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Bill Halverson & Erin Maestas: Design Thinking for the Next Industrial Revolution

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About the Episode

The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. How can your company adapt to the ever-evolving world of technology? On this episode, IT experts Bill Halverson and Erin Maestas of CNM Ingenuity explain how to adjust during this time of rapid change. From design thinking to automating workflows, this duo of IT professionals has a lot to share. Listen now for tips on how to improve processes and make your workday better.

Episode Highlights

Meet Our Guest

Bill Halverson and Erin Maestas are part of the IT team at CNM Ingenuity, a nonprofit that helps Central New Mexico Community College pursue cooperative ventures in technology and entrepreneurship. As Senior Technology Advisor, Bill focuses on finding innovative technology that the next next generation of students can learn. In Erin’s role as Digital Platform Architect, she helps automate business processes to ensure the organization runs as efficiently as possible.

Episode Transcript


Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on. I'm your host, Chris Byers. On today's show, we're joined by Bill Halverson and Erin Maestas from CNM Ingenuity, a nonprofit created by Central New Mexico Community College under the Research Park Act. Their program engages with the community to find employment needs and provide new educational and training opportunities.

Bill Halverson: So if we go to a for credit mode and we need to build a new education course, it normally takes two years for that full accreditation process. So we can fire up and test bootcamp type operations. So we do boot camps in Java coding and this year we're launching our IOT courses and our data science courses and our blockchain courses that are all very in response, I should say, to community needs. So it allows us to fire up those courses in a very rapid mode and respond to community needs and then help the college move forward to develop a full curriculum and full accreditation from those courses as we see the need.

Chris Byers: Although the long term goals may point to full accreditation courses. The immediate results of their programs have been striking, to say the least.

Bill Halverson: We recently also had a student who came in as an apprenticeship. We run our apprenticeship program where he worked with us closely in our IT team and he ended up getting several certifications in Salesforce development, in Formstack development, in development itself and was able to obtain a job at a very high paying industry for around 90k a year with just the certifications and just the one year of apprenticeship. So it really is changing the model in what employers are looking at. You know, as we know the Googles and Amazons, they're really kind of doing away with some areas that require a full degree and really looking for those skilled up tech areas that they need in real time and rapidly growing.

Chris Byers: Bill and Erin are already making an incredible impact on their community through these programs. But for them, it's not just about the initial reach, it's about the innovations that will extend their reach to a global audience. But how do they plan to achieve this? Where do they get such ambitious notions? Let's listen in and get the full story.

Erin Maestas: I'm a digital platform architect here at CNN Ingenuity and a lot of my work revolves around automating business processes and digitizing a lot of our workflows. So moving to Formstack, moving to Salesforce, has been my biggest initiative. I've only been here since last July and being able to ease pain points in your day to day processes by, you know, bringing them to the cloud, bringing them to a digital platform, that's primarily what I focus on here at Ingenuity.

Bill Halverson: And she's done a great job I may add. It's been quite exciting for her to see her take on these Salesforce and these opportunities to really bring operational processes to a digital platform. My role Chris, is to be kind of the innovator of technologies, connect to the community, find out what their needs are, and work with them to build the classroom and, you know, find apprentices, if you will, and those potential students that can help those employers grow. And really get right into the employers and work with them closely. We're building a platform architecture right now where we'll be putting student credentials on blockchain and validating their degrees, credentials, and certificates, transcripts, etc. on blockchain and connecting them real time to employers. So those are the types of initiatives that we're really, you know, leapfrogging, if you will, forward to help not only employers get the skill sets that they need, but help the students retool or tool up to the point where they're really a viable candidate for the employers in our area, our community and, you know, nationwide, worldwide now.

It's not just taking technology and trying to apply it to the current process. It's about refining the process and finding where it can be automated.

Chris Byers: So one of the ideas you talked about there, Erin, in your title is architect. You've talked about as you're innovating, putting systems and workflows together, how do you think about that word architecture and the importance of it in creating lasting impact?

Erin Maestas: In my work as a digital platform architect, you do build solutions and those solutions should be efficient, effective, and they should be long lasting. So digitizing a lot of work processes, I have to really understand your workflow, your business flow, where is this information coming from and where should this information be going? And what is the best way we can architect a solution around this and build you a solution that is meaningful to you and is useful to you and makes your process more efficient? I'm not here to build a solution that is more pain points or more painstaking, but I'm here to build a solution that helps ease a few more of your processes throughout the workday.

Bill Halverson: I think to your point, Chris, that was a great question. You know, what we do is we do some design thinking workshops, you know, thinking about what does your process look like right now, but what does it really need to look like? Right. To better align to be more efficient. It's not just about, you know, taking technology and trying to apply it to the current process. It's about refining the process and really finding those areas where it can be automated and how can it live long. Right. So we're using more current technologies, IPASS Solutions, the cloud solutions like Salesforce, automated form solutions like Formstack, that really empower us to look at problems in a different manner. But think about, you know, how do we change some of those processes and how can we automate them and remove some of the roadblocks, like our application process that we recently launched in Salesforce. We reduced the steps of application process in the college from almost 80 steps down to nearly half of what that's required to get through the application process. So, you know, really looking, taking deep looks at what the architect looks like right now and what is our development process and what is our processes that we can automate.

