upload this to your digital health insurance organization, their AI based analytics determines that this looks bad, and then schedule an appointment, all this could be fully automated. So, there’s a lot of positive outcomes that can come from these types of examples. 

I think people need to look at some of the good outcomes, obviously ethics and privacy always comes to play because of tracking, because people are paranoid that there’s voice recording happening, and ‘Do these devices listen to us? In the end I always look at it, and I know I over-simplify it but, if you see benefit of that technology, you’re less likely to resist consuming it. I will use the example of location, if you walk into a hotel, and then as you approach the hotel your Uber, taxi, or lift, whatever that is, they detect that you’re just about to arrive, and you receive a digital key on your smart device which doesn’t ask you or force you to wait in line, you already have your room. You get to your room and your entire room is completely personalized, which means the temperature is set to the way you like it, the lights are set the way you like it. The TV doesn’t just display your name, but your Netflix, Spotify, your Pandora, all of these things are logged in, just as you experience when you come home. 

I think when people look and have those types of experiences then I think we’re more likely to consume it, adopt it, and embrace it. And maybe not to use just hospitality, but think about the number of times you’ve gone for an appointment to a hospital, you get near the hospital and it takes you 25 minutes to find a parking space, what if we were to allow you through a smart app to a location, to send you where you should be parking, based on your location. So, those are just simple examples where smart parking can make your life much easier. The fact that I’m tracking your location on your smart device may irritate and get people bent out of shape sometimes, but in the end I think as I said, when people start to benefit from the consumption model and the ability for personalization, I think the adoption rate is going to be increasing substantially. 

Yes, you make a great point which is if the benefits are explicit, and you have people that are able to opt into the use of their identity and their data directly to benefit, I think that’s much easier to sell. I’d be interested to get your take on some of the other technologies, you did mention there are other technologies that are converging right now, and it's easy to be a bit overwhelmed, but in your blog on the Avaya website, and we’ll link to that in the show notes, but I’d love to get your thoughts on certainly the capabilities and potential of blockchain, and any other technologies such as autonomous cars, or AR and VR, that you see great potential up ahead? 

Blockchain is one that comes up frequently. We at Avaya chose to consume the technology and was mainly towards helping us provide secure biomatrix access, in the context of as I mentioned a few times already, it’s about personalization of services. if I’m just providing a digital experience that is not personalized, which means you detect I’m on a smart mobile device, and you just re-direct me to a website that is not personalized, I’m not going to get too excited about that. But, if you implemented the ability to do a biomatrix authentication, where you have a high degree of certainty of me being the caller, which means that you’re now eliminating the fact that my kids or my spouse may have access to my smart devices, they may even have their fingerprints locally stored to give them access, or username password access, so by doing voice biomatrix and facial biomatrix, storing the hash that allows you to open the record of this biomatrix, achieves multiple things. My degree of certainty that JT is JT, and therefore I can now start opening data records that were confidential, and I am confident that I can do that without violating privacy. 

So, those are great examples where if I had that capability, then again blockchain becomes a great use. By the same token the fact that this technology can track all transactions, if someone was to change, or any records being changed along the way, we have a complete tracking mechanism, hence why the finance industry and retail industry are embracing that. So, that’s just one example, there are many other technologies that we’ve been looking at, such as quantum computing and others. There’s so much out there. 

It’s a bit overwhelming, right. 

It is. It becomes overwhelming, and I’m not sure which other one you wanted me to talk about. 

I was interested in high-level impressions. I’d be interested to get your perspective on any differences regionally, Avaya is a global organization and certainly the adoption of IoT, or industrial IoT does have different engagement between North America, Europe and Asia, different involvement of government. I would love to get your perspective of where you see some of the most forward-thinking leadership in non-technical industries, and where there may be some distinct differences or advantages across the regions. 

