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April 13, 2022

E004 Karim Sahyoun: Digital Transformation Expert

Digital Transformation Helps Your Business Scale.

Karim Sahyoun is Data Driven Digital Transformation Consultant, an Enterprise/Business Architect and a Blockchain Expert
Karim has 28 years of deep operational experience in Digital Startups, the GCC Public Sector, Manufacturing, Transport, Logistics, Retail, and other verticals. His Twitter: @sahyounk
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Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 0:07
Once upon a time, there were millions of businesses struggling. Every day they wasted time, effort and money on repetitive tasks that added no value. One day, the better automation podcast by process CEO came to show them the way. Because of this, these businesses save time, reduce costs, innovate, and make better decisions now, because of that these businesses grow, prosper and use human creativity to change this world. Hello, my name is Aziz and I'm your host that better automation podcast by process yo, where I interview the world's top experts and share their best ideas on how to improve automation in your business, processes and life. My guest today is Kareem Sahar Yoon. Karim is a data driven digital transformation consultant, an enterprise business architect, and the blockchain expert. Kareem has 28 years of deep operational experience in digital startup, the GCC public sector, manufacturing, transport, logistics, retail and other verticals. Kareem How are you today?

Karim Sahyoun 1:38
I'm good. How are you out the losses?

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 1:40
I'm feeling positive? Feeling very good. And I'm wondering because it's fascinating to me the origin stories of people? How did your story begin? And how did your journey with automation and digital transformation? Start?

Karim Sahyoun 1:59
That's a good question. It's a good place to start. I was born in Lebanon to parents of German and Palestinian and Armenian roots. And I ended up in the GCC here in Dubai. GCC stands for the Gulf Cooperation Council. But yeah, I ended up here in Dubai, where I grew up before finishing my high school here and ending up in Canada studying engineering. I've then spent, I guess, a total of 20 years in North America and the Caribbean working and I've come back, I came back to the region here to participate in this amazing growth. That's everybody's witnessing right now.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 2:39
Thank you. That's wonderful. And why digital transformation specifically?

Karim Sahyoun 2:45
I don't think I chose it specifically. I think that as a teenager, my desire to have a computer, I had to justify it to my parents. And I think I was probably, you know, making the first use cases designing the first use cases, I think, even preparing a white paper is what we do today to convince my parents to spend x amount of dollars on a Commodore Amiga at the time when I was a teenager. And since then every business that I've touched I've been involved in, I've always tried to improve and make it more efficient. And what better way to do it than using software.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 3:24
I agree. 100%. And since you're mentioning, improving businesses that you're involved with, is there any specific project or anything you've worked on whether you use software to improve that you're either really proud of, or stands out in your life as something memorable?

Karim Sahyoun 3:45
Well, I think the more the most one of the more visible ones is the extension of the Dubai Metro second phase that led to the expo, which just ended actually a few days ago, which was a wonderful event. The construction of the Dubai Metro had about 17 million artifacts, I helped to automate the requirements management using an IBM software called doors. That was a very challenging year and a half project. I've also automated and designed the software for the container terminal and Haiti that managed are are at the time when I was living there, the vessels that we were, we were the maritime shipping companies we were working with. And I think leading the change management for one of the biggest projects in the region, which was Kham Kham is a platform that unifies all the government services of Abu Dhabi. And I was the senior change manager on that project.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 4:42
Those are really really interesting as me personally I'm very interested in change management. And if you read all the literature about system theory that the first like, Prime Directive of any system is to survive there For Change management is hard, not only because it's changing something into something new, but because what exists tries to resist, because systems try to survive. So what insights do you have for any business that is trying to create change within itself to transform somehow, in dealing with natural systems, you know, attitude and tendency to try not to change or people not to change, as well as habits to return and be back is destroying any goals and any attempts to make them better,

Karim Sahyoun 5:42
it is a very interesting topic. And basically, first of all, I think, is recognizing that there is a need for change. And sometimes, companies are trying to implement systems without even realizing that they're actually changing the organization, or even if you consider a digital chain, if you consider a digital transformation, you're actually you might be changing the whole business model of the company, right. And then once you understand that there is change, it's understanding that one of the three elements which have any any program or project is people, processes, technology, people, and understanding that people are very resistant to change, because they have expectations, they have fear. And they have all kinds of, let's say, issues, things they like, and affinities and relationships, whether it's with other people or even systems, I found, you know, I find I've constantly meet people that are in love with their Excel sheets that they've developed, and removing those Excel sheets from them as like, almost like asking them to break up with their girlfriend or their wife. I think those are the key. If the key is basically if you recognize the changes there, and that the human part of that equation is key, addressing it in a in a structured way. And in a planet FIDE way probably ensures that you're on the right track for implementing a successful program.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 7:11
I love that, that you're speaking about how to implement in the right way and systematically going about change, let's say a business came to you or a government or any entity that is interested in automation and digital transformation. How is that? How does that work? What is your process? What will happen first? Second, third? How will you manage the whole project?

