Five Tech Considerations for 2021

Podcast Cybersecurity

GUESTS:  Roger Wahman, Chief Technology Officer; Jeff Schmalbach, Chief Solutions Officer

HOST:  Lisette Diamant

DESCRIPTION: Roger and Jeff take us through five important tech considerations for the year ahead.

Lisette Diamant  00:00 

Welcome to Digital Reimagined, a podcast packed with insights from Apex Systems, a world class technology services leader working to reimagine value for our clients. We'll bring you the voices of industry experts to showcase our proven solutions that span across digital innovation, modern enterprise and workforce mobilization.  


Lisette Diamant  00:25 

On today's episode of Digital Reimagined, I have Roger Wahman, CTO of Apex Systems, and Jeff Schmalbach, Chief Solutions Officer of Apex. Roger, great to have you back here in our recording studio.  


Lisette Diamant  00:37 

Hi Lisette, it's great to be back. 


Lisette Diamant  00:38 

And Jeff, wonderful to have you along for the ride. 


Jeff Schmalbach  00:40 

Thank you. I'm excited to be here. 


Lisette Diamant  00:42 

So to kick things off, what are some important tech considerations going into this new year ahead?  


Roger Wahman  00:48 

Well, there's so many things that we've talked about. And Jeff and I have worked together for a long time and we've been talking about what are the things that are important to us individually? And what we think are the things that are important to our clients? And so when we started thinking about that, the big thing that changed for us in 2020, the vast majority of people are working remotely. And what does that mean for us? And we started talking about what are the best things about it and the difficult things or the challenges? And one of the things that really stood out for me as a benefit is, I think there was a question of, will this really work for everybody? If everybody starts working remotely, will we still get the productivit? And just the relationships and things that we normally sort of take for granted. And I think the answer to that, surprisingly, for many people, is yes! You can do everything that you did before. Granted, a lot of things are very different. But you can certainly achieve an incredible amount of productivity. On the other side of the coin, one of the challenges for me personally, to think about is how do I compartmentalize pieces of my life away from work? And that can be a challenge, right, as things just sort of blend together and there's no separation- physical separation. How can you still have those different components of your life that you keep separate from one another? And I think that's been a challenge for me and I think for a lot of people. And so I know, Jeff, you and I were talking about this just yesterday, what do you think stands out for you? 


Jeff Schmalbach  02:11 

You're absolutely right, it definitely has created a flexibility and an opportunity. It's going to accelerate this concept of a global talent pool more than ever. For me, I think that ability to use my day, consistently productive, where I'm not in an airport, in a car more often, and things like that, where it's very unproductive time. That engagement with people, for me, that's a little harder. I think there's a lot of creative ideas, both in our company, as well as many of the ones we get to visit with, that are coming up more and more about how to create an experience more digitally. I think it's really cool and it's setting up a whole new wave of innovative ideas. 


Lisette Diamant  02:50 

Absolutely. And then looking at the data, what are some of the biggest consumer driven demands that have come from this change and shift? And how can we touch on that? 


Roger Wahman  02:59 

Well, I'm a data person. Data is huge. It's part of everybody's life. I think we all generate so much data with apps, with devices. And so what does that actually mean? And I think you mentioned consumer, we think so much about regulation and privacy. And I think what data is out there about me? Who has what, what are they actually doing with it? And really getting transparency about those kinds of things. I think that's huge for people to understand that. And yes, there needs to be regulation, of course. But it could be so much better if companies were transparent about the data that they're using, whether for marketing purposes, recommendation engines, anything like that. What do they have and what are they doing with it? So you can really understand and not rely as much on regulation to take care of your data privacy concerns. 


Jeff Schmalbach  03:45 

At the end of the day, there's some times that that gets a bad name. But I think there's a lot of good of the speed with which, as a consumer, I can get to what I want, because that data has predicted what I want. And the amount of time that it takes me to find my way through my shopping experience, or my investigative experience of what I'm looking for has just gotten better and better. So that part is a real positive. I think I don't want to get that lost in it. I think that transparency though, to your point, Roger, it's becoming more and more of a topic. And one that companies are probably starting to think more significantly about. Yes, we want to use this to be a better business and drive a better experience for our consumer, but we probably need to be more upfront about that as well. Just good business practices with their consumers. 


Lisette Diamant  04:32 

Building further, talking about this concept of automation. It's such a broad topic. There's so much we can say about it. But how much can we say through machine learning, through the powers of AI, has it helped, has it shifted, has it continued to evolve? 


Jeff Schmalbach  04:47 

Yeah, I'll start there. I mean, all the stuff we were just talking about starts with our ability to create some of those techniques in automation and things like that. But there's always this initial reaction from humans about being automated out. And people are afraid that the robots are going to control us. And I think, I get that initial reaction, particularly because these technologies, especially as you get people who don't spend their career like we did, in technology, this is one of the harder ones to conceptualize. 


