Publicis Sapient at SXSW: Harnessing Tech for Positive Change | SXSW | Digital solutions
(upbeat music) (audience applauds) Thanks everyone, so good to have you all here. Over the past 30 years, the digital innovation curve has grown exponentially. With this evolution, we are seeing dramatic applications of technology, from sending citizens to space to self-driving cars. These moonshot applications show us what the art of the possible really is when it comes to technology. Unfortunately, what we don't frequently see, though, are technology applications that are often simple, yet have the capacity to really make an incredible impact on our lives.
During our hour together we are gonna shine a light on the innovations that are changing lives for the better. I'm Reva Bhatia, I'm your moderator for today. I work at Publicis Sapient, a digital business transformation company.
Our firm works with hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies from public sector organizations to private organizations and are really focused on helping them to modernize in a world that is increasingly digital. We take this responsibility really, really seriously, and we try to keep human stories at the center of what we do and we're really committed to demonstrating the positive impact that technology can have. I'm joined today by Hana Schank. Hana is a Fellow for public interest technology at New America. Thank you for joining us. I'm also joined by James Kessler.
He's the industry lead for the public sector at Publicis Sapient. And finally, I'm joined by Teresa Barreira, our Chief Marketing Officer at Publicis Sapient. So as we kick off our session today, we're gonna start with diving into a real example of what digital for good looks like in action.
Tackling the housing crisis that came with the pandemic is not what springs to mind for many when it comes to where technology can help. To tee this up, we're gonna actually share the story of Kersten, a single mother who was on the brink of homelessness. On the precipice of a devastating loss, we see how her fate took a turn through technology. To show the story, we are gonna actually share a clip from the film that Publicis Sapient produced to shine a light on Kersten and the many others who face similar challenges as her. Give it a watch. A mother's job is never done.
(gentle music) We give our last, even though it is our last. Everything was going stable and the pandemic hit. I couldn't work and I'm down on money.
The truth was we was getting evicted. (dramatic music) My dad, he taught me, where there's a will, there's a way and I'm gonna find it. RAMP program has helped more than 18,000 household renters affected by the pandemic. The county, I know they didn't expect the size of the crowds that we had. Thousands of applicants, Kersten was in a bad situation. There's no way we would've been able to get everything we needed done if it had to be done on hard paperwork.
Because we were able to digitize, the system was there. The internet is a beautiful thing. All right, thank you. So obviously an incredibly powerful story. So with this, Teresa, I'm gonna start with a question for you. So much of what I teed up in our introduction about Publicis Sapient's approach to digital business transformation comes from really putting people at the center of what we transform and what we do.
Then we saw the story of Kersten and got a glimpse at what this actually looks like in action for real people. What do you want people to take away from Kersten's story? Thank you Reva, and I'm excited to be here. And so let me, first of all, let me just say I agree with you, because a lot of this would not be, this film would not be possible to do if because of our approach. And you're right, our approach to transformation is our way is to look at transformation from the eyes of the person, being a customer, an employee or like Kersten, a citizen. So for us, our approach is always look at transformation from the outside in versus the inside out.
And because of that, we are able to do this film. But to answer your question, there's three things from me that I wanted people to take away from this film. One is that technology is a force for good. Technology is not the enemy, it is the enabler. And because today there's so many conversation and many discourse about the negativity about technology.
I wanted to remind all of us that, inherently, technology is unbiased. Our people are making the decisions. The second thing I wanted people to take away from it is that digital transformation, which we hear this term a lot, and it is not just about big business helping big business, it is actually in service of people. All transformation is about people, because it's done by people, for people and with people.
And when we, business, society, when we try to create solutions, that are in service of people, we are creating a society and a world that is better for all. And the last thing I wanted to remind everybody, I wanted the film to inspire people, but I also want it to remind everyone that we do live in a digital world, right? That genie is out of the bottle, but the more digital we become, the more human we have to be. That's great. Thank you, Teresa.
And you said something really powerful, which is digital transformation isn't always about, or just about, big business helping big business. And with that sentiment in mind, James, you spent a lot of time partnering with organizations to really get them to see what the art of the possible is when it comes to applying technologies. Much like the organization that powered the change that enabled Kersten to stay home and purchase a home for her kids. So I'd love to unpack with you how you get clients, organizations in the public sector, private organizations to really think beyond cost-cutting and big business helping big business to really get them to see the human benefit of making investments in the technology space. That's great.
Thank you, Reva, for that question. But before I answer, I would just like to say I'm thrilled to be here, back in Austin, Texas, and sharing the stage with Teresa and Hana and you, Reva, women that I dramatically admire and look up to. So it's a thrill to be here today.
Thank you. And it has been a long time and I was reminded of that when I was out on, at several bars on Sixth Street last night listening to bands 'cause it was 27 years ago that I was graduating from graduate school and got offered a job here in Austin at a startup. And so, it was a choice between the job in Austin or what was known as just Sapient at that time in Boston. So it was Boston or Austin. And I chose Sapient, and it's been a great 27-year-journey since, partnering with lots of clients and trying to figure out how we can use digital to enable what is both good for the client, but, more importantly, the client's customers. And so, we have...
