About the Episode
Legacy technology can feel like the boogeyman sometimes. You know it’s lurking somewhere, just waiting for the right moment to jump out and scare you. Yet tackling a monster like legacy tech takes quite a bit of time, effort, and collaboration. Luckily, there are digital transformation executives like Mia Jordan to help guide us through these hefty projects. Her work at Salesforce focuses on leading government agencies through large-scale digital transformation efforts. In this episode, she shares some unexpected ways to modernize legacy systems and encourage people to embrace change.
Meet Our Guest
Mia Jordan is a Digital Transformation Executive at Salesforce with a passion for helping government agencies modernize their legacy technology. The self-described tech evangelist has filled roles from Chief Information Officer to Director of IT Governance at organizations like the Federal Student Aid Office and Natural Resources Conservation Service. She has more than 20 years of experience as an IT executive, with a record of success in transforming IT organizations, innovating business applications, and integrating new technologies that drive business efficiencies and provide strong ROI.
Lindsay McGuire: It's always been this way. Oh, boy, I'd imagine you probably share the same sentiment I hold toward this common response to attempts at innovation, especially when it comes to moving off of legacy systems and technology. Like come on. There's no reason to keep an outdated, inefficient system around. Because here's the thing, if we actually took the time to update those systems, think about the lasting effects, happier customers, more motivated and engaged employees better, more efficient processes, and all the busy work that goes along with maintaining those legacy systems. Gone. Okay, off my soapbox, because it's time to bring in a real expert on how you can start to rally your teams around ditching those outdated legacy systems. Me, and Jordan is a digital transformation executive at Salesforce where she specializes in the government sector. In this conversation, she's sharing so many genius ideas around why and how you should be moving your organization past legacy systems and into a more innovative mindset. I can't wait for you to hear this one. Let's take a listen. Mia, thank you so much for joining us today on Practically Genius.
Mia Jordan: Thank you so much for having me. Lindsay.
Lindsay McGuire: Can you tell me a little bit about your role at Salesforce? What you do, what's your day-to-day like?
Mia Jordan: Sure. So I'm a digital transformation executive and so people often go, "Huh, what does that mean?" It really just means that I bring experience in large scale digital transformation efforts. Mainly, what I do is I talk to customers kind of like the conversation we're having today, which is I talk to customers about the problems that they're having certainly and listening, but also kind of trying to open their eyes to this sense of you have a specific requirement, but really what you're talking about underneath it all is really automation. And so how do you use a tool like ours or the tools like ours in our portfolio that include Tableau for analytics, MuleSoft for integration, and then Slack. A lot of people don't know that we purchase Slack for collaboration.
And so when you really start looking at the portfolio of products that we have and own and offer, I challenge organizations to say, isn't it better to think about how those pieces fit into your ecosystem because they're naturally integrated rather than you having to go and figure it out, how to plug something into something else, right?
Lindsay McGuire: Essentially, you are my perfect guest on Practically Genius being a digital transformation executive. So I cannot tell you how excited I was when I found you on LinkedIn and said, "Oh, look at what she's producing, look at what she's talking about. It's exactly what we're talking about in this show. It's been a perfect fit." So this show is for innovators who are championing digitization within their organizations and I know you are championing for modernizing legacy systems. Can you tell me why?
Mia Jordan: I've been both a customer and I've been on the other side in terms of a manager of IT to understand on both hands the friction that legacy systems cause over time, both for the customer in terms of them being able to have access and transparency around the information that's been collected about them, the results of a decision that may have been handed down to them where they're seeking a benefit. But I've also seen the internal chaos that a legacy system can cause on a government organization that over time as the system grows more and more inflexible as a result of policy change and regulation and innovation can make it very difficult for the government to deliver services efficiently and effectively.
Lindsay McGuire: So let's talk about that internal chaos a little bit because I think a lot of our listeners probably get a little bit of a feel or assumption there about what that could be. Tell us a little bit more about that internal chaos that you see.
Mia Jordan: Yeah, so when you think about a government program that offers some sort of service or benefit, there are federal employees that are hired as a result of that regulation or policy and then they are given guidelines by which they need to deliver these services. And the reality is that oftentimes in a hurry to deliver government services, systems are built to enable the delivery of those services or products, but they're often built at a moment in time, and they are often built not thinking about how changes may come and how those changes may be easily affected in a system through people. And so what the government often does is that when a system becomes inflexible, they then have to shift to hiring people, human beings to be able to fill the gap on what the system can and cannot do. And that can cause a lot of turmoil because process sometimes is the last thing to kind of get laid down, standard operating procedures and the like. And so that's where that chaos and friction naturally comes from.