Chris Byers: So I bet plenty of people in our audience have heard that phrase design thinking, but probably most of us have not really experienced it in real life. Love for you to talk a little bit more about what design thinking is and maybe some processes you've gone through to really create a better solution.

Bill Halverson: It really is a matter of getting all the stakeholders together in a process. Right. So really getting everybody together from somebody processing in HR, somebody processing in the budget office, someone processing behind the scenes in the data architect, if you will, and the IT infrastructure and getting these key stakeholders together. And you start by actually outlining what does the process look like right now and really labeling that. You're taking active sticky notes and you're kind of saying this is the process. Here's the 15 steps that we go through to make that process happen, right. And then realizing, oh, wait a minute. Here's a touch point I didn't even think about and maybe a stakeholder that's involved in that process and you really try to sit down and evaluate that process holistically throughout the entire lifecycle of it.

You know, we're a pretty large organization of 5,000 people, but we can do it with a small process too, look at it in very fine detail. You kind of outline it in user stories, right. I'm a bookkeeper who takes a purchase order form from you that brought it into my office and I need to enter it in the system with this amount of detail. Right. And once I enter it in the system, the purpose of me entering it in so I can send it to a purchasing agent to actually make the purchase. And then how does that process happen? Right. That purchase station picks up that P.O. Hopefully they have all the information where they're gonna make that purchase. And you really detail those steps and really look at the process in that design thinking workshop. And then from that you start evaluating, do we really need all these processes? What are we trying to achieve in every step of the process for the viable outcome? Right. So what is the viable outcome for this process? Ultimately, I have to make that purchase in this analogy. Right. So do I actually have to go through all these steps and am I taking into account, are those processes still required? Does the state and local governments still require me to do those processes or have I just been doing it so long that I really haven't reviewed that.

So in that design thinking workshop, you walk through all those processes. And then once you get that nailed down and you know exactly all the detailed steps, you go back and you rethink the process. Right. Reevaluate, look at all those little sticky notes that put up there on the board and say, OK, in this process, I don't know that I need to do this anymore. Or I have electronic signature capability, maybe I can automate that component in this way. And then maybe I can also eliminate a few of these processes or create a better workflow that bypasses some old legacy information that we don't need anymore. And then once we have that, we refine that, we look at those processes, discuss what we can eliminate. And then finally, when you're done with the workshop, you've refined this, all this process. And now we begin to look at what technology do we have that can help solve some of these pain points and help automate some of these processes. Right. So I can build this form. I can pull all this data in. I can create electronic signature in this process. And I've just all of a sudden created a machine workflow that automated maybe 70 percent of this whole process. And I don't need those touch points anymore.

And then you sit down and you start building the new user stories. Right. What does the new process look like? And as that person, I need this outcome and this tool could potentially have me walk through that outcome. And usually, it's depending on the processes, it can be a couple hours design thinking process or it can be a couple of days design thinking workshop, because you have to get all of the players involved. And it's really about the conversation, right, sitting down and talking through the process and making sure, because you're not buying technology to create it and, you know, automate a process you're already working on. You're trying to rethink those processes and think about what do I need to do to automate those processes and what can I do, and what can I do to eliminate things that are just bottlenecks.

Learn More: Design Thinking: The Secret to Building Better Processes

Chris Byers: And one of the things I hear there is, at least for me, I really love things that get more productive or get more efficient or save time. I think about how so much of my motivation in my own work has to do with my own personal frustrations with how long it takes to do something. And I want to provide tools to make it just easier to get some of those repetitive tasks done. But I also have learned to understand over time that my desire to get to something faster doesn't always create the right solution. I'm curious if you've run into times before where you've actually skipped that design thinking process or maybe before you even knew that was a thing. And given examples of where maybe you didn't build the right process because you wanted to do it fast and you thought you knew how to solve the problem and then you delivered it to your audience and they were like, this didn't quite work.

Bill Halverson: Yeah. So I can give you a really good example when I was executive director at ITS. We wanted to automate the purchasing process. So instead of getting all of the stakeholders involved as like I mentioned in the design thinking, we just kind of outlined the process, brought up SharePoint as a tool, did some development work, brought the paperwork in, kind of eliminated some of the paperwork, and made that tool kind of work on the current processes that we have. And early on, probably a month into it, we realized we were dropping the ball in a lot of areas because, one, we didn't think through the whole process effectively all the way through the budget office, all the way into purchasing, making sure that it gets in the right systems. So there were definitely some sticking points. It ended up being a fairly good solution, but it had to be retooled and redesigned to really fit all of the stakeholders that were involved in the entire process. Because in the IT environment, we probably do most of the purchases for the entire college throughout a year. Right. It was a huge pain point for us. But to your point, we didn't go through an entire design thinking workshop and we didn't really recognize all the stakeholders and some of the pain points that we were causing because of the automation we put into place.