Let me put it this way, it's like around this exhibit hall, there are lots and lots of vendors, some amazing people with some amazing products. If you haven't seen the Brane portable audio speaker, wear a helmet 'cause your head might explode when you actually listen to it. So there's a lot of people out there who have solutions and so, but they can only offer the solution 'cause that's their product. So that's one take.
Another take, it's like if you're a traditional management consultant, you'd start with the problem you're trying to solve, 'cause that's how they're trained, that's how I was trained. But at Publicis Sapient we start with the people, the person, the one, the Kersten, and how are we going to impact that person's life? How are we going to make it better? How are we gonna have that impact? And then we work backwards. What is the problem that we need to solve in order to have that impact? And then work backwards from there. What is the work we need to do to solve that problem, to have that impact? So when I work with my teams now, we always start with the one, start with one person. How are you gonna make a difference in that person's life? And then we work backwards from there. That's great, James.
And really brings us full circle back to digital really being a key enabler to be a force for good. When you look at the one, when you focus on the one, it empowers you to make decisions that will make a positive impact on the one. So that's a really, really critical lens to frankly approach problem solving with. And on that note, Hana, throughout your career you've worked quite a bit on also harnessing technologies as a force for good. So I'd love for you to give us some examples on how you've used digital transformation and technologies at large to solve complex or life-saving issues.
I think it's really important, especially while we're in this space surrounded by all of these amazing mind-blowing products, to keep in mind that technology is a tool. To your point, it's not good or bad. The question is what you do with it and how you apply it. I noticed in government corner over there that they are on the hunt for a new solution that will solve problem X or problem Y.
But it's waiting for the technology to get there to solve all of your problems is it could take a long time and it's not necessarily centering the people in the process. So one example of that's a great, a story that I love from government world is in 2015, I was working with the United States Digital Service, not represented in government corner over there, but it's a- It should be. It should be. Yes, next year. It should be, yeah. So a startup in the White House that was created to try to bring private sector technologists to work on government problems.
So the team that I was on was with the Department of Homeland Security. And this was in 2015, we were asked to, you might remember there was a Syrian refugee crisis and we were starting to see all of these really devastating pictures and there was a lot of interest in taking Syrian refugees. The problem is that the system we have to process refugees takes, on average, two and a half years from start to finish and only had a capacity of 70,000, could only process 70,000 applications. So, these are the kinds of problems you often get in government world is we can't process the stuff fast enough. So, you're not gonna get some kind of really awesome technology that does that. It's often a people problem.
So 2015, President Obama raised the limit and asked that we took 8,000 additional Syrian refugees. And the problem was that this was a paper-based process, as many processes are in government. So part of why it took two and a half years was that it was all on paper and you had to wait. These are people who are trying to come from very far-flung countries. They had to wait for the foreign service officer to come there, or for somebody from the state department, to come review all of the documents and then physically stamp them with a stamp. And the applications could not move forward until that happened.
So the very, very complicated technology that we developed to speed the process was a digital stamp. This was not a very special digital stamp other than it was approved by the federal government to admit Syrian refugees. And with the digital stamp by July they were on track to hit the goal of 10,000 Syrian refugees. And on September 28th, '15, that was when the executive order came down. By September 30th of a year later, we had admitted 12,000 Syrian refugees and 84,000 refugees overall. It was the highest number of refugees ever admitted in 17 years and it was a digital stamp.
It's amazing, Hana, to think that... Yep, yeah. I was just gonna say that, that's amazing.
And the story that you saw as well and the examples, and we're talking about some of the things we just mentioned, a lot happened in government and public sector. And sometimes we think in a private sector this doesn't happen. But the only thing I was gonna say is that I actually believe no matter what industry you are, it's not mutually exclusive.
Doing good and profit, they are not mutually exclusive. And I do believe that, usually, companies, they have positive intent when they starting to do things, when they brought out their product innovation, I do believe there's positive intent. And I say this because we work with a lot of companies. Most of our business is actually in the private sector, not in the public sector.
And when we work with these companies to help them drive outcomes, outcomes for the business, yes. To reduce cost, yes, to increase in efficiencies, yes, to look for new sources of growth. These are things that are good for business.
But what those things do, those outcomes, they lead to impact in their customers. And they do these things a lot is to drive a better customer experience to get more clients, to create more loyalty. And those customers are people. So I wanted to make the point that they're not really mutually exclusive. An example, we work with McDonald's, big client. And when we worked with McDonald's, we create a digital platform.
If many of you have been to McDonald's lately, you see the digital boards, you see the digital boards on a pickup or inside the restaurants. And those digital boards obviously have reduced cost of creating efficiencies and looked for new sources of revenue, bringing new customers to the door for McDonald's. But what also has done, giving people, created moments.