Karim Sahyoun 7:43
I think I've done this so many times, it becomes almost automatic. The first first step is understanding the business, understanding what's the actual state of the business, understanding some of the pain points, actively listening to the people that run the business. And it's not only the CEO, sometimes the CEO, or the leader doesn't really know what's going on, he has one view. So taking all the perspectives into consideration and scratching below the surface. And this is a part that I enjoy very much. And I usually am quite good at it. Because I'm curious, I asked questions, and I build that picture. And then whether it's an understanding, and then maybe that may lead to what we call and consulting. And as is, which is what's the actual state of things. It might also include a basic architecture, which is basically model a model of the business, depending on how complex it is, you can imagine, if it's a bank, it may have 500 plus systems. So you need to know what's going on. You need to know what the business is. But then you also need what you need to know what technology is in place. What are the human resources, the org structure, so and as is, and only then? And once we've understood what the aspirations of the business are, what they're trying to fix? Is it a specific pain point? Is it a profitability issue? Is it a department? Is it a new technology that they're trying to launch our product that they're trying to launch? Only then you can define the to be so what they're trying to achieve? And then again, we again model and we use architectural tools to build a model of what that view looks like only then, can we really begin to automate these new processes.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 9:29
It's interesting. I mean, I'm trying to follow your train of thoughts and I love going from ISIS to as a four to the to B and then linking that to the pain points and only then beginning to automate as a solution point. Is this related somehow

Karim Sahyoun 9:49
to let me let me interrupt just for a second, just to add to that point, I think there is a there is a clear distinction or a point to make about digital transformation. I think in this world of digital transformation, there are some issues and even by seasoned practitioners, and that they look at it as a company or an organization is just a set of processes, and we're just trying to automate them. And this often leads to a lackluster results, or very low extra low, let's say low satisfaction. And I think the number is 80%. And this is a Gartner number that we can verify 80% of digital, or technology projects worldwide fail to live up to their expectations, the right thing to do is not just to automate the processes, it is to really look at the business understand it right, by taking a clearer view of what it is and what they're trying to do. And then possibly redefining the new, the new to be so the to be might be a completely new organization. And only then you'll be able to define new processes that should be automated,

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 10:59
I really love it. And it's actually different to something I'm quite familiar with. And maybe you are as well, the theory of constraints that actually, most people are dealing with the symptoms of a deeper root cause of all their pains, and therefore they're just like rearranging the deck chairs and the Titanic. At the same time, actually, it seems what you do is more radical or revolutionary than that it's not only changing a root cause it's transformation, really, of the model of the whole structure of everything. I want to understand, do you think in terms of theory of constraints, that any business, whatever they say those are symptoms, and you look for a root cause that you try to fix first? Or do you believe that there is because I remember, we spoke before about this, but it's, it's worth repeating, that often, there is the real business that they are in, compared to the business they think they are in, and you're taking them to be in alignment with their real business where the real profit and value is, rather than, like putting lipstick on a pig, or trying to make something as Peter Drucker said, there is nothing as worthless as making something not worth doing more efficient. You know,

Karim Sahyoun 12:31
this is a very valid point. And I'm gonna say something that's a bit more humble here. I don't think that I have the right answer to every business. And I'm not here. Whenever I go into a situation or an engagement, I don't believe that I know the business better than the actual people that work in it. And often these are in this industry experts that have been at often their whole career. But I think that we're not often from a practical standpoint, to deliver results, we're not going to try and boil the ocean. I think that's a good one. And it's not about completely transforming the business, that we're going to bring any satisfaction, it's really about scratching the surface. Of course, you know, rootkit root cause analysis is a is a very, let's say, common tool for us engineers, and consultants. Yes, definitely, this is something that we look at, but it's really about understanding the real pain points and then nudging, I like the word nudging, nudging people towards possibilities suggesting if there is a transformation of the business model that should be made. But it's not about transforming the whole thing and coming and asking somebody to Chuck 20 years of their life away. And and that arrogance is usually not well received. And that wouldn't make me a good change management practitioner with it.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 13:58
Thank you, I agree with you. I remember in psychology, they were proving that go and Kaizen by 1%, like nudges in the direction where you want to go with much better than go in cold turkey or doing some big moves. Because what happens is that your subconscious will get freaked out and get into a fear state because of the radical and the really big jumps that you might be making into the unknown, but very small nudges. They're accepted. So now Now I actually do understand how you support people and systems changing it's by making the change. So like, step by step, or baby step that it doesn't, you know, create any fears. And you spoke a lot about pain points, pain points, I think three times you mentioned that what they pick leads are usually our pain points that you encounter in your work that seem to be more common than not within whether businesses enterprise, or entities or anything that comes for you to get some help.

