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Executive Interview: Biren Fondekar, Head of Customer Experience and Digital Strategy 

Join Biren Fondekar, head of customer experience and digital strategy at NetApp, and Matt Greenstein, principal and Digital practice leader at Alexander Group, as they discuss the digital revenue organization and how the use of data is changing the way organizations, like NetApp, are growing revenue.

Download Alexander Group’s whitepaper The Digital Revenue Organization to learn how technology is creating a fundamental shift in how organizations grow revenue.

Visit our practice page or contact us to learn how the Alexander Group can help your organization.

 

Full Transcript:

Matt Greenstein: Hi, this is Matt Greenstein, principal with the Alexander Group, and I’m joined by Biren Fondekar, head of customer experience and digital strategy at NetApp. Biren spearheaded NetApp’s operational transformation, including the use of data and digital process to fundamentally change marketing, sales and service motions. Today, we’re going to talk about the digital revenue organization and specifically how the use of data is fundamentally changing how companies like NetApp grow revenue. Biren, thanks so much for joining me today.

Biren Fondekar: Hey, Matt. Thanks for having me.

Matt Greenstein: Before we dig in, I think it would help the audience if you had told us a little bit more about what the team has built. So when we talk about the data asset that you’ve all developed and can you give us a high level overview?

Biren Fondekar: Yeah, absolutely. So you know, one of our focus areas on the team are really around customer experience. And so, you know, essentially I lead that customer experience organization. And so we started our data vision with looking at what’s going to help us, what data is going to help us meet that need meet that kind of driving to that improve customer experience? So that was the North Star that we used and kind of worked our way back from there to see what other data elements we would need to really make the right decisions to improve and digitize our customer experience.

Matt Greenstein: So you’re anchored to customer experience. How is it changed the way that you generate awareness, stimulate demand, sell service? Tell us a little bit more about kind of what it means in, I guess, practical, practically speaking.

Biren Fondekar: Yeah. So one of the great things about kind of anchoring yourself on customer experience. What we have found is the customer is the ultimate equalizer, right? It’s like trying to get everybody behind the notion of helping the customer and ensuring that you’re providing the best customer experience, just gets everybody aligned very quickly. And so what we found is once we kind of set that as the North Star and we’ve always been very customer-centric as a company, as a culture in the company. And so that really helped us ensure that we got everybody aligned, everybody understanding what we were planning on doing with this data. And then we looked at it across that customer journey. Everything starting from when the customer first hears about NetApp or evaluates a product all the way to when they buy from us, what the experience has been as they use our products, all the way out to if they need any support and services on that product. So that’s what really drove that kind of end-to-end customer journey view with the data that we use to help inform and improve that customer experience.

Matt Greenstein: It sounds like there’s probably a cross-functional team that got together to develop that vision, who is part of that conversation, who helped scope that vision?

Biren Fondekar: Yeah. So it was very much a cross-functional team. It was kind of pulled together and coordinated by the customer experience office. But it included folks from engineering, product engineering, marketing, sales, IT. So it was really a cross-functional, across the company initiative. And as I said earlier, since we kind of used customer centricity and customer focus as our North Star, it just helped everybody get aligned quickly behind the goal.

Matt Greenstein: I think the million-dollar, maybe a million-dollar plus question, you know, is as you got the team rallied around the vision you were anchored on customer experience. How did you get it funded? How do you actually get the cash and the investment needed to bring the vision to life?

Biren Fondekar: Yeah. So one of the teams I didn’t mention earlier is the CFO and the finance organization. They were involved in the early conversations on this too, and we really looked at this from just like any other project from an ROI perspective. With the data that we are collecting and the changes that we were driving, what sorts of returns does that give? And in this case, it was pretty obvious that it really improved the customer experience. It helped our customers better engage with NetApp and have a much better experience as they were using our products. And so from there on out with those specific kind of quantifiable our wide numbers in place, it became a lot easier to get everybody aligned and the finance organization also in support of the initiative as a whole.

Matt Greenstein: So finance always has a seat at the table, but important in these types of initiatives. When you go kind of one layer down in the organization, I imagine that as you stood up new ways to service, new ways to sell, new ways to market, it had some pretty fundamental shifts in the way that people execute their jobs and operate day-to-day. How did you get the broader organization behind these future ways of working or leveraging data to drive their day-to-day?

Biren Fondekar: To be honest, we are still learning, so we are not completely there yet. But you know what was getting more and more obvious to us as we were moving into the cloud ourselves with both products and with our architectures within the company that the experience in the cloud was different than what a traditional on-premise experience traditionally used to be. And so what was obvious to us as we spoke to our customers and partners was that they were looking for that cloud-like simplistic experience, irrespective of where they were using our products, whether they were using us on-premise or in the cloud, or more and more in a hybrid cloud environment. And so that’s really what allowed everybody to really have that goal of trying to simplify that customer experience, but more importantly, digitize as much as we can, whether it’s for marketing purposes, sales purposes or support and services. And really drive to that cloud-like simple experience that we were trying to get to.

Matt Greenstein: Yeah, I guess if we looked at what’s happening now from the lens of the customer, how has their experience changed? What’s different in the way that they engage with NetApp? And maybe it can provide an example from the service or the sales or the marketing front to be really interesting to kind of hear how investing in this data tool is really manifest to change.