And I actually know the story, because somebody that works for me has just recently gone to McDonald's and she said, because of that technology, she was able, instead of sitting in line and waiting for her food, to sit at the table. And while she sit at the table waiting for the food, her and her three-year-old daughter had a moment, a moment that's what she remembers. She doesn't remember she ate, but she remembered that moment between her and her daughter. Another example, we just did a big project with a bank, CN bank in Southeast Asia. We created a also a digital platform that really tremendously helped the bank, but what that digital platform did also enabled that bank to pay their riders, their drivers, that were delivering food from restaurants.
Instead of getting paid at the end of the week, that got paid at the end of the day. That had tremendous impact in those people's lives, because now they have funds, they have money at the end of that day they can buy food for their families. So I wanna make that point, because we can't also, right, this is not just about, there is an element of, obviously, profit, but one is not disconnect to the other. That's an excellent point, Teresa, and so often people conflate corporate social responsibility and doing good and driving social impact with having to be separated from creating shareholder value.
And the premise of our dialogue today is that you can create a positive impact through digital technologies on end users through harnessing these amazing innovations. And also to your point, help your bottom line. You don't need to hold those two as as mutually exclusive. And so, a great point, Teresa.
And in that vein I think it can be overwhelming. Hana, you mentioned a digital stamp. Teresa, you mentioned digital menu boards, right? These are seemingly really simple technologies. How many years ago was the digital menu board probably shown on the tech floor at South By Southwest? Many, many moons ago. And these are things that are making an impact today. And so, again, as doers of change may find these technologies incredibly overwhelming and not know where to start or what to navigate or what the best application is, I'm curious, James, given your work with clients in the past, how do you help people really identify the most efficient approach to drive the most impact? It's a great question and I know we're gonna be talking a lot about the public sector today.
So I'm gonna talk a little bit, another commercial example, one that probably relates to everyone in the audience. And one of the things I love about South By Southwest is it brings out all kinds of people from across the globe, descends here in Austin. But I know at least one thing that everyone has in common today, y'all got here somehow some way and chances are digital was part of that journey unless you lived so close that you just walked and you could, by chance, you might have even used a digital map. So how many took an Uber or a Lyft or a Rideshare here? Okay, or you parked and you used an app to pay the parking fee, something like that? How many people flew to Austin? Oh yeah, we had a lot of number people, okay? How many people changed their seat on the airplane using their phone? How many people paid money to change the seat on the plane? I know I certainly did. I'm from Boston and it was snowing to beat the band up there earlier this week with a nor'easter as we like to say. And so, I had to change my flight from Tuesday to Monday it was last minute.
I got a seat on the plane and then I used my app to pick a new seat. And within 20 seconds I got the aisle seat in the exit row with no one else in the row. And that was the best $49 I've ever spent. And so, thank you in advance to our CFO for approving my expense report, but that $49 allowed me to, both rest and work for four hours on the trip here. So it's just a great example of digital enabling a great experience for me. And Publicis Sapient actually invented changing your seat on your iPhone, or even before phones came out, on a web browser 20 years ago.
And so, every time I use that, I feel proud of the company that I work for. So that's an example of where it worked well. I was in Nashville a couple weeks ago- And great for the airline too.
And it's great for the airline. To your point, Teresa, having an impact on the end user and profits are not mutually exclusive, 'cause that digital product for the airlines is the number one highest grossing product of the entire airline industry, 'cause every dollar that they bring in has virtually no cost associated with it, and it enables and empowers the user to feel like they're in control of their experience and their outcome. On the other end, I was in Nashville a couple weeks ago, I had a rental car and I found a parking spot. Guess how long it took me to pay the $1.75
for that parking spot? Seven minutes. I had to find the right app in order to download, I had to download it, I had to establish an account, I had to put in my credit card and then I had to enable the two-hour parking session. It took seven minutes and it spawned nine emails in my inbox. That was not a great digital experience for me. So when, at Publicis Sapient, we think about the end user, the ultimate person that our solutions are going to benefit and we work backwards from there, as I said earlier.
So my experience getting the aisle seat on the exit row on the plane, great experience, worth every penny. My experience parking in Nashville, not very good. And so, I'm sure all of you today had a variety of experiences on traveling here and digital either helped or hindered that experience. And so, I hope my hope for all of you is that your future experiences will be just what you need to get you the outcome that you need and it's a great experience along the way.
Awesome, James. Who would've thought that you might miss the days of putting change into a meter? I was so desperate for quarters, except that it didn't take quarters. Well, few things do these days. Yeah, so it's interesting, though, because you talk about understanding the problem and coming up with the most efficient solution.
Clearly the city of Nashville has a little bit of work to do on that front. But I wanna go back to Kersten and the problem she was facing and not just the problem Kersten was facing, but frankly our approach to telling Kersten's story in that way. And so, when you think about creating a solution to a problem, Teresa, I'm curious, what was the problem that you were trying to solve with our approach to telling Kersten's story in this way? Yes, so I wanted to humanize digital, but I also wanted to humanize our work and bringing meaning to our work to make it relatable. Easy to understand. Think a lot of you here have heard a lot of examples we gave about our work, but most of you probably have no idea what we do and when we leave here, probably can't explain what we do. Because we work with a lot of large companies.