Lindsay McGuire: I love that you bring up that standard operating process part of it because we've talked a lot about that this season on the show and the importance of having that documentation and actually really knowing your process, not just in your head but having it written down because that's where a lot of people get tripped up.
Mia Jordan: Yes.
Lindsay McGuire: And you brought up another thing that's really interesting. So we ran a digital maturity report this year and one thing that stood out is that the more digitally mature organization is, the more likely they are to buy technology and start new systems and processes to solve future problems. And the less digitally mature, the more they're doing exactly what you said, "Oh, I have an issue. I need to fix it. I need to buy this technology now." How can organizations start shifting away from that Band-Aid or point in time solution thinking and fit more into that futuristic, what else could be happening? What else do I need to be addressing going down the road in a year, two year, five years?
Mia Jordan: Yeah, that's an important point because with the evolution of platform in cloud that I often see that government organizations will make an investment and I'm going to pick on my own product. So I work for Salesforce, right? So they'll buy a solution like Salesforce, which is a platform that has numerous capabilities. While we are known as a CRM, that's our stock ticker symbol, we are much more than that as a platform. But what I believe is that government organizations, both the IT team and the business side of the organization itself may not fully understand what they've purchased. Oftentimes, you hear this analogy of did you buy the Cadillac, or did you buy the Yugo? With platform, you can have everything from the Yugo to the Cadillac and I think that's what often gets missed.
And so what I see is I see over and over where organizations make an investment and then they continually put out RFIs request for information or request for proposals for solutions that are a natural fit for the platform they've already invested in. And so they go out and then they'll buy a point solution for one particular problem when they really should have been thinking about how do I leverage this platform from a business perspective to deliver my business needs not solely from I have a technology issue today and I'm only going to use this solution for one thing, not a really good investment and surely not a good return on investment when that's the syncing.
Lindsay McGuire: That is so right. And that is such top of mind right now with all the discussions around the economy and everything that's happening and with the workforce issues we're facing as well. All businesses I feel for the most part are thinking how can I do more with less? How can I remove some of those investments that maybe aren't providing that bigger ROI and that return? And just being able to look at what you have, be able to assess what you have and what will work easier rather than harder because no one wants to work harder, we all want to work smarter, right?
Mia Jordan: Absolutely.
Lindsay McGuire: You brought up the issues of what your customers are talking about and being able to listen in and figuring out what they're struggling with. And so I want to ask, what are some of the common triggers or problems you see across your clients that make them realize it's time to either digitize or modernize or get rid of manual systems? I'm going to bring up the paper problem too.
Mia Jordan: Yeah, that question comes up quite often when customers are kind of struggling to coalesce around something that's already well established, right in the government organization, which is we are to deliver ex-mission. Some of it is roles and responsibilities. And I've read an interesting article the other day about the alignment of business and the real takeaway from that particular article was that it said when it comes to strategic goals and objectives, they should be basically undistinguishable between IT and the business. And I thought, wow, if organizations thought that way where the CIO of an organization was just as much responsible for business outcomes as the businesspeople are responsible for technology outcomes. Wow, wouldn't that really change the mindset in organizations because often when it comes to delivery, it's always a finger pointing game and the CIO often takes the brunt of the blame.
And so moving down that path, we are talking about organizational change, but more than anything cultural change. And if that doesn't have a ground swell at the business level saying we desire to change and this is why, because we care that our customers are constantly frustrated with their experience with us or we can't hire fast enough in order to deliver the mission based on the expectations of the administration, et cetera, that's where technology can really come in and become a real game changer. And so everyone has to embrace that bubbling up of change that says, "Hey, we're going to do something different and let's get excited about it rather than dreading it, right?"
Lindsay McGuire: Yes. And I will say it is kind of an innate human nature to be a little bit fearful of change. I've written in the past even about, it's really fascinating just like the psychological things that happen in relation to fear and fight or flight and things like that. But you did bring up something that we found in our own research, which it's literally the number one bullet of what differentiates those digitally mature organizations versus those ones who aren't quite as digitally mature is that they have built those cultures that embrace change and are open about learning and figuring out how to improve and not being afraid of that. And so in your work, in your experience, what have you seen those organizations either do or implement or even say, how do they create those cultures and how do you maintain that culture?