Chris Byers: Well, we learned from those mistakes. And you know what? People will often see, I think, later in our lives and our careers, as they'll say, man, look at the success that person is having or look at the effectiveness they have. And I think what they often miss is that wasn't the case always. We learned over time and we grew and we are built on our mistakes. But all that goes back to, we all started somewhere. And I'm curious for both of you. What is it that got you into, you know, let's call it IT in general, but maybe that's not even quite the right category. But what got you started? What was that spark? That was the first step for you?

Bill Halverson: Well, it's so I'm not going to give away my age, Chris. I'm just going to tell you a little story, OK? When I was a young man in the Air Force in Hawaii, I was working as a bomb assembler for an organization in Hawaii. And it was a pretty inspiring career. But I had a friend that actually came to me and said, hey, you know, I'm in this development class in University of Hawaii and I'm having all this fun with these new computers and stuff. And he kind of inspired me to go check it out. So I went, checked out the class with him, did an actual study group with him that kind of let me know, you know, what they're doing, the kind of things they're doing. And it started me thinking about; I was put in the operations as the Q.C., the quality control for bomb assembly. So it was kind of a nerve wracking position because nobody really appreciates your role. You were there to really check them off and stuff. But I saw the opportunity right away that man, if we did this in a computer based architecture as opposed to the sheets that I'm taking down and checking off and stuff, this could really automate some processes that they're doing. Not only that, but hopefully eliminate some of the errors that we're entering, if you will, by hand and things of that nature. So those two things, when I put it together, kind of inspired me to go into development and IT track. And I started off at the University of Hawaii in a development program in basic language, if you will. And yes, I did use a couple of punch cards with IBM and Erin's probably sitting here wondering what that even is. But that was my inspiration. And it took off in the career and I went into satellite communications and mainframe programming, things of that nature. I just really liked education all my life. So I've worked for the University of New Mexico for CNM, and I'm both a faculty member and operations staff as well.

Chris Byers: Awesome. Yeah. We'd love to hear your story too Erin.

Erin Maestas: I love telling this story all the time. I think I was naturally intuitive as a kid, so I was always interested in some form of engineering. And when I got to high school, my school didn't offer STEM courses except automotive technology. So I took automotive technology classes for four years. And that's where I was introduced to information systems architecture because of the information systems that are embedded in vehicles now. And so as I was learning to change spark plugs and tires, I was also learning the information system side of it. And that really made me think, well, I don't really like working with my hands. I don't think I'm going to really be cut out for a mechanical engineer. But the systems are what really interested me. I really enjoyed my systems engineering work and that inspired me to pursue my education in systems engineering. And this semester I'll be finishing my masters of Science and Information Systems. And so it all kind of started with changing a spark plug, that's what I like to say.

Chris Byers: Yeah, I love really both of those stories. You've got the bomb assembler to block chain, you know. And then starting in automotive tech. Those are, really neither one of them I would have guessed. And so those are some great histories and kind of where that all originated. So you talk about the fourth industrial revolution. It's a phrase that I know has come about in the media. And, you know, plenty of people have begun to think about. But what does that mean to you and what do you think the implications are that we need to be thinking about?

Bill Halverson: So, you know, industrial revolutions really mean there is a revolution in industry. And that revolution is hitting us at a rapid pace right now, and it's a technology revolution. Right. So as you think about things like A.I. and Quantum Computing and IBM and the Googles and Amazons, how they're changing the whole paradigm of business and operations and being able to work from home, being able to order your groceries and have them delivered, being able to use and acquire an autonomous vehicle. Those are all fourth industrial revolution technologies moving, you know, at mind boggling speeds. And in order for us to get skilled up, it's no different than some of the other industrial revolutions. Right. We have to adopt to those skill sets that are moving with that industrial revolution. And right now, it's technology, right. It's great that we're looking at even bringing, you know, this revolution into our grade schools. We kind of have to, right. How do we learn how to start adapting to technology and technology solutions and really stemming up, if you will, our capabilities as we move through our education system and changing the paradigm of education and work. It's changing the paradigm of work. We have to be able to respond to it as an education provider. And so as that industrial revolution scales up and A.I. and all of these technologies begin to advance at these rapid paces, that is our fourth industrial revolution. Right. And we need to tool up and be ready and help our students be prepared. And not only that, but help our industry be competitive. Right. We need to be competitive with the rest of the world in this industrial change and move forward.

Chris Byers: I love how Bill stretched our minds into the future. I know for me, I often get stuck trying to solve problems right here, right around me. And yet, we as an organization love to give people technology and tools, specially for the non-technical user, to solve problems themselves. And so we're trying to ask the question, how can we help them solve problems five years from now, 10 years from now, all the more efficiently. Think for a minute on this idea of the fourth industrial revolution. What ripple effects do you see resulting from these new and emerging technologies and the opportunities they're creating?

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Practically Genius is a show built for innovators championing digitization within their organization.

Hosts Lindsay McGuire and Ryan Greives host conversations with real-world innovators sharing stories of digital transformation while also providing helpful advice and insights to listeners.

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