We are a B2B service technology consulting company. So we work with a lot of industries and governments across many industries, like from McDonald's, I mentioned to Walmart, to Goldman Sachs. And what we do is to help these companies and governments to reimagine their business and services for a world that is increasingly digital. How do you explain that now when you go home to your children? It's not easy, right? And because our work is not tangible.
But what I did not wanna do with this film was to talk about the work or even show the work, 'cause, frankly, that is the easy part. What I wanted to do is show the impact that the work is having, but not the impact in business, because that's also easier to do. The impact in people, ordinary people, real people, like Kersten. And that's the challenging part, just because our work, as I said, is not tangible and for any company, especially B2B service companies, that's a very hard part to do.
Because we are not selling products, and we don't sell directly to the end user. So what I decided to do in that moment, to do that, to solve that problem, was to tell stories. And I decided the better way to do it is to tell a story that's talking about one person, just focus on one person's journey and tell that person's journey. And that's what the film is do. Now I do have to admit one of the things I learned that telling a story or creating a film that does not mention your work or mention your name, it can be hard to explain to your company and to your boss, especially if it's the CEO. That was really intentional.
And not because our name is really hard to pronunciate, but because I want it to be meaningful, I want it to be authentic. And that's why we did it. Now, I tell you one thing, in the process of doing this, it's actually been a big huge lesson for me and James have talked a lot about start with the person, focus on the person. And I think in the process actually of doing this film, I also realized that no matter how big or small the problem or the challenge that we are trying to solve is it can be solved by just focus on one person. And I learned that actually from the process of doing this documentary. It's amazing stuff, Teresa.
And I think it's interesting to think about the angle of the problem you were trying to solve. The angle of the problem you were trying to solve for is how do we talk about this important work in a way that humanizes what we do? And the solve was leaning into a story about an individual, leaning into a story about Kersten, who we're gonna hear more about in a bit. But before we do that, Hana, you mentioned the work that you did at the U.S. Digital Service Department and one thing that stands out to me is how, similar to Teresa, you were able to connect that problem with a solution in a really straightforward way. And so, I'm curious if you could give some examples of where you've identified problems and how you really leaned into where the biggest impact would be through digital solutions and how did you really find those points that would really bring out, frankly, the biggest impact? I mean, so much of this work, it's interesting.
I've worked in technology my entire career and I'm always like, it's not about the technology. Yes, I'm a technologist, forget about the technology. It's really about finding what those key pressure points are that are gonna move the needle for people's lives and make an impact. And one story that I love to tell is takes place in Rockford, Illinois, which is a city on the border about halfway between Chicago and the middle of Iowa. And Rockford had a persistent homelessness problem.
Their rate of homelessness is about 20% higher than the national average. And the mayor was very, very interested in solving the homelessness problem. And this was part of why he'd become mayor.
He was interested in making sure that everybody who lived in Rockford was housed. So they had a system to track homelessness. There's a federally mandated system. They pay $30,000 a year to use this system, but the system was not allowing them to solve homelessness. So what they decided to do was they polled everybody who was working on the problem, they discovered that it was sort of, it's like the blind man and the elephant, right? So everybody had one hand on one piece of the problem, but nobody was seeing the entire issue.
So they started with a meeting and they got all of the right people, including the mayor, into the meeting. And in the meeting they made a by-name list of everyone who was experiencing homelessness in Rockford, veteran homelessness, they started with veterans. So this was by 2015, using this by-name list, they would, in this meeting, go down the list and say, why is this person experiencing homelessness? How did the situation happen and what can we do to resolve it? And one of the things that they discovered was bus passes. They discovered that a lot of veterans become homeless, because they miss their medical appointments, and they miss their medical appointments because they don't have the bus fare.
So the solution to this was to provide free bus passes for veterans. And so, they piloted free bus passes for veteran for six months, had a huge impact, it's now policy, and in 2015, they ended veteran homelessness. In 2017, they ended chronic homelessness. And this was purely by creating a list of who was experiencing homelessness, finding what that pressure point was, finding that it was the bus pass and making that policy. And whenever I tell this story, people are always like, "What was the technology they used to create the by-name list?" Google Sheets, that was Google Sheets. They were paying $30,000 a year for the federally mandated system and they solved it with Google Sheets.
Wow, amazing. Great story. A great story. Sometimes you just have to start with the smallest thing. Sometimes we think that, and this is why I said that no matter big or small problem is, and sometimes it's the smallest problem and finding the point.