Mia Jordan: So on this side of defense, when we think about digital transformation, one of the first things that we say you have to have are vision champions. So you say you want to change, and so you say, "Hey, these are my goals and objectives." Well, then people throughout the organization at all levels have to be those vision champions. Part and parcel to that certainly is a communication strategy that effectively delivers the message on progress risks and even setbacks and that the organization not take a posture of when there are setbacks looking for someone to blame. We're all in this together and that's why I talk about those goals or those objectives being indistinguishable because the delivery of an IT solution requires the input of the business or the subject-matter experts for that business unit and one can't be successful without the other.
And so that is the team building that has to happen. I love in safe, agile, some of the projects that I've done in the past where we've used safe as the methodology and it was simply as a crawl, walk, run strategy to help our business organization understand not only agile development but agile decision-making, which is not a very common thing in the government. Bureaucracy turn slow. And so if you really want to keep people motivated and energized, an agile approach is necessary. But agile decision-making is the sweet sauce if it's anything.
Lindsay McGuire: So let's talk about that because I think we could all use a little more sweet sauce in our lives. So what do you define as agile decision-making?
Mia Jordan: Sure. I've been in a situation where policy was being developed literally as we were developing the system. The technology you choose has to be flexible enough that if we get down the road and we've delivered a release and the policy changes or a decision is made, then no, we actually don't want a customer to do it that way. That the system is flexible enough that you can go in and implement a change because a different decision has been made. But agile decision-making also is about do you have the right people in the room in a technology project that can say yes or no? What I found is when there are multiple layers of approval in order to keep a project moving and those individuals aren't up close and personal and intimate in that project, it really slows things down.
And so in our adoption of safe, we got everyone from the top of the organization down to the lowest common denominator in the organization in that training. So it was well established on these are the people that you leadership have designated as the decision makers and if something different has to happen, then they have a direct line to you. They don't have to go through six other people just to get a decision.
Lindsay McGuire: If you just have the right people in the room from the beginning, I mean it's a game changer. It's such a game changer. And talking back into that point of bringing in new systems or processes or tech and having people be a little bit more open to those changes when working on a large-scale project like that, whether moving to a new tech or changing a long-standing process, what advice do you have for ensuring that that switch goes smoothly. Probably a little bit of change management in this question as well for you.
Mia Jordan: Change management, but also the iron curtain has to be removed. If you're going to move to more of an agile mindset in an organization, your communication strategy has to be there. But also, this notion of failing fast when you can provide a demo, regular demos of functionality to the organization to say, this is what we've built now and next and this is what's coming. We used to do something called now, next and later, and it was basically a vision board or view for the organization to know what we're working on currently, what's coming up and then what's coming behind that and showing it. It's those kinds of things that honestly turn those naysayers into believers in your organization and you can quiet down that water cooler chatter about, "Well, the project's not going all that well because there's no perfect project. I think we can agree on that."
Lindsay McGuire: Louder for those in the back, please.
Mia Jordan: Yes, exactly.
Lindsay McGuire: Oh yes. Nothing is ever going to be perfect, but if you establish the right foundational pieces, you can make incremental improvements each time. And I really, really like that now, next, later idea because it's a very easy way to contextualize what keeps people motivated, what keeps people excited, what gets people bought in and cheering for you at the end of the day.
Mia Jordan: That's right. They want to win instead of seeing you fail.
Lindsay McGuire: Ah, want you to win. Yes. Can we all just have that idea when we start something new and it's okay to have questions and have concerns and raise things like that, but just trying to come into a new thing without just automatically being like, "This isn't going to work, or I hate this idea."
Mia Jordan: Exactly.
Lindsay McGuire: And so I know you work a lot in the government space and if people haven't picked up, that is your subject matter expertise area, but when thinking about the customers that you help and the projects you've been on over the years, what are some common blockers you see getting people stuck in legacy systems or legacy tech and what are some of those situations you've seen over the last few years?
Mia Jordan: The blockers that I often see as kind of one of the ones that I reference before, which is change coming from the technology office or is change coming from the organization. I've seen a couple of situations where you have systems that are end of life and no one's really planned for how we're going to sunset and replace those systems. You have other situations where because technology has changed and cybersecurity has become front and center, that systems quite frankly don't have the security measures in place to continue to be used. And that requires some kind of modernization as well. And then as we know, there's legislation like broadband, the Inflation Reduction Act and all the things around energy that are going to require new innovation, new systems. And so if the organization itself isn't saying it wants to change, then we shouldn't be talking about technology.
Lindsay McGuire: That's an excellent point.