Karim Sahyoun 15:16
There's so many. You know, data is big today. Often, we have an excess of data data sitting in silos. You could just sit in an office for a little bit and asking a few questions and realize that data sitting with different people in different parts of the organization or not, or not traveling, so lack of collaboration, causing inefficiencies, data's one, profitability is another one, right? Why? Why is this not profitable? We did our math, we did our business model, it should be profitable, yet we're spending too much money here. Why is it? Well, it's too difficult to do this, why? And there's a lot of why's, there's a lot of questions, and you can call them pain points. We can call them bottlenecks. We can call them traffic. We, you know, sometimes you don't have the right people the right roles. It could be anything, really. And this is the beauty of this business. Never a dull moment.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 16:17
Never a dull moment. I like that. When it comes to data. What is the biggest benefit of automation? Is it improved decision making? By the People? Who are the leaders of the company or the enterprise, etc? Or is it like you said more about coordination, where each department will get the right information for it to do its job at the right time in the right way without excess costs or inventory or whatever? Like that. Or it's understanding the customers and the clients and therefore serving them even better than before? What usually are the biggest impacts when you create a project that improves either data access data display or understanding and analysis of the data?

Karim Sahyoun 17:12
Yeah, data is a big words. And we could we could, like you said, use it for decision support, right. So your management and you want to know what you're doing? How much you're doing? How much it's costing you how many customers you have. But then, you know, I think and we're not going to go into the classic KPI discussion, right? What doesn't get measured doesn't get done, I have a view on on KPIs and, and if, if you read professors like Kevin Kaiser of INSEAD, he says, you know, don't aim for the KPI. KPI should be a measure, but it shouldn't be your objective. Because there are many examples of companies that aim for KPIs, in fact, do not deliver results, the real objective should be delivering value, delivering value to the customer, whoever it is, right? And then once we now we talk about customers, and you raised it in your in your question, is data data, understanding the customer and understanding the employee? I'm involved in both? If you look at the internal experience of the employee, that's change management, that's understanding how that how the your employees feel, how are they using the systems that they have at hand, right. And then collecting that data and understanding and designing systems using those personas, which are techniques around data collection of people, right? And then data of the customer. If you don't know your customer? How can you offer them tools and products that they will buy if you don't have the right data? I love

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 18:38
where our discussion is going. And I will say that most people that you speak with about automation. They think first about well, we will save man hours, we will need less employees, we will not have someone who will call in sick some day or perform last year No, because of the variance and all that in performance, but it will be reliable. You're bringing into the forefront thoughts that are more about more strategic, I would say your more structural and bigger picture. But in general, what do you think are the first days or ways that companies, enterprises and entities see immediate or faster results? When it comes to automation? I understand you know the difference between urgent and important in that we live in an instant gratification society rather than longer term views. But since we're dealing with it, what often are immediate changes and impacts of automation, that if someone implemented a project today, they can expect to notice very fast.

Karim Sahyoun 19:57
I mean, the quick win Yeah, this is the quick winner. The lowest hanging fruit question. It's a very valid one. Unfortunately, it's not, the answer is not to rush in and ultimate. The questions that should be posed, the quick wins will be around asking questions and understanding the business and having an honest conversation about what the what the issues are, what could be improved, and then to start to look at how to improve them. I don't think that, you know, technology is the answer to everything. And often, the problem is too much technology or not the right technology or the technology is not been implemented the right way. And there's one, there's one elephant in the room and digital transformation that everybody seems to ignore. When you procure a large system. Often that system, whether it's, you know, branded ERP, like Oracle or SAP, the implementation of that system is often more complex. And the configuration is more complex than designing a whole new system. So that implementation has to be so well planned. And we often use architecture in order to implement it properly. Because you get lost, you actually get lost in implementing such complex systems.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 21:15
I agree with you 1000 million percent. And my gripe or something that in theory, a lot of the strategic thinkers will say, Look, don't waste what you have. Because often really, like the best solution is to rethink, like, reinvent everything and rethink everything and start from scratch. But strategically, they will say, Well, you're destroying some competitive advantages or things that you have, you should sit and analyze what you have that is already working, and don't destroy that. But that adds even more complexity. And you end up with a Frankenstein system, which is like a mix of what was with what you want to create and things like that. What is your recommendation? Let's say there is a business, they have some things like islands of profit in a sea of red, I think that was the title of one of the books about profitability that you look for the small like black, or like green or profits within your business, and the red things are the things that are not profitable to either cut them off or look at how much they contribute to economies of scale and scope, etc. and build on those or do you believe it's well worth it to just rethink everything, start with a blank page, and then engineer something as if you're starting from scratch and build that with total freedom and an attachment to previous limits?