And that pressure point reminds me of a conversation I had with a acupuncturist several months ago. I was on a way to an event, to actually to introduce this film, and my driver picked me up at the airport, I get in a car with him and he's an acupuncturist just driving, doing that as a part-time job. And we got into the conversation, he asked me what I was doing, I told him I was going to the event, I was gonna launch the film, I explained the film and I told him what I learned from the process of doing this film, what I just shared with you. And he turned to me and he said, "I really get it.
I absolutely get it." He goes, "As an acupuncturist, I relate to that." And he said, "My job as an acupuncturist to find the pressure point that have the highest impact with the least disturbance in the body." And that's sometimes all you need to do. Yeah, it's so fantastic.
And the pressure point, that you articulated, Hana, was bus fares. It's an incredible thing. And the solve was Google Sheets, who would've thought? So I actually thank you, Teresa, 'cause that's an incredibly powerful story and I wanna go back to the story of Kersten and actually take a look at, as you described, at the pressure points that were relieved, right? That made a huge change in thousands of people's lives, including Kersten. So we're now gonna go back and take a glimpse at some footage of the people who actually enabled the change, they drove the change that empowered Kersten to purchase a home and really want everyone here to get a sense of exactly what was implemented in order to solve the crisis for Kersten and many others.
Let's give it a watch. I remember it very vividly, it was March 15th, we were asked to go home because COVID hit. We really had no clue as to what to expect.
Within just a few days of that, it really became apparent that a lot of people were gonna be out of work, without income and therefore their housing was gonna be at risk. (ambient music) Everything was quick, we were up and running with a rudimentary system in about three weeks. It was a glorified Excel sheet that we used. We just did not have the tools to do what we ultimately needed to do.
We were in desperate need of a new system. So DreamKey Partners reached out to Publicis Sapient to build a more sophisticated platform. It's not enough to just say you need to transform and here's some amazing digital tools. Really need to understand what they're trying to achieve and that only comes by listening. (clapperboard snaps) I'm Jeremy Johnson, I'm in business development for Publicis Sapient and I work with state and local clients up and down the east coast. We started meeting with Jeremy morning, noon and sometimes late night.
And we had a fantastic team, but we had to build trust really quickly with them. Our focus was to get millions of dollars out the door. Working with PS allowed us to be able to focus on what we were good at doing and it then allowed them to focus on the technical stuff to get us where we needed to be. It's still really humbling. Of course, we're bringing that technology and we know these tools really well, but it's really the impact that we align on it. (clapperboard snaps) My name is Kate Haessly.
My job is to process applications from people seeking help with rent and utilities based on their COVID hardships. The application itself was it was a digital application, but it's seven pages long, right? DreamKey had to translate those guidelines into what they needed to see on the screen. When someone applies online, the information gets put into a Salesforce application.
That application is then assigned to someone in my position and we're able to go into it. Having a database that allowed us to compile all of the documents that a customer may have sent over, and then all you have to do is just click on the button and it pops up and you can actually formulate it to make a file so that it's nice and pretty for an auditor was a game-changer for us. It isn't buying software, the truth is it was the people, it was the staff members who were behind it who said, "We're gonna implement this system, we're gonna get it up and running," and then they did. And that was just the most amazing part about it. When we hit the deadline, I think was in a few weeks we had the application up and running for people to use.
If you think about trying to do what we do with the U.S. Postal Service, it wouldn't happen. I mean, there's no way you could get someone from a position where, say they're a week out from a court date, or worse, a week out from lockout. If we didn't have Salesforce and the ability to react quickly, we wouldn't be able to help you.
It is a crazy good success. It was like turning on a fire hose and we were sitting there when we turned the lights on, on the solution, seeing these applications just roll in. We're on your side with information that could help you if you're behind on your rent, your mortgage or utility bill. The RAMP program has helped more than 18,000 household renters affected by the pandemic pay for their rent and utilities. In 2021, we were able to help 320 households experiencing homelessness into housing.
How does it make me feel? I mean, that's the why I do what I do. Even though we see that every day and we're able to help people every day. When you see it on screen and you see what it means to 'em, I mean, it's just super emotional. Just watching the film, I mean it's about DreamKey, not wanting anyone to fall through the cracks. It's the story there of these women that made it happen.
We made about $75 million in rent relief payments through this program. Over 11,000 households that I know that we assisted in our last fiscal year through this process. It feels amazing that we've been able to help that many people keep a home over their head, like a roof. It creates stability. And to know that we created that and it's tangible, I can go and find someone that I helped and I can touch them.
It's amazing. There's nothing, no other job that would allow me to do that. It's concrete evidence that what we do makes a difference. Thousands, 20,000, and just all of 'em in the exact same position, all of 'em just looking for something. So often you just don't think there is hope.
And in this case, we were able to help and I'm just so grateful. Again, really incredible story. And so much of what we talked about has been these specific examples of, again, simple technologies being used to drive meaningful change. And so, I'm curious though, one of the things that was teed up in the deeper look at Kersten's story was the policy reform that came before understanding how you're gonna link to the end user. And so, James and Hana, I'd love to kick it to both of you as having been practitioners in this space. How do we really approach using digital as an unlock for policy and strategy? Absolutely.