Mia Jordan: As an organization sees that it needs to change how technology is being developed today often requires a vision session that says, "Yes, you want to solve this pain point that you have right now, but these are some of the other areas that you could also be solving for and that would create these efficiencies." That's where I think the light bulb comes on for organizations, but also this whole notion of the employees benefiting from the transformation. That's why I think we're starting to see a lot of conversation around not just customer experience but employee experience because the two are inextricably tied together.
You want to give your external customers a great experience, but if it is daunting for the employees to deliver that experience, then you run the risk of the experience being poor or having poor results. There's a real opportunity right now I think for organizations to tackle that customer side as well as tackle, like creating efficiencies and economies of scale internal to their organization where this demand for talent can become a little less risky because you've invested in some automation that says, "Well, if we don't have the 35 people, then at least we can implement some automation where we only need now 10.
Those are the kinds of solutions that I think government leaders, both IT and from a business side need to really be thinking about if I can't solve this challenge with people, how do I use technology to bridge the gap?
Lindsay McGuire: Yes. And even talking more into that employee experience part of it, we have seen that the more digitally mature organization, the healthier, the happier and the less stressed their employees. So it's just full circle, full circle. But going back to what you said about those organizations where if you are not open to change, then you shouldn't even be thinking about technology yet, which I totally agree with. But what do you think is the force big enough to have them progress past that? It's always been this way thinking, what have you seen through your experience or your research, what are some of the pit holes or the cruxes that finally make that person who said, "Let's find the way it is now we're okay, we don't need to change." What makes them change?
Mia Jordan: My experience has been, change has typically been forced through executive orders. It's those kinds of things that I think push people over the edge, quite frankly to change because they don't have a choice. But I also think that it's also looking for as you're hiring and have the opportunity to hire, I think looking for talent that certainly has the skillset that you need, but that you're looking for people who kind of have an appetite for change too. It's a mindset shift around the qualities of the individuals that you're hiring and you're bringing into your organization, but also looking at different kinds of activities that you can do in your organizations.
All hands are typical, but can you bring speakers in to motivate around career changes and career opportunities that get people thinking about, I'm not stuck in this job. The saying goes, change comes from the top. I disagree. I think it's got to come from both ends simultaneously. But I do think it's a little bit of mix of bringing things into the organization. We have at Salesforce where we have a noontime series where there's meditation or there's motivational speakers to keep the employees engaged and inspires interest outside of their day-to-day.
Lindsay McGuire: Really it comes down to just infusing that culture through every part of your organization and making it be more of a comfortable conversation than a scary alarming or forced conversation coming back into the conversation about making incremental changes and maybe starting small rather than large. You've recently said on LinkedIn that there is more than one way to modernize and that replacing one system for another is not the only option. So can you talk a little bit about this? I think a lot of the times we get caught up in these big dreams, big scale ideas and this huge process and system and how are we going to replace it or modernize it, but there might be other thinking there. So can you explain that a little bit?
Mia Jordan: The notion of modernization seemingly always results in we have system X that's old, it's a dinosaur and we're going to replace it with system Y and that's a viable alternative. But there are other options where if you can consider that the function and naturally this is not the solution for everything, but if the function of system X was merely serving up data or it was just a user interface that was sitting in front of five or six different data marks, there are ways to decompose that application into what we call composable apps, which is really a great example of that is like the Uber app. So when you're getting the location of your driver, right? It's pulling from some map's application. When you're getting a menu from a restaurant, it's pulling an API from some other application. All of that to say is that the experience that Uber provides is a combination of inputs of data from numerous places.
The same can be true when you're thinking about modernization, that if all we require really is a UI, but we have data coming from various sources, that's a very different way of modernizing than building one thing for another. And that's kind of what I was getting at. And then certainly RPA is probably one of the cheapest ways to modernize. And while you may not be turning a system off, you can eliminate the need for a human being to perform repetitive steps. And again, when we're talking about shrinking budgets, when we're talking about retention issues, RPA is probably one of the cheapest and fastest ways to gain efficiencies in an organization. And it's often the last option on the table. Composable apps is certainly another that just doesn't get enough conversation.
Lindsay McGuire: And if you were to define just in a few sentences, composable app, how would you make that definition?
Mia Jordan: Legos, it's all about Legos. Think of it as like I described, you have a Lego from Google Maps, you have a Lego from a menu, from a restaurant, you may have a Lego from a grocery store. All of those things are simply Legos that are out there that are interchangeable. People I think are very well aware that there is a commercial API exchange, which essentially are those Legos that I'm talking about.
