The following is reposted from Authority Magazine.
As part of our series about “How To Use Digital Transformation To Take Your Company To The Next Level”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Renato J. Mascardo.
Renato Mascardo is Accela’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) responsible for overseeing the company’s engineering, cloud, and IT operations. Prior to Accela, Renato served as CTO at Recurly — a SaaS fintech market leader in subscription billing management, where he contributed to significant growth of the organization, sales, total payment volume, and platform foundation — and he brings more than 20 years of experience leading technology organizations, with extensive background taking enterprise, consumer, and government products to market, including widely used cloud platforms, commerce, and mobile products. Renato built a keen interest in the government market at his first job at Lockheed Martin IMS in Tarrytown, NY building GIS products for local municipalities, and he has had proven success leading technology teams for iconic Silicon Valley technology companies including Rosetta Stone, Atari, Digital Globe, Hewlett-Packard, Mercury Interactive, and Borland Software.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Iam an East Coaster turned West Coaster who now lives in Park City, Utah. I’m originally from New York, born in Brooklyn, and am a die-hard New York sports fan. Go Yankees. I went to school at the University of Richmond in Virginia and walked away with degrees in Computer Science and Business. After college, I drove across the country to Silicon Valley to be at the epicenter of the software revolution. I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many amazing people, companies, and industries — enterprise, developer tools, consumer, satellites, gaming, fintech, gaming, and now state and local government. I love building things, from software to teams.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Early in my career, I worked as a software engineer for a retailer building their first web storefront. I was responsible for the portion of the website used by their support call centers when folks had questions or issues with their web orders. Well, long story short — I had a bug in my code that made its way to production that caused refund requests to act in the complete opposite way and charge the customer again! Chaos ensued, and the entire team rallied to fix the problem. I was utterly embarrassed by such an egregious bug, and I ended up down in the dumps that I let the team down. To this day, I remember one of the architects pulling me aside, telling me it was okay, and then walking me through all of this great learning. On that day, I learned a few things — 1) Compassion. People make mistakes, and the team needs to be there to support each other. 2) The art of building production-grade software properly. 3) The importance of mentoring and finding the time and opportunity to teach. I’ll never forget that issue. The bad code is tattooed in my brain.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I could write a book on this topic. I owe so much of my success to my parents. I’m a first-generation immigrant; both my parents were born and raised in the Philippines and were also both doctors. My mom is a Plastic Surgeon, and my dad is an Endocrinologist. They both had successful practices in the greater New York and Connecticut area. They taught me the value of hard work. They would leave the house at 6 am and come back home at 10 pm. Watching them taught me perseverance. We worked through issues because there was no other choice but to get through them. I also learned a sense of perspective. I take nothing for granted and value everything their hard work had afforded me in my career.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I have so many favorite books, but my utmost favorite is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. It’s the story of Hari Sheldon, a mathematician developing a theory of psycho-history, a new and effective mathematical sociology that allows him to predict the future. When I first read it in high school, it felt so different than anything else that I had read before. When I re-read it as an adult, it felt prescient on topics like artificial intelligence, software, and robotics. Isaac Asimov wrote the first book in 1951. How in the world did he predict some of the things he did? My favorite thing is “zooming out” in search of a broader perspective. The Foundation series forced me to zoom out and think about the holistic impact of building things. Also, it broadened my definition of innovation throughout my career. There exists a level of innovation that does break how we are doing something.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
I 100% agree. Purpose driven or mission driven companies have more meaning for me personally, and help drive the team to a higher goal. I can’t comment on when Accela was founded, but I can say the team and I are here now to digitally transform one of the last frontiers left to transform — local government — for the ultimate benefit of the residents. We all want to interact with our local governments in more modern ways influenced by our experiences using consumer and enterprise applications. I am so excited to bring to bear my 20+ years of technology experience to make this possible.
Are you working on any new, exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
One of our most recent projects is our transition from our own data centers to hosting our product in public cloud, specifically Microsoft Azure. This project was years in the making and has been a huge technological and mindset shift for the company. I like to say that we’re not only digitally transforming local government, but we are also digitally transforming ourselves. We’re taking what started out as an on-premise software product and digitally transforming it to be hosted in a public cloud SaaS platform. At the core, this creates a more reliable and secure service, while at the same time unlocking higher levels of innovation, helping Accela focus on solving the problems of local government as we leverage the power of the public cloud.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion about Digital Transformation. For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly Digital Transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like to engage in a Digital Transformation?
Digital transformation is more than just “upgrading the technology.” It is the modernization and transformation of people, processes, and the technology. If done right, it creates sustainable change — the output moving forward is forever changed. Digital transformation is hard because it is engaging in change at the deepest levels of a company or organization and often requires massive shifts in mindset. Most companies or organizations don’t and can’t do it because it takes too much energy — so much so that even when forced to “transform or die,” many companies die.
Which companies can most benefit from a Digital Transformation?
Any company that doesn’t want to die. Digital transformation is not optional and needs to be built into the DNA of any successful organization.
We’d love to hear about your experiences helping others with Digital Transformation. In your experience, how has Digital Transformation helped improve operations, processes and customer experiences? We’d love to hear some stories if possible.
I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of several executive teams leading digital transformation efforts. At Accela, it’s double the digital transformation. We are digitally transforming the company from on-premise software to being a “SaaS First” business. And at the same time, we are doing the same thing for our state and local government customers — moving them from on-premise to the cloud. Our transition from our data centers to Azure was a huge project part of this transformation, but it’s part of hundreds of other changes we’re making in parallel — too many to even try to list here. It’s very much “controlled chaos” — like learning something new, it’s painful at first, but becomes muscle memory over time.
Has integrating Digital Transformation been a challenging process for some companies? What are the challenges? How do you help resolve them?
Oh wow, “challenging” is an understatement. It’s an epic battle of old school vs. new school. Like I said, it’s “controlled chaos”. My advice is to be prepared for failure. There is no transformation without failure — they create watershed learning moments for the entire organization. Management needs to control the impact area when they do happen. Also, be prepared for people to leave — not everyone is ready for the change and that’s okay.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are “Five Ways a Company Can Use Digital Transformation To Take It To The Next Level”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Identify new areas of opportunity with customers. For example, shifting state and local governments to SaaS from massive on-premise build outs.
Engage your customers in new and innovative ways. For example, engaging state and local governments in the levels of partnership required with working with a SaaS vendor. We have found all new areas of engagement around security and compliance — an area that they now rely on the partner for more than ever before.
Strengthen new foundation points. From a technology perspective, the change should level up key foundation points such as uptime and reliability. Deepen and strengthen those foundation points whenever possible.
Help the team focus through the controlled chaos. Like a sherpa on Everest, you need to help them through the journey. They will come out stronger, better, and faster when you are done.
Rally the team around the change. Make it the team rally cry to get the most out of them!
In your opinion, how can companies best create a “culture of innovation” in order to create new competitive advantages?
I don’t think there are any silver bullets for innovation. I’ve always felt that innovation is directly correlated to a company’s perspective on failure and learning. Innovation requires failure. Where there is failure, there is learning.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m a huge Yankees fan and Yogi Berra is one of my favorite Yankees. He is legendary for his quotes and one of my favorites is one you likely never knew came from him, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”. Battle until the end! Find unique ways to solve problems! Don’t take anything for granted! There is always a path. Being scrappy and relentless is the cornerstone to success.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’ll be doing more writing on the Accela Blog (https://www.accela.com/blog/) but I also do some writing on my personal blog (https://renato.mascardo.com/) and, occasionally, I Tweet things (@rmascardo).
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!