Biren Fondekar: Yeah. So an example would be when a customer now engages with us, let’s look at their support and services experience. We have given them a digital portal. We call it the Digital Advisor. And with that, they are able to engage with NetApp, both from a point of view of understanding what risks that they have in their environment. This could be anything from security risks, bad configurations, or just environmental and broader kind of external risk that we can identify. And the reason we can identify that is we are collecting large amounts of data from all of the systems that are installed around the world. Now, when we get all of this data, we make sure that we are good data stewards of that data. We anonymize that data. But really, what we are looking for are patterns that allow us to then help customers plan for and be more predictive and proactive in addressing those risks. So that would be one example of how their experience with us is as transformed because it’s becoming a lot more digital in nature.

Matt Greenstein: So the data that sits behind the motions that you describe, who owns it? Who’s responsible for maintaining it, curating it, maybe building upon the asset?

Biren Fondekar: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. One of the things that we have learned as we went through this, made progress on this, was really that while the CX teams or my team really own the data that came back through, whether it was product telemetry data or conversations with customers, feedback, direct feedback from customer advisory boards or surveys, that was all on within my team. However, that data alone did not give us enough insights into the customer’s experience. We had to go tap into other databases and other data sources across the organization. So what we created was essentially a data mesh architecture that allowed us to have each of the owners of those databases and data sources to feed their data into a common, essentially a data leak. And what we focused on was providing the framework that allowed for all of these various sources of data to be tied together and be able to drive insights as we made this data together from across the business.

Matt Greenstein: Do you anticipate the lake growing in the future? Will the mesh increase to new sources and different sources? Is there kind of a vision for building on the foundation?

Biren Fondekar: We absolutely do. In fact, we increase that mesh almost on a daily basis. To give you a sense of the amount of data, just on product telemetry alone, we’ve got about 250 billion data points that we process every day today. So that gives you a sense of the scale of data. But as we go across that customer journey and we identify other data sources needed to get a better understanding of the customer experience, we work with individual teams, individual domains across the company. And absolutely, we are forever increasing that data mesh and the amount of data that we look at to help drive that improved customer experience.

Matt Greenstein: And the group of folks that are you guess you’re engaging with in order to maintain it. Is it a formal body? Do people meet on a regular basis? Is it more ad hoc? What’s the, I guess, governance model or structure around building on the asset?

Biren Fondekar: Yeah, so we very early on created a customer experience governance body that spanned across all the teams that I mentioned earlier. So yes, there’s a standing governance board that looks at all the kind of initiatives around customer experience looks at all the data sources needed and continues looking at any additional sources of data that would better inform that customer experience and be more action-driven. Those insights need to be actionable in nature. And so that’s what that governance body does as we kind of span the entire organization.

Matt Greenstein: Very cool. So it sounds like the journey might be continuing. Or maybe there’s no planned end to it. But as you’ve gone through this experience, you know, anchoring to the customer experience, building the vision, getting supporters to buy into that vision, getting finance, to fund it, you’re driving it into the organization. What have your biggest learnings been? What are the biggest takeaways from the experience thus far?

Biren Fondekar: Yes. So the biggest takeaway – number one, have a clear kind of North Star or business outcome in mind because what I see happen very often is you get when you’re in the middle of that large transformational large initiative, you can things get muddled right? And you need a clear business outcome and North Star in mind. In our case, it was customer centricity and customer experience. Once you have that business outcome, then you look at all the data that you need to help drive that business outcome. And at that point, the more data you have the better because it allows you to look at different friction points, different pain points. In our case, that allowed us understanding data points across the customer journey really helped us drive a consistent customer experience across that customer journey. And then once you have all of those data points really hone in on the ones that are the most actionable and help you to take some action in order to further the business outcome that you’re trying to drive.

Matt Greenstein: I guess any other advice? I think to those listening with aspirations this is not insurmountable. It is achievable. It sounds like it takes some time and some people and some money to accomplish. But those that are maybe embarking on the journey are still trying to find their anchor and find their vision. Any advice that you’d offer?

Biren Fondekar: Yeah. So the advice I would have is number one, as I said earlier, be clear on what your goals are because that’ll help you then identify what data points you need to collect and act on. Number two would be ensure that you’ve got the right, actionable intelligence that you can derive from those data points and really ensure that you’re focusing on the big, you know, kind of big needle movers so that you can really drive to that business outcome that you’re trying to drive. And since you’re working with large amounts of data, make sure that you build in very early on a robust data framework and data platform so that this data mesh that I refer to all of those things. You find that there are different domains across the company that have their own data that understand their own data the best. Let them own the data, but be able to leverage that data to help drive to that business outcome. That’s where the data mesh comes in. And then lastly, given all of the data that you’re acting on, collecting and driving actions on, you need a strong data governance and data stewardship, almost a cross-functional team that’s looking at that in our case, for example, with all the data that we’re collecting, the first thing we do is anonymized that data so we can use it more easily across the organization. But there are lots of other data governance kinds of questions and inputs that come in through the course of large initiatives like this. So having that clear ownership and accountability to a governance organization really helps a lot.

Matt Greenstein: Great, great practical advice. It sounds like you’ll need some kind of IT support, and you need team members that know the organization. To be able to speak with maybe understand the data environment as you’re putting together that data environment, that mesh.

Biren Fondekar: Absolutely. So you need you absolutely need IT support because without that, you can’t move forward on something like this. You need those domain experts because each part of the company has deep amounts of knowledge and deep data across their part of the business and then being able to tie it all together to really drive to that business outcome. In NetApp’s case, that was customer experience. But, you know, each company obviously has to make that decision as far as what business outcomes are trying to drive. But yeah, those are all elements of ensuring that you can be successful on a program like this.

Matt Greenstein: Yeah. Very cool. Great insights. Well, Biren, I can’t thank you enough. This was fantastic. For the audience, stay tuned. And to learn more about the digital revenue organization, visit us at www.alexandergroup.com. Thanks.

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