Industrial IoT obviously ties to a lot of these sensor technologies, think of agriculture, that industry in many areas, and many areas around the world, the fastest consuming of IoT technology out there, and all this to improve the probability of a good crop by controlling the soil temperature, the humidity and many other things, many other experts would do a better job at describing than me. You mentioned the automotive industry as well, you look at what’s happening in Europe with ECOL, where all connected cars when airbags deployed have to immediately call for emergency, the exact location of the car has to be provided based on GPS coordinates, so those are all things that are going to be benefitting the consumers of those technologies out there. It’s happening at different paces, I know the regulations, endorsements laws, and things are changing, we’ve been driving some in regard to public safety which ties to this ECOL concept in the European market. You may know about the Careys Law that changed in the US; it became a law by Mr. Trump last year. 

So, those are things that we’ve been heavily involved in, and are continuing to push the envelope and help the consumption model of all of this technology, and this goes back to how we opened, IoT has so many different personalities, and so many different use cases, we’re on three completely different industries, and are consuming that technology in different ways with very positive outcomes in the end. 

As we look forward over the next several years, I’d love to get your sense of areas where you have a lot of optimism, where you’re excited about transformative potential, and any concerns that you might have, things that are keeping you up at night? 

Well, I think healthcare is one industry that’s transforming extremely rapidly. I think it's easy to see how the retail industry is transformed, we’ve seen so many giants completely transform that industry in such a rapid pace. Those are two examples that I believe will have a profound impact from the consumer point of view. I believe hospitality is one that has to change, I would even bundle this with education, you look at some of these industries where what’s different now than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago, and I know we didn’t talk about education but kids still have to go to class, they still have to physically go to a building to be able to get the education they need. Very few schools, universities, and colleges have very advanced remote education or remote learning capabilities; it’s not because the technology is not there, the adoption rate has just not been embraced. 

I know with all the things that are ongoing, if we can start enabling the ability for a student to attend class, and be an active participant, you mentioned virtual reality which I’d forgot to mention earlier, but if you want the undivided attention of someone today, and I don’t base on all the statistics the attention span because of all the digital consumption disruptions we have around us, virtual reality brings and immerses you in that one experience at that time. You can’t look at your phone and your SMS whilst your immersed in this virtual reality, or mixed reality experience. 

So, those are usually beneficial, but if I can now communication-enable that virtual experience, this is where pieces of technology are all coming together. So, those are again to me, great examples of profound impact that we will see transforming industries, transforming the educational market, transforming healthcare, and the list goes on and on. And as I said when we first spoke, we could go on and on for hours and hours about the various industries and use cases that we foresee out there. 

It is exciting. I would like to wind up by asking if you have any resources you might be able to share with our listeners, anything resources you might be able to recommend? 

Well, there’s all sorts of books. When people ask me, look at the major technology trends, just get yourself familiar with those, find the ones that are of interest to you. You already brought so many critical ones that will be adopted and consumed either at present, or in the future, but I know we have this great thing known as the internet, there’s so much knowledge out there, there’s so much data that is available and easily accessible. Some of your AI is a big machine, but it has so many sub-components that if you’re looking at digital transformation and business transformation, this is definitely a component you don’t want to ignore. You talked about security, don’t under attend the security and compliance requirements, IoT’s are huge, blockchain exploding, and this is a very complex topic, and now we’re seeing technologies or trends called digital twins, again speech analytics, all of those. 

There’s not one book that covers it all, there’s not one website or one organization that does all of these things in great detail, so I think it's up to each individual to get into the discipline of doing some research and some learning at their own pace, but all I can say is, it’s exciting times. This industry is moving at the fastest pace I have ever seen, you’re not going to get bored if you get into those types of learning experiences, so I encourage everyone to do so. 

No doubt, it really is an amazing time, and there’s almost an overwhelming amount of information and insights that are out there.  

Well, JT I’ve really appreciated talking to you, and value your insights, it's great to hear your perspective on digital transformation, technology and change. Once again, this is Ed Maguire, Insights Partner at Momenta Partners, and our guest has been JT who is the VP and CTO for Digital Transformation at Avaya. Thanks once again JT for joining us. 

My pleasure Ed, and I look forward to hearing some comments and feedback, as you’ve said, there’s so much more we could talk about. So, thank you for giving me the opportunity, and I look forward to hopefully doing this again. 


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