Lindsay McGuire: Yeah, the API conversation is one that I definitely advocate for non-technical people to get more into because for those who are tangential to tech or even not even anywhere close to tech, APIs can seem very scary and overwhelming and technical, and I have no idea how to do that. But with the no-code movement that has been happening the last five plus years, it is becoming so much more accessible. And you brought up something that I want to touch on very briefly, but this idea that RPA can automate people out of some of those tasks. I think when people hear that sometimes they say, "Oh, my God, you're going to take my job away. Oh, you're going to automate me out of my role. I'm not going to have a position. Robots going to take over my job." How do you combat that innate fear? How do you kind of flip that feeling and that conversation?
Mia Jordan: This is where the growth opportunities should be abundant, quite frankly. And this is why bringing the right stakeholders to the table when you're talking about modernization of any kind, and even at the smallest level, which is RPA, having human resources in the room along with IT and the program unit to say, "We're going to create these efficiencies." And doing so eliminates 50% of their time in this area. Can we find other opportunities for this person? Are there promotion opportunities that they could apply for where now they're doing something different? That kind of engagement is really necessary to make sure that people know that as change happens, and this is one of the things I'll say, an organizational psychologist is probably the next in demand career because you have to handle with care and be really empathetic when you're changing things that impact someone's livelihood.
I think starting the conversation with, we have opportunities for you to grow in different areas because you've outgrown this. No one wants to spend 20 years of their career moving paper from one basket to the other or clicking the same screens for 25 years in order to get a pension. I have to believe because I'm optimistic that people simply want more for themselves and we can give them more even by removing tasks from their life.
Lindsay McGuire: It's funny you bring up the paper thing, and of course I have to be on brand, I have to harp on paper, but in our digital maturity report, we actually ask an open-ended question about what is one of your most frustrating workplace processes? And over 300 people, point blank said paper or paper processes in one way or another. So you are not awry in saying people don't want to be paper pushers because that's just a waste of your time.
Mia Jordan: They don't. I think I have this number right. There are 9,858 government forms and we've moved from allowing people to fill out paper with a pen or pencil to, "Oh, fill it out in its PDF." But the PDF is just as painful because you have people needing then to cut-and-paste information out of a PDF into some system. I think we're still crawling Lindsay in that area, but imagine that a form is really just a business process. One of my colleagues said that John Scalachi and he's right. It's the information that's in that form that flows into some process that allows you to either receive some outcome or be denied an outcome. And if people would think of it that way, maybe they wouldn't even start with paper.
Lindsay McGuire: Oh, girl, preach. Preach. Well, two final questions for you to wrap up. So first off, why should innovative leaders care about modernizing legacy systems?
Mia Jordan: The real impetus right now is that COVID really pushed us from a technology perspective. There hasn't ever been a rollout of technology on such a massive scale before and we set a new standard for customers to be able to engage digitally and falling back into the status quo of what it was like prior to COVID. I really just think it's completely unacceptable. And so, I think innovators across all sectors, both IT and from a business side, need to really embrace that things have changed, and customers expectations are not to go backwards. And so again, finding inexpensive ways to create better experiences, not just for your external customers, but your internal staff has to be top of mind. It must be a part of your strategy and it must become a part of every fabric of your culture.
Lindsay McGuire: If you had one piece of advice for innovative leaders who have maybe figured out a legacy system or process, they want to overhaul, but they're not sure even how to get started with that process or conversation, what advice do you have for them?
Mia Jordan: Certainly, looking to your partners in that space, your system integrators that are there across your organization, put the problem to them and ask for a white paper on how they would solve it and evaluate it if this is often done in government in the way of RFIs, but certainly my organization has individuals like myself and people much smarter than me as well, that will come in and engage around a particular problem. And what he'll start seeing is, and I think we see this all the time now, is you'll start seeing a lot of similarities when you start seeing similarities and responses. I think that's when you know you're on the right page. When you see answers all over the place, step back and take a deep breath and say, "Maybe we need to ask the question differently." I just think that there's no shortage of resources to solve problems these days and so certainly reach out and engage crowdsource as an option.
Lindsay McGuire: Mia, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been a fabulous conversation around how to modernize legacy technologies. I really appreciate your time.
Mia Jordan: Thank you, Lindsay.
Lindsay McGuire: Thank you so much for joining us for this great conversation with Mia. She brought up so many excellent points about how to rethink legacy technology and move your organization forward. Modernization is sometimes a little bit different than what we might expect. I'm taking all my notes from this amazing conversation and applying them to our Practically Genius insider newsletter, which you should definitely sign up for. You can do that by clicking the link in the show notes and as always, rate review, share on LinkedIn and tell another innovator about the show. You never know. You might just get your next Practically Genius idea right here. And if you do, let me know.