We've been talking a lot about the one up here on stage, the one story. I would like just to mention that one of the magical properties of digital solutions is its ability to scale very quickly. And we were able to take that solution which helped Kersten and prevented her from being evicted with our partner at DreamKey. And they helped 40,000 people, but we were able to scale that over half a dozen clients in all over the country. And we helped a million people pay their rent and avoid being evicted during the pandemic.
And we distributed $1 billion of rental assistance to those folks. So while we are telling the story today of one person, it scales very rapidly with digital solutions. But you talked about the unlock.
Digital is the unlock. The objective was prevent people from becoming homeless during the pandemic. And just because Congress can write a check for $50 billion for emergency rental assistance, you can't get the $50 billion into individual people's hands by snapping your fingers. You need a solution. And if we tried to do it with a traditional sort of paper-based solution, you'd need processing centers all over the country, trucks going around, bringing pieces of paper everywhere. But we were able to cut through all of that and get money to people who needed it right away.
And so, digital was the unlock to the policy. And so today, there almost isn't a policy you can implement that doesn't rely on digital to execute that policy. So that's some of my experiences. Hana, I'm sure you have many other stories as well. Yes, I mean we have talked about that.
So really the first time this happened where a policy just did not exist, because the technology didn't work was Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act. That policy, if you couldn't sign up for healthcare, you didn't have it. And that was a real wake-up call for government. And I think also for vendor people who work in that space, that part of how people design policy in the modern age has to involve delivery. And delivery is always technology. That is the world we live in.
Delivery relies upon technology and there's been sort of a leveling up in government with this realization, and that's how we get solutions like DreamKey where somebody had the idea of, oh, actually this thing that we just, this massive law that we just passed and was like a lot of work to design how it was gonna work, it doesn't even start to work if you don't have the the unlock, which is always tech. That's incredible. So, Teresa, I'm curious, when we address the meaningful impact on digital and the way that Hana and James just teed up and the way that we saw in the behind the scenes footage of the film, it's clear that there's an undertold story here. In the introduction you'd said something so elegantly, you said, digital technology is getting a bad reputation these days and elevating these stories of good is such a powerful approach to getting people to really see how digital can and should be harnessed in today's day and age. And so, I'm curious where you see this approach to storytelling taking us.
Yeah, but before I answer the question, to your point that I also said one of the reasons to do this film was to show that digital, it is a force for good. But I also say that transformation is about people. And I really, really believe that, because people are making the decisions, same thing with technology, but transformation requires courage and requires bravery to make those decisions.
And often in time, unfortunately, both government and the private sector, people that are in a position to make those decisions and to make the change, they don't have the appetite or the desire to do it. This is why things take so long. That's why we probably saw the menu boards here 20 years ago and now you actually experienced them. And that is, goes back to about people. And when people don't actually wanna disrupt the status quo, they don't have the appetite to disrupt themselves.
This film for me was disrupting the way I think about marketing. I'm a CMO and you think about my job is to promote our brand. My job is to put the brand everywhere, like we do a 30-second commercial.
You don't see my brand in the film, we haven't seen the entire film. I invite you to see the entire 15-minute documentary, Never Done. And you'll see that it never talks about us. And again, 'cause of that. So to do that, I had to disrupt the way I think about brand marketing. It's a risk.
If this didn't work, I would've probably spent a lot of money. And the reason sometimes we do not individuals, people, executives and people in government, they don't have the appetite to do that. So instead of having transformation, what we end up in the end is incrementalism, more of the same. I used to have the saying to say that 'cause we've been thinking about digital, digital transformation for so many years.
So why now? Really these technologies have existed for over a decade and I used to have this saying and I still do, that what many companies have done is random acts of digital. And what I mean by that, it goes back to technology. You add technology to solve the problem. More technology. I create a website, I create an app, I create this, but you haven't addressed the problem yet.
So let me come back to your question now. Yeah. So what was the question again? Excellent, so my question was, and I think you touched on it a little bit, which is, where do you see this approach to storytelling, making the film, you so elegantly put that it wasn't necessarily about the film in and of itself? But yeah, I'm just curious what- I will address the question now. I had to say that, because I feel like we do, for me it's really important. I feel that I understand that. So to your question.
This film, it is not a just a story. For me and for us it's more than a story. Look, creating a film it's not new, We are at a festival celebrating films, celebrating art, a lot of great films. So anybody can make a film. Probably a lot of you in the audience have made great films. Any company can hire an Oscar-winning director to make a film.
And lots of them do to create their 30-second commercials that you see on a Super Bowl Sunday. But what most companies cannot do, especially B2B service tech companies, is to show the impact their work is having on ordinary people. And the reason, this is why this for us is more than a story, the reason we could do it and can do it is because the way we approach our work, we started this conversation, is about putting people at the center. That's the way we approach how to solve problems. And for us, this film is not, it's about the way we work, it's how we live our purpose, because every company, every brand wants to be purpose-driven and you hear all about it, right? But the way they do that, most of the time's through a 30-second commercial, or CSR. But this for us, it is not about that.
