Neil Gardner is managing principal of Systematiq.
What’s Systematiq and what does it do?
Gardner: Systematiq helps businesses organize their best ideas and bring them to life.
For the most part, projects are the primary vehicle businesses use to convert who they are today into who they need to be tomorrow. We help businesses by providing the project advisory, hands-on project management and project systems that help them get there.
Our engagements can range from just a few days by helping take a quick look under the hood, to several months or even years managing a major transformation. During our nine years, we’ve dealt with organizations small and large in both the public and private sectors, typically in the 30-to-500-person range, but not always.
There’s usually a substantial technology component involved, although a good chunk of the work we do helps clients enhance their organizational processes and systems as well.
How important has the use of technology become in the corporate world?
Gardner: There’s a fascinating dichotomy emerging right now. On one hand, we’re seeing huge importance being placed on all sorts of analytics, automation and artificial intelligence-based projects. Yet on the other hand, we’re seeing an increasing demand for human beings to feel human again.
Take the emergence of eSports, for instance. It amazed me years ago when I first heard that they get 18,000 fans filling an arena to watch a handful of people sitting at centre ice playing video games. But it starts to make a lot of sense when you consider that no technology exists to replicate the atmosphere of a huge cheering crowd shoving their fists in the air, high-fiving each other and blowing out their vocal cords. You can’t get that sense of energy, camaraderie or tactility from an Xbox sitting at home, no matter how loud you crank the speakers.
And the corporate world understands that importance, too. Look at the emphasis being placed on customer experience as an example. All this technology that was designed to connect or engage us more easily has actually disconnected us in many ways. We have seen many businesses re-evaluate areas where human touch needs to take the lead and where using technology is the better answer.
What’s critically important is to integrate whatever technology you’re using in a way that is congruent with your company principles, capabilities and community.
Do some companies find it difficult to embrace technology and if so why?
Gardner: My observation is that companies and their people will often embrace an improvement in their condition very quickly. And nearly everything has some sort of technology component to it now.
But if the technology itself hijacks the conversation, represents an unreasonable risk, or there is uncertainty over cost and benefits, then the walls of resistance go up in a hurry.
But there is a lot of technological PTSD out there, too. Many companies dove head-first into using free applications only to discover their data was the product rather than them being the customer. And companies and consumers alike are increasingly vigilant about making those compromises by embracing technology in a more studied fashion now.
When a company can clearly envision their desired outcome and has a roadmap to getting there which properly addresses their requirements, the technology simply then becomes one component in the overall project. And any technology that demonstrates a high probability of accelerating that vision, companies will embrace, propose and marry in Vegas tomorrow.
What’s your sense of the economy today in Alberta?
Gardner: I think it depends on how you’re participating in it. Despite the understandable malaise infecting many parts of our province, I see and work with successful businesses every day who are simply adapting, figuring out a practical path forward and just getting on with it.
It’s an encouragingly defiant Albertan way of doing business and it creates a lot of optimism seeing those pockets of the economy motoring along.
But there’s no question that so much is still just way out of whack. We certainly face enough external challenges largely out of our control, so the least we can do in the meantime is to make sure we have our act together internally.
Like the saying goes, never waste a good recession. There’s a shared responsibility for public policy and private enterprise to support each other. It’s a two-way street and capital has demonstrated itself to be highly portable.
I sense that we’re nearing some sort of capitulation point in that regard and that things will improve, but we’ll see soon enough if that’s intuition or into wishing.
I understand you had a connection to Ferrari here in Alberta. Tell me what that was about and why you like their vehicles?
Gardner: It started many years ago and involves two separate spheres, one that continues today with the company itself as a consigliere, to use their word, and the other having served as president of the local owners’ club chapter several years ago, which was also great fun.
They’re a fascinating company, great to work with and incalculably passionate about their brand, which is infused throughout their cars. You might think a company with such an exalted image and so much brand capital would kick back and wistfully reminisce about the good old days while lamenting the changes happening in the marketplace today. But the truth is they’re so intensely and enthusiastically focused on the future, they’d make a Silicon Valley tech startup blush.
And that’s a great lesson to remember for us here in Alberta, particularly now.
– Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business
Caption: Neil Gardner, managing principal of Systematiq.