Roger Wahman  05:17 

Well, I would say, I like robots, first of all, so. So there is that. But if you put that aside, I think that people talk a lot about automating everything. And to me, it's understanding what you should actually be automating, first of all. And secondly, is it actually a candidate for automation based on the tools and technologies that we have today and in the near future? And is it even possible, right? And that requires something that is repetitive and predictable and probably decision or rule based, and also something that needs to scale. Otherwise, you're not going to see the return on investment for such a thing. You know, when you describe something that way, those are the things that none of us really want to do, right? The things that are repetitive, and the same thing over and over, and that we need to do a thousand times or a million times. I think it lets us focus on things that are more interesting, more unique, more problem solving, more analysis, more challenging, and probably more engaging. You know, it doesn't scare me, but again, I work with automation a lot. So I guess that helps. But I think that that piece of it, that it can actually make your life, your career, your engagement even better in the role that you have today. 


Lisette Diamant  06:32 

And then touching on another hot topic, around cybersecurity. You know, how has the fast-paced changing business really been able to change the way that we respond to those cybersecurity threats? 


Roger Wahman  06:43 

Yeah, a huge spike in cybersecurity risk. Everybody's moved so many things to become more and more digital. All those new products, all those new services, all those new remote workers- those are new endpoints that we might not have been using so many of before. Each one of those things introduces a point of risk that we didn't necessarily have before. That's the thing, I think that one of the focuses for me and working with a lot of our clients for 2021 and beyond is, are we getting back to a place where we feel confident that we are managing that risk appropriately, with the digital transformation and the acceleration of those things that have happened over the course of the last year. 


Jeff Schmalbach  07:23 

Yeah, and I think to that too Roger, you've got- companies were thrown for a major turn, in a very short period of time, a three week period of time that the whole world changed. And the first thing they had to do was change their business so that they can support their consumers. They had to radically move to the position you said, where they're creating all these new endpoints, they're creating all this digital footprint that didn't exist, and there was no time to put as much scrutiny on the cybersecurity risks that they were creating. And so I think 2021, it's not that that's been forgotten, I think it was a calculated business decision. And I think 2021 and probably for years to come, is time to go back and rapidly catch up on the what ifs, the risks to make sure that we have an understanding of our approach to those things, and a confidence level in the risk mitigations. 


Lisette Diamant  08:19 

Absolutely. And then launching into the future, looking into that pendulum swing, do we think that the swing will be more virtual, more of a hybrid model? How do you see the future starting to hold and take shape? 


Jeff Schmalbach  08:32 

I don't think there's a world that turns back the clock, and it's 2019 again. While there's less opportunity for in-person collaboration, there's so much opportunity for global collaboration that has been created, and so much openness to it, that I think that is a genie you don't put back in the bottle. And I think that's a good thing. I do think that we are going to live a new normal and I think that we should be excited about that. I don't look at that as a negative in any way. I think it opens up new opportunities, like any large change.  


Roger Wahman  09:02 

Yeah, it is very interesting to think about and to think what might the future look like based on what we've seen? 


Lisette Diamant  09:09 

Absolutely. So to wrap up the sentiment of this episode, and really thinking about the important considerations as we spearhead into 2021, what is one final thought, Roger, you'd like to leave our listeners with?  


Roger Wahman  09:22 

Sure. My big takeaway for this year is thinking about digital transformation from two directions. And part of that is creating a product roadmap, where do I want to go? You know, what is my strategy? What is my destination? How am I going to get there? And what does that look like? How do I actually take the steps to achieve that end state that I'm looking for? The way that we get there may look a little different and we need to be open and flexible to change and sometimes the technology can show us ways to get there that we might not have thought of before. 


Lisette Diamant  09:55 

Great, some really strong points to leave us with. Jeff, a final thought from you as well, thinking about these solutions. 


Jeff Schmalbach  10:01 

Yeah, I think if I look back at 2020, it was a year of reacting. Everything happened to us, as humans. You know, 2021 is about kind of grabbing control and getting back to an intentionality of what we're trying to achieve. And so I think in 2021, we have this opportunity to just be much more intentional about where are we trying to go, the roadmaps Roger talked about, and getting really clear on the path and focusing on that again, instead of being too reactionary, 


Lisette Diamant  10:27 

Absolutely. Well, thank you both so much for coming in today. Roger, great to have you again.  


Roger Wahman  10:32 

Thanks, Lisette.  


Lisette Diamant  10:33 

And Jeff, great to have you as well. 


Jeff Schmalbach  10:34 

Yeah, thanks for having me. 


Lisette Diamant  10:37 

Please be sure to subscribe to Digital Reimagined, wherever you listen to podcasts. To learn more about Apex Systems' offerings, visit us at You'll find our podcast here, along with success stories, articles, news and trends. Digital Reimagined is a podcast brought to you by Apex Systems, produced by Taylor Hawkins. The music you heard was Do Ba Do, by Otis Galloway.