Jeff Vail
Jeff Vail

Jeff Vail, COO of Wavestone US, a technology management consulting firm, together with Pneuron CTO Tom Fountain, presented the webinar, “Better Insight and Automated Action, Despite Technical Debt.” Below is the Q&A session that followed.

Question: For those people who are not necessarily in the anti-money laundering (AML) or fraud detection business, what scenarios seem like a good fit for somebody evaluating Pneuron? How would you identify that?

Tom Fountain: There’s a wealth of use cases. I’ll cite two examples. In the supply chain arena, more and more of its components have been outsourced. There’s very distributed components of that chain, including warehousing, distribution centers, and so on. One of the pilots that we did literally in one day was to bring together information from across a supply chain and give it the visibility that the owner ultimately wanted. Another example is with call centers. If you think similar in terms of a money laundering alert, a customer calls into a call center. When the help desk picks up the phone, ideally you’d want all the relevant information associated with serving that customer account right at your fingertips; and you want to quickly respond to inquiries that customer makes. Having a very fast and flexible way to access a breadth of systems, to bring that information to bear in the serving process, is something that pneurons can be configured to achieve.

Question: “How do you select projects for rapid prototyping?”

Jeff Vail: If you want to know how to measure value, there’s only two ways: 1) “How much more revenue will it produce?”, and 2) “How much will it lower our costs?”

I believe that there’s a space that needs to be filled by innovation labs in large enterprises that don’t follow traditional metrics for success and failure. It’s a good idea to have a lab that’s testing technologies at all times that don’t have any traditional measures associated with them to allow you to experiment and to find out how they could have a value for your business. You need to experiment with things that don’t follow traditional measures to determine how they could affect your business.

Tom Fountain: Project selection has always been a challenge. I categorize those different types of opportunities almost to an equivalent of basic research versus applied research. To your point, a lab experimenting with very new things versus a much more targeted value-intended experiment. In short, addressing a very specific live problem where there’s real money up for grabs.

I think the value and ease of execution is a very appropriate way to present a very simple framework. What we talk about with customers is that ease of execution piece, our story is that we’re trying to dramatically shift where the dividing line is on that ease of execution axis between fast, low cost, less complex; versus longer, higher cost, more complex. In the traditional way, a lot more of your sample projects or possibilities fall into that bad end of the continuum.

With an approach like Pneuron, a lot more of those potential projects move much further left or to the easier end of that ease of execution, so we’re trying to open the envelope of good sound candidates that can be executed still within that same framework. When I was running IT organizations, everything we did had a purpose. That purpose was: revenue up, cost down, safety up, environmental impact down.

Frankly, something that would teach us and enable us in a platform kind of thinking way (or a foundational way to do future things better) because there are some things that need to be done that don’t immediately produce better revenue, better cost and so forth, but they’re critical enablers, and if you categorize those, you can’t do all, just those types of projects, nor should you only do just the ones that drive cost down. Having a good mix in a conscious way gives you the kind of balance that really can pay dividends.

Question: How do you advise on dealing with this issue of friction between upper management (the business leaders) and IT control?

Tom Fountain: At the end of the day, the credibility of the IT organization is paramount. I always had a simple equation. I said, “Alignment plus execution equals credibility”. If you’ve established credibility with your business customer, you get the latitude to try things, and you get the willingness to partner.

When there isn’t that connection, then there’s a huge temptation for the business to go off and try things on their own, and do it in the shadows. There has to be a candid assessment of the degree of credibility and engagement that your IT organization has with the business, get to the heart of why it is, where it is, and if it’s not where it needs to be, do some concerted actions to establish that. Start with small steps.

This is not an overnight change, but by simply connecting with the business leaders that are the more influential, that have the most resources to share with you, to work with you, and helping them see that your vested interest is making them successful, I’ve seen tremendous things come from that, but the only way to deal with that friction is to take it head on. You can’t do it in isolation.

Jeff Vail: I would add that in the spirit of creating co-innovation together with the business, there’s a number of cases where I’ve seen the business and IT partner on achieving innovations to try to get to the outcome that they’re after and doing that collaboratively and together.

Tom Fountain: Exactly, because when IT goes off in the corner and says, “We’re looking at stuff”, the business loses visibility to that, they feel like they’re not involved, they don’t know what’s coming when, and they feel like, “If anything’s going to happen to IT, I’ll go do it myself”. Make them a part of it. Invite them into the process and have them contribute their expertise which is critical. You don’t have time to wander around, hoping you find an oasis. It’s a lot better to know that the vector is east because the business person is there helping you understand what direction innovation is really going to pay off.

Question: How to effectively enable change management and get people to think and work differently for the types of changes we are talking about here.

Jeff Vail: To encourage change in your organization, go back to tried and true methods: leaders communicating why change is necessary; developing the organizational skills that would support the change; reinforcing or setting up reinforcement mechanisms and incentives that would enable people to be incentivized to adopt and accept the change. Lastly, that the actions of the leaders in an enterprise is the number one driver of culture – I’d say 80% of the driver of culture. If you want to achieve a change, the actions and the role models that the leaders are conveying to the organization is very important.

Tom Fountain: Incenting people to try new and different things is not an easy proposition in many cases. It really comes down to the tone that is set from the top. How you establish the right balance, how you reward people who take intelligent risks. You got to have the word “intelligent” in that. You can start this on a very small scale, and be a leader to achieve that level of innovation that everyone needs. Try those practices, germinate those good ideas, continue to build out that sphere of influence, and promote those kinds of practices.

Question: Technology is very dependent on infrastructure; anytime something changes, then the technology that sits on top is affected. How does Pneuron respond to changes that happen to the infrastructure beneath it over time?

Tom Fountain: To make a distinction, when I think of robotics, I think about presentation layer integration. Other people define robotic as just simply an automated process. The definition doesn’t matter, but all of those elements are in the mix here. The response to change is a crucial component of innovation, of just serving your customer well as an IT organization.

From the ground up, Pneuron is built to have the agility to respond to different types of change very effectively. For example, our container runs in a virtual or physical machine. The pneurons don’t know or care about what’s underneath. So if all of a sudden you want to move the hosting out to a cloud environment, it’s a straightforward process.

We’ve engineered this so that each component of the workflow can be very rapidly configured or reconfigured to respond to the changes from underneath or from above, and allow you in a very rapid, incremental fashion to deal with what hits you every day. The individual aspects of the workflow can be in a very targeted way matched to that change and without impact on the rest of the workflow.

To learn more about Wavestone US’ services, visit

Jeff Vail
Chief Executive Officer

As CEO, Jeff leads Wavestone US’ team of experienced consultants and plays a pivotal role in strategy development and execution for the firm. He is a top advisor and thought leader on Wavestone's range of services, spanning IT strategy, run optimization, and IT service management. With more than 20 years of experience in executive leadership functions, he has a deep understanding of what is takes to solve IT’s biggest problems: aligning with the business, lowering costs, and increasing speed and impact.

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