It's really about to show our work and to show the where we work, and it's about really our DNA. And this is why I believe, I'm very proud of the film for that reason and why we could do it. But to be honest, all of this put apart, all the marketing put aside, what been the most beautiful thing about doing this film was not because we're sitting here at South By Southwest introducing it to you, encouraging you to watch the film. It's really about what it has done for our company and for our people, our 20,000 employees, it really has unified them.
And what's so important is, because it helped them connect the dots. So if I'm an engineer, I was able to understand that I'm not just building code. The code that I'm building is helping somebody, a person on the other end to get their medication faster so they can stay healthier. I'm helping a person get paid on time so they can buy food for their family. So if I'm an engineer, a product manager, an experience designer, a creative, I can see that my job is not just to break rocks, I am building the cathedral.
And that's what this film has really done, because most of us, we spend our lives in jobs and working, but we don't most of the time don't get to see the impact. And this film enabled people to see that. This is not marketing speech, it's not something that we invented, it's real and you can feel it and they could see it.
And that, to me, was then the most beautiful thing. I think that's really compelling, Teresa, and this incredible story serving as a catalyst to individuals to really widen their aperture and view simple solutions in a very different way, right? View it from the lens of, wow, these are the types of positive impacts that the work that we are doing and digital technology at large can have. And so, James, your team led the work that was described in the footage that we showed. And so, I'm curious how talking about our work in this way has evolved your conversations with clients and people in general, how have people been reacting? It's been unbelievable. And so, I just wanted to thank Teresa for taking that risk and making the film, 'cause it's worked out really, really well for so many- Thank you for making it easy for me.
Yeah, we work well together. So it's worked out for all the different people that I work with. I've got clients, I've got the client's customers, I've got my colleagues and I've got my partners and everyone has been blown away by the way that we have focused on the individual impact. I'll tell you this one story, you're saying that had the impact on our 20,000 people. Here's the story of one of those 20,000 people and he's one of my colleagues and he started his career coincidentally the same year that South By Southwest started, about 35 years ago, was in the late eighties.
And he worked, coincidentally, for Digital Equipment Corporation, which no longer exists, but it's at the forefront of digital at the time. I remember. And so, he said to me about this is 6, 9 months ago, "James, I've been doing this for over 30 years.
I've been selling technology, I've been implementing technology. I've never been able to explain to my family what it is that I do." We made the film, I showed the film to my family, and now I can explain, not only explain to my family what I do, but feel proud and motivated. And so, he's at the sort of the later part of his career rather than the early part of his career, he said to me, "I haven't been this motivated at work since it was the eighties and I was working at Digital Equipment Corporation."
And so, that's the type of transformational emotional feeling that our people, our partners, our clients are having about our focus on the impact and that this film has unlocked for them. So thank you for making the film and unlocking that passion. And also, Hana, thank you for writing the book that you wrote, "Power to the Public", which I give to all of my colleagues, all of my clients and whatnot. And so, between the two of those you've really helped my business. So thanks to both of you.
Thank you, well, oh, go ahead. And I think we are at a similar moment as whatever, '89, '94, whatever era you wanna call it. But we are at this precipice of, at least in the public sector and I think also in the private sector, of having an understanding of the kind of impact that technology can have, that it can have a bad impact as well as a good impact and how to really channel it in a transformational way.
And I think there's a reason, it's exciting. We are at another exciting moment. I also just wanna say something else, because this is something actually, I've been thinking a lot about it, right? I haven't had a chance to walk around the exhibit hall, but I bet is a lot of focus on AI and probably because AI is having a big moment right now. And I spent my first part of my career at IBM, and IBM has been the forefront of AI for many years now.
And IBM was to say, years ago, used to say that, "In the age of AI, what determines your intelligence is not how much you know, but what questions you can ask." And ChatGPT just proved that. But I also, for me, and also in my field in marketing, I wanna bring back to the people. I believe that in now in the age of AI, people are the mission critical and companies often think about their audience as customers, as prospects, as consumers. And I actually believe that's the wrong way to think about it for the brand. You gotta think about as people, not as a customer, not as a consumer, not as a prospect. Why?
Because when you think that way, when you think about my consumer, it's about extracting value. When you think about a person, it's how do I add value to that person? So that's a different shift and I think where we are today, it's really important to change the shift. And it's again, putting people at the center. Because when I think about you as a person, as an individual, I'm gonna ask, what can I do to help you? If I think of you as a consumer, which is extracting value, how can I get you to consume more? I actually have come to this realization myself and this part of again, this film has been a lot of eye-opening. I have tried, actually, this with my team.
