Before an organization begins taking the first steps towards a digital transformation, leadership must evangelize why it’s important in order to get everyone onboard. Keep the dialogue open to explain how and why you’re making changes and implementing underlying technologies to make things better.
Quartz Network Executive Correspondent Britt Erler sat down with Bron McCall, Senior VP & CTO of Extra Space Storage to discuss the digital transformation journey his organization embarked upon.
- Ways to begin your own digital transformation
- How to get employee and customer buy-in
- Important lessons learned along the way
Quartz Network: Can you share a bit about your background and current role with Extra Space Storage?
Bron McCall: I’m the SVP and CTO here at Extra Space Storage. I’ve been with Extra Space a little over 10 years. My whole career has been in IT. Extra Space Storage is the second largest self-storage company in the United States. We have over 1900 stores across the US. The company is publicly traded, or an S&P 500 company, and growing rapidly.
Quartz Network: How impactful has the digital transformation been for Extra Space Storage?
Bron McCall: It’s been very positive. In fact, I wish I could take credit for it, but it was pure luck that a lot of the core components were all in place pre-COVID. When the pandemic hit it allowed us to realize the promise of the cloud.
That agility, that speed to execute and the scalability really enabled us when we had to send everyone to work from home. We had all the components in place, and we were able to quickly pivot and do that seamlessly.
More importantly, it allowed us to really evolve the customer experience. We weren’t that contactless experience yet at the stores, so we were able to leverage through the platform we had built and quickly develop and deliver that online contactless experience for our customers in a very short period of time. If the pandemic had happened prior, we would have really struggled. This meant a lot to the organization and has helped drive a lot of our KPIs. We ended the year at an all time high on many of our business’ KPIs.
Quartz Network: How did your company decide which platforms were ideal to implement?
Bron McCall: We actually use multiple solutions. We use AWS, we use Azure, and we were using a lot of the big SaaS providers. We researched what we needed for a particular system or function to see what platform would work best for that. There’s a lot of solutions and they’re all great. I try to minimize the number of cloud platforms that we’re using, of course, but it’s based upon what fits that particular use.
Quartz Network: What examples of organizational change were results of this digital transformation?
Bron McCall: I often tell people that the technology part of the digital transformation is the easy part. It’s the organizational change and the cultural change that really is the harder part. I would encourage people to really focus on that.
For instance, in the past we always prided ourselves on the customer service that our store managers provided. That personal, one-on-one service. That changed. We’re taking away the store manager from being in the middle of a lot of those interactions, at least, if that’s what the customer chooses.
We had to be very intentional in communicating how their jobs were going to be different to our store managers and staff at the stores. We still needed them, but their job was going to look a little bit different. So that was one thing. We had to really manage that closely.
There’s certainly a culture angle. You need to have a great culture, especially with an IT trusting culture, to move to these new modern DevOps type software delivery methodologies. So certainly, focus on culture.
The last example is we pivoted from a project mindset to a product mindset. I think this was critical. Historically, IT works more on a project fashion. We would take on a project, and then when that project was done, those resources would work on something else.
As we know, for products like a mobile app, the website, or these customer-facing technologies, they’re never done. They’re always evolving. If you’re going to really provide that experience, and continue to enhance it, you’ve got to shift to a product mindset.
The way I did that was forming a product development team, just like a technology company might have a product development team. Then, you have your product engineering, your dedicated resources that work on those products. There are still some struggles, but it has made a huge change in the way that we think about these products, how we prioritize work, and continue to enhance that experience.
Quartz Network: As you’re making these changes how do you measure what’s best for the customer and continue evolving as you move forward?
Bron McCall: Another exciting thing that was part of this change is we now have a small Customer Experience team and a person who leads it, which is fabulous. We have somebody who owns the customer experience and we work very closely with them. They have enacted scores like Net Promoter Score and CSAT scores. We do a lot of surveys at different points of the customer experience. At the beginning and later in the process. If we’re looking at implementing a new technology, we will ask the customers. We want to provide what they want. It’s not what we think they want, it’s what they want. We measure it with CSAT and NPS.
The way that we gather a lot of input is through surveys and we’ll even reach out. From time to time, we’ll reach out and call our customers, and have conversations to talk to them about their experience with a new product that we’ve released. We know that they’ve used it and we want to get their input. We use some technology tools also to really look at the things that we’ve implemented and those customer facing technologies to see how people are utilizing the website or the mobile app. Again, we’re making pivots on that, depending on what we see.
Quartz Network: What were some of the major obstacles that you wish you could have better prepared for?
Bron McCall: The cultural component and the shift from on premise to the cloud is a big shift for some people. While we always told everyone on the team that we would bring them along and rescale them and retool, not everybody got on board.
There were what I call casualties, where people left that just didn’t see the vision that we had. At the beginning, there was a fair amount and we had to rehire and find the right talent. I think that some of those mind shifts are sometimes very tough for organizations. The shift from project to product was a tough one. My advice is to talk about it all the time. You must evangelize why you’re doing it and why it’s important.
Quartz Network: What was your process for training employees to make sure they were up to speed on these new platforms?
Bron McCall: As we were going through this process in upskilling people, a lot of it was self-driven. We look for those individuals that have that drive and wanted to learn, and then really left a lot of it in their hands. Like, “What do you need? Do you need to go to a conference? Do you need this training course? Do you need books?”
Initially we had a training platform. We said we would provide the training platform and everyone had a license to it. The problem was that different teams wanted different training. So we switched the mindset and said, “This is how much we’ll reimburse every year. You go get the training tool that you want, and we’ll pay for it.” There are so many different ones out there. So that was another shift we made.
Quartz Network: What is one major piece of advice that you would give other leaders to help them get started in this arena?
Bron McCall: Start with the vision. Make sure that you have the vision that you want to achieve. Write it down, define it. For us, we wanted to provide a frictionless customer experience so that we meet the customer wherever they want to do business with us. On whatever platform, whatever time of day and however they wanted to interact with us. That was in the basics of our vision.
Then, make sure you get buy-in on that. Make sure that everybody agrees that, yes, this is the experience that we want to create and why. Why is that the vision? Why do you see value in that?
Then, you can develop a strategy around how you’re going to get there. It doesn’t need to be fully baked. It doesn’t need to be super detailed. But you need to understand, where do I need to start? What are the initial steps that I need to put in place to achieve that vision?
Some of that may not be obvious at the beginning. Some of the things that I was doing at the very beginning, if you looked at it by itself, you think, what does that have to do with digital transformation? Remind people why. Say, the reason that we’re implementing Single Sign On is because we’re going to leverage it down the road and make the logins easier. Things like that. You have to explain why you’re changing these things and implementing these underlying technologies.
Then, get small wins as fast as you can, and talk about those wins. Make sure that your leadership team understands the high-level vision and strategy, and then just start knocking it out. It took me a lot longer than I ever thought it would. So just plan on this. It’s going to be a long journey. That’s all the more reason to get some quick wins at the beginning.
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