Michael Bentolila, InsideBoard: “we are entering a time where digital transformation will be ubiquitous and constant”

Despite the added benefits of the latest technology, companies hesitate to upgrade their operations for fear of disruption.

There’s no denying that the pandemic accelerated a worldwide digital transformation. Companies around the world rapidly set up their websites, supplied their employees with laptops, and invested in the latest digital tools. Nevertheless, experts emphasize, that adopting consumer-grade solutions like antivirus or VPNs doesn’t cut it – to stay competitive, organizations need to step up and digitize as much of their processes as possible.

To talk about the importance of change and innovation, we sat down with Michael Bentolila, the CEO & co-founder of InsideBoard – a company using the power of AI to help organizations reach their transformation goals.

How did the idea of InsideBoard come to life? What would you consider your greatest achievements throughout the years?

When we launched InsideBoard, I had been working for several years at a top 4 consulting firm as a change management leader for many transformations in large companies. My brother Yohan, who is the co-founder of InsideBoard, has a strong background in data science and product development.

I observed that many digital transformation projects were failing mostly because of human aspects. What became obvious to me was the lack of ongoing support for the transformation programs with a traditional change management approach. Essentially project teams were deploying new tools or workflows to users, giving them basic training, and then moving on to the next project. What was needed was a way to manage the transformation with a longer time horizon from onboarding to adoption to performance. When my brother and I understood the problem and the huge cost for companies, we saw a great challenge and set out to solve it with a new software solution.

After 8 years, we can be proud of how far we have come. I vividly remember that day back in 2014 when my brother and I discussed the idea of creating InsideBoard at a Parisian cafe called “Le Village”. Now, we have a coffee break area in our office named after that cafe. We started just the two of us and today, we have about 100 employees working in France, Spain, and the United States.

Lastly, since you asked about achievements, I would say one of our greatest was our 2nd round of financing, raised in the midst of a global pandemic in April 2020. Isn’t that fantastic?

Can you introduce us to your change management platform? What are the main problems it helps solve?

InsideBoard is the 1st AI digital platform for Change Management.

Today’s workforce likes to work with trust, transparency, and autonomy. They basically don’t start doing their job right until they understand the purpose of it. That is why our approach consists first in translating the success of the transformation into measurable objectives, or KPIs, that each employee understands.

At each level in the organization, we define success goals and KPIs. Our platform uses these KPIs as its North Star.

Then, we determine the groups of employees who share common goals. We call them Success Communities, and they are a key success ingredient. Our success communities are KPI-driven communities. Employees within a community share their wins, help each other out and improve together. Most importantly everyone in the community can see how they are contributing to the team’s success and it creates a virtuous cycle.

Once goals, KPIs, and communities are established, InsideBoard’s AI Engine kicks in – it provides recommendations to every team member, acting as their personal coach. It tells them not only what to do and how to do it but also why. Every employee is notified of where they are, where they need to be, and how to get there.

The beauty of our approach is that all this happens within the user’s work environment. Our system is natively integrated within the main business application used on a daily basis (e.g. Salesforce, SAP). The idea is to create a continuous and engaging environment to reach one’s business goals.

What would you consider the main practices companies should follow to strengthen their relationships with their employees?

There are two main practices we have integrated into InsideBoard that we think are fundamental to the success of digital transformation programs:

The first one is you need to give employees more autonomy, transparency, and trust.

You should explain why you are making changes and in this new context what defines success for the employee as well as their team. Show employees how their individual performance helps their team. Explain why certain actions they can take will make them and their team more successful. Empower them to succeed by making them own their change agenda.

A top-down “do this because I tell you” approach is not going to succeed. I think that it was never a good approach, it is even worse in today’s physically distributed work environment.

Second is the fact that users like to be part of a group, a successful group. We have seen that the introduction of successful communities in our tool has made it much more effective. Humans are social by nature, they like to belong to a group, and the urge to help that group succeed is a key psychological lever.

How did the recent global events affect your field of work? Were there any new challenges you had to adapt to?

Recent global events have accelerated our market. The pandemic has brought multiple disruptions in supply chains, it has also altered the availability of workforces in common physical spaces durably. These changes have made it clear to executives that digital transformations are a must-do. Companies that have the agility provided by digital processes and tools are better equipped to adapt and survive intense change.

We have noticed that distributed workforces who are only rarely in the same office make digital transformations more complex. With all this, we see more and more urgency in launching digital transformation programs but we also see more challenges to making them successful. So the need for a digital change management platform is only stronger. Only a platform powered by an AI engine is able to scale and personalize the experience for each user no matter their level of maturity or physical location.

Finally, in my opinion, we are entering a time where digital transformation will be ubiquitous and constant. If you work for a large organization, you should expect constant change in the coming years. My clients are essentially telling me that change is always on now. Only companies who have developed a “change muscle” and made that ability to change a core discipline will be able to adapt and prevail. I strongly think that we are talking here about a key competitive advantage.

What are the most common issues organizations run into on their digital transformation journey?

Most organizations that launch digital transformations focus on people. They understand that change starts with people. So they invest heavily in learning tools: online and offline classes to help their employees adapt and embrace the change. And that’s great! At the individual level, people are told what to do, and sometimes how to do it. They seem motivated and you typically see a spike in digital adoption during and after this training push.

But more often than not, this high adoption is short-lived and declines rapidly. So much so that decaying adoption ends up jeopardizing the whole initiative.

3 out of 4 transformations fail today. That is a staggering number, and it is costing organizations globally an untold amount of money.

What is missing? We think that people need clear goals and objectives, but also autonomy, transparency, and trust, so they can own their success. And as stated earlier since change is not going to end they need the company to accompany the change for a long duration in a personalized way. This is where an AI-based change management platform plays a key role.

What other aspects of business operations do you think would greatly benefit from AI solutions?

In the past decade, we have seen AI algorithms underpin many key business functions. From supply chain management to sales and marketing, to finance, to customer service. In most of these applications, the AI engine is an adjunct that recommends actions to an employee: how much inventory to order, which client to visit, how to allocate corporate resources optimally, etc.

It is only natural that AI is used to support change management in the enterprise. We are the first AI-based change management platform, we see a real benefit from an AI engine recommending actions to a user. We know it helps them adapt to changes in their job.

One key aspect of AI that I think matters a lot, and in particular in our case, is explainability. Let me clarify. What I mean is that users are generally happy to consider the advice of an AI engine if the AI engine can explain why this recommendation is made. We are used to that when we shop online, the recommendation engines on e-commerce sites will typically say “people who bought this product often shop for these other items”. Now we know why the AI engine is offering other products and we consider these options. What users don’t like is a black-box algorithm that provides recommendations but cannot explain why this decision was made.

In the case of InsideBoard we make sure to always explain to users why the platform is recommending actions to them, and we have seen how that improves engagement and overall success.

In your opinion, what cybersecurity measures are essential for global teams?

It is well known that the weakest link in your cybersecurity is the employees. You can close all the doors of your IT with the best locks in the world, if one of your employees leaves them open unknowingly, you will be exposed