Every meeting I go, I started asking, what can I do to help? And I have to say, the first time I asked the question, there was a lot of silence in the room, because it can be a loaded question. If you just leave the room with a question, that I realize that people aren't ready for it. But now when I start asking the question, people got used to, they start giving me actually answers to say, let's make the meeting shorter, instead of an hour, 45 minutes. Let's have five minutes between calls, let's have more time, can we have more one-one time with people? And the things actually put forward are simple, but it's again, it's reframing your thinking.
That's really powerful, Teresa, and interestingly enough, we've talked about the work, we've talked about the film and the vision here is that telling the story this way and how you've articulated it, Teresa, is gonna get people to see, again, that digital can be used as a force for good. Hana, you said it, we've seen the negative impacts of technology and the positive impacts of technology. And so important for us to make sure that the positive impacts of technology have their moment and have a spotlight, because that is often, Teresa to your point earlier, the undertold story, right? We don't often talk about the human who's the beneficiary of so much of what's going on. So with that I have a final question for the panel here today, which is a more general one. How has, as humans, technology impacted you? I'll start with you, Teresa. Wow, all right, so I have to go back to the beginning.
I grew up in Portugal, in a very small village of 1,000 people, literally 1,000 people. We went to bed and didn't lock our doors. In my village, people lived off the ground, from off the ground, from what they grew, that's what they ate, and some people still do. People didn't have electricity, many people didn't have water, they definitely didn't have TVs, not even a radio. I didn't grow up with a TV, I didn't even grow up with having a phone.
It was very, very analog world. For many of us think that's like living in a cave today. But my parents in the village and small business owners, I worked in my parents' business, in a store. I didn't have a calculator, not a cash register.
Everything was done manually. So I'm sharing that story, because I was not introduced to technology. I immigrated to the United States at the age of 17 and still the accent.
I went to university. And when I graduated, my first job was at IBM. That's how I was introduced to technology. The first time I worked, I had my own computer. When I was in university, I had to go to the lab. But to me it's really that, and I share the experience because I didn't come from that, but it really has changed my life.
As a professional, technology has enabled me to grow my career. From the first time I joined IBM, I've been able to work remotely. I've had many global roles and never have had to move, and that's because of technology. As a mother, I'm a mother, two wonderful teenagers, they somewhere around here, I've been able to be a mother and be present. I've been able to have dinner with my kids and attend, not all their events, but the important ones, because of technology.
And as an immigrant, which I'm very, very proud of, I've been able to keep in touch with my community. My community, that I still go there every year that I still in touch. And I do that through technology. Now, my community today, people still don't have phones in their homes, but everybody has a mobile phone and the whole town is now is on wifi. So all of these things has been because of technology. So for me, Reva, I could not, I mean, growing up in that village, I could not imagine what I would be able to do today.
It's incredible. James? Oh, you'll get the short version, I could tell you the 10-minute version. But technology for me was transformational in my life. And it relates to the arc of South By Southwest. So when I was in high school in the late eighties and in college in the early nineties, I played a lot of guitar in a lot of bands, kind of like the ones you see down on Sixth Street. We didn't make it big, we were sort of hacks, but gosh did we have fun.
But during that period of time, just like when interactive was introduced at South by Southwest, digital came into the music scene. And so when I started, everything was analog and it was up there as a guitar player, if you wanna add an effect, you had to add an additional pedal. And then you had three pedals, four pedals, five pedals, six pedals, all connected. And then in the early nineties, my band mate, my roommate went out and bought this rack equipment and he could plug it in and any one of 100 different sound effects came right out of it. How does that happen? Digital, 'cause it digitally transformed the signal, processed it, and then came back out analog again.
We were so blown away by that, that it turned into a field of study for me. So I ended up majoring in digital signal processing in college and I went to graduate school for digital signal processing. And then, thankfully, Sapient rescued me and I came, and now I get to work with public sector clients and helping Kersten not experience homeless.
Definitely took a turn, but I would say- It definitely took a turn. But hopefully I'll be on Sixth Street tonight at the bars and when I'm listening to the band, I'm not necessarily looking at their instruments, I'm looking at their equipment to see how they're processing their sound. Well, there you go. That's a very
interesting major. It is, and Hana, we'll wrap with you. Yeah, so my story is probably different and weirder, which is I'm possibly the world's first digital native, even though I'm 50.
So, but I grew up with a monitor that was connected to the Yale University mainframe in the seventies. I had a parent who was part of founding the field of artificial intelligence. So I've had email since I could write. The only people I could email were my parents and my brother. And so, we would just email each other. And I think my experience with technology has always been, "This is cool, what could we use it for?" And it's just been a consistent, I remember when the internet suddenly, I discovered the internet.
I was like, "This is cool, I wonder what we'll do with it." So I think I have, as I said so, technology has just been intertwined in my life forever and I think I am always looking for, "Huh, I wonder what we could do with this?" Awesome, love it. Well, that wraps up our session today, guys. Thank you so much for sticking around. Thank you all for joining us.
Huge thank you to Teresa, James, and Hana, and I hope you guys find the rest of your time at South by Southwest enlightening. Appreciate it. Thank you. (audience applauds) (upbeat music)