Karim Sahyoun 22:45
This is a very good question Abdulaziz. And I believe that any consultant that comes in and recommends that you scrap everything and start from scratch is probably mistaken. And in a world today, the world we live in today, and digital is all about agility. Agility means working in an agile way, it means working with backlogs of issues building up. And one of the things that we see often is IT departments or technology departments that are very resistant to change, and will always come back with no, I'm too busy, or we're doing this or we're doing that instead of saying, Oh, that's a really interesting issue, let's put it in our backlog, and build up this list or backlog of issues. And then every every once in a while, sit down with the business and say you've given me these 100 issues, which are the ones you want to resolve in the next two weeks or next two months. Let's discuss let's discuss fixing those today. bimodal IT this ability to fix it while maintaining the actual status quo is really important. You cannot come and shut down something and start from scratch, you cannot scrap and start from zero. There are too many too many dependencies, too many assets, too many investments, and you're already working. You already have customers you have systems in play, how can you do that? It's it is impossible to do that. And anyone who recommends doing that is, you know, any plan that recommends that should be looked at very, very closely.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 24:16
Thank you. What do you see is the future of automation and digital transformation? Do you believe the current tools that are used to do some machine learning or AI or cognitive like study of experts in order to already begin with some recommendations to end users and therefore, any experts such as yourself will be used for the highest most impactful value of all things or what's happening is already good. What matters is not the tool but the master who is using it like you know, and Samurai I believe they say that it's not this war. Is this word men using it that makes the whole difference? Or what is your perspective on the future of the whole? Practice the whole industry and the tools available?

Karim Sahyoun 25:13
This is a very, very good question. And I have a, I have a, I think, a unique approach to this. And I believe that it boils down to user experience. If we can design systems that offer, whether it's internal stakeholders, employees, or external stakeholders, customers, a good user experience, we're going to have adoption, and things are going to go well, if we design systems that are complicated to use, people will not use them. And no matter how much you try to incentivize them, and punish them, the carrot the stick, it's not going to work. The other thing is that I think the future right now, and we can just look, as recently as I think we're still living in the cloud, let's say the cloud story. Cloud has transformed computing and automation. Today, a restaurant doesn't have to buy a software, they can just subscribe to a system that runs it, its business and they get the system, they don't even need to have, they can use their tablet, they don't even need to have a server, and they get the best practice of that software. And they get the updates as well. So they don't need to worry about their technology going out of out of date and, and needing to be replaced. And I think cloud is has been hugely, hugely transformative to our industry and to the world. And I think the next one is blockchain. And this decentralization of computing power gives us certain zero trust models that allows us to have this immutability or disability to really trust and have systems that are unhackable because there's so many you can't hack 50,000 computers at the same time, right. And also this ability to decentralize. And when I say decentralize is to give ownership back to the users, whether it's their identity, whether it's accountability, and to quote, My, my, my hero, or my idol, Charles Hoskinson. It's all about inclusive accountability. Inclusive accountability is a big, big phrase. Yeah, a two word phrase, it means so much, it means that you're going to be held accountable for everything that you do. And no one can erase certain things. Right? Once it's done, it's done and then to be accountable for your actions. And this is the new systems of the future will be blockchain decentralized systems that promote this inclusive accountability.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 27:46
I love that. And I look forward to that future, Kareem. It's an honor, a privilege if people want to get in touch with you to learn more about what you do, the projects you're working on, or any services you offer, what are the best places for them to go. And I'll make sure to include links in the description as well.

Karim Sahyoun 28:08
So my Twitter is probably the best way to reach out to me. I'm active on Twitter, and or reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Abdulaziz M Alhamdan 28:18
Thank you. And for me, too, there is like a special free access to process SEO, which is one of the modern low code, no code platforms for advanced automation and creating enterprise grade backends for the software of any of the listeners, although it's not on blockchain, or maybe not yet. So anybody listening can really generously from them get free access to community And the link is in the description as well. Thank you so much. It was enriching. I learned a lot a lot of great thoughts. And I wish you a wonderful day

Karim Sahyoun 29:03
Abdulaziz I thank you