Interview with Codrin Arsene, an expert in digital transformation & emerging technologies

Codrin Arsene is the CEO of Digital Authority Partners, an award-winning Chicago digital agency and HealthcareWeekly, a healthcare business news magazine. Originally from Romania, he received full scholarships to attend the University of Chicago where he received both a Bachelor of Arts (with honors) and a Master of Arts degree. He formed Digital Authority Partners in 2016; it has grown into a multi-million dollar consulting business. Healthcareweekly.com was launched in early 2018 and now commands over 200,000 businesses readers. In this interview, we speak with Codrin about his path to success and future plans.

First off, can you tell us a bit about Digital Authority Partners?

Digital Authority Partners started in 2015 as an enterprise implementation partner. At the beginning, we teamed up with a few agencies and worked “on call” to provide digital strategy services to clients. Now Digital Authority Partners serves as a digital transformation implementation partner for some of the largest Fortune 500 companies in healthcare, financial technology and government.

What exactly is digital transformation?  

Digital transformation is the idea that you can use technology to solve day-to-day problems people and companies have.  So the question any digital transformation initiative must answer is: how do you use technology to provide a better experience to your end customers, streamline your operations and reduce your costs. To accomplish this, you build new processes, software and systems that make people’s lives easier, whether as consumers of or employees at a company. Sometimes you have to completely reimagine and change your business model. A classic example is Groupon, which started as a deals website, moved to become a drop-ship retailer of goods and then a platform for selling vacation packages. The company went through many digital transformation stages.

So how does a company go about digitally transforming?

There are different ways to go about it. To oversimplify, there are typically two major drivers of digital transformation – internal pressures, external pressures.

Internal pressures are typically tied to managing costs and optimizing processes. In simple words, companies see their operational costs skyrocketing and are exploring ways to reduce them. Consulting experts like Digital Authority Partners come in and ask obvious, sometimes uncomfortable, questions that executives may not want to or may not think to ask. We might as such questions as: are your teams actually collaborating across functions or do they work in silos? Do you have a “test and learn approach” or do you operate in a waterfall manner? Do you actually track the right Key Performance Indicators and have the right data analytics companies to turn data into insights? What is your customer’s journey when interacting with your company? Do you have that mapped out?

When working on external pressures we help companies think strategically about what they do to create exceptional user experiences and how they can improve their processes to redefine the consumer experiences they provide. Digitization and digital transformation are all about removing frictions and creating value to end customers. Voice technologies, artificial intelligence, blockchain, virtual reality – these are all technological means to an end – tools for creating the most convenient delivery and consumption of services and products for an enterprise.  

In your opinion, why don’t enterprises innovate more often?

It’s simple: fear. Ironically, fear can be a catalyst for both change and stasis. Here’s a mind blowing fact. If you look at Fortune 500 companies from 1955 and compare them against today’s list, only 60 have survived the last half century. That tells you how difficult it is for enterprises to remain relevant over time. It all comes down to fear. To innovate, to be brave, to be bold – that requires taking calculated risks. The higher you go in a company, the fewer risks you are willing to take. So most enterprises make small steps towards innovation. Other types of companies, startups in particular, are not afraid to fail. So they develop new solutions and take many enterprises by surprise.

Let’s take the two industries in which we do more than 50% of our business – healthcare and financial services. Oscar Health, ZocDoc, Flatiron Health, Zenefits or even Fitbit didn’t exist 10-15 years ago. Now they are each worth more than a billion dollars. In financial technologies, companies such as Social Finance, Credit Karma, TransferWise have also gone north of a $1 billion valuation. What makes this amazing is that most of these companies do not necessarily provide services that differ from their traditional Fortune 500 competitors. Instead, they do whatever they do better, faster and with more user-friendly experiences than anyone else.  

Innovation doesn’t mean you need to do something new. You just need to do something better than everyone else. Unfortunately, big companies usually struggle to shrug off the old ways. Or are afraid to change their methods.

How does your company help enterprises innovate?

Basically, we ask the right questions. Time and again we’ve seen companies do the wrong thing simply because they lacked a user-friendly perspective. We come in and listen and then ask more and more questions until we get to the bottom of their problems.

Second, following Google design sprint methodologies, we’ve adopted a process that allows any enterprise to go from idea to user testing to an actual prototype in only one week. Enterprises spend too much time and effort hesitating on what to do. When we come in, within a week,we test their ideas, make a prototype of whatever the deliverable is (such as a chatbot, a voice skill) that can be used and tested and put them in front of new customers. Then executives can quickly and clearly see whether their own customers will use those ideas. It’s incredibly powerful. We also assist our clients with building the products we have researched for them.

Lastly, we help people navigate the complex field of emerging technologies – when and why to use artificial intelligence, how to take an enterprise mobility strategy to the next level, what to track to understand the performance of a digital initiative and so on.  You’d be surprised how many enterprises do not have a good analytics strategy in place in order to really understand consumers’ pain points.

What industries do you usually work with?

We have generally worked with large enterprises in the healthcare space, fintech, retail and manufacturers. However, we have significant business in 40+ other industries.

Talk about HealthcareWeekly. Where did that idea come from?

It came from our commitment to digital innovation. We realized early on that many enterprises struggle to keep up with innovation in their fields. Since healthcare is the largest vertical we work with, we wanted to create an online platform that keeps executives up-to-date with the latest trends in artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data, chatbots, voice technologies and more. We thought we would attract 5-10,000 people a month. But now we’re at 200,000 monthly visitors and growing. We look at HealthcareWeekly as an extension of our core business, but one with its own P&L. Our mission is to educate, advise and help enterprises build NextGen digital experiences. HealthcareWeekly is our educational driver for this industry.

What do you think are the biggest trends in digital transformation to which enterprises should pay attention in 2019?

It’s hard to pinpoint all the trends because it depends on what stage an enterprise has achieved with its digital transformation initiatives. So I’m will talk about the one trend that will have an impact on nearly everyone, even though only a small number of companies have this innovation on their radar today. My bet is that the most transformative trend for every enterprise over the next year is voice technologies. Think Alexa, Google Home, Cortana etc. The reality is that by 2020 50% of all searches will be done by voice. Voice technologies are redefining how people quickly find the information they seek. It’s the user experience-free technology. With 70 million people owning a smart assistant device, I have no doubt that voice technology will be the single most powerful driver of digital transformation in the next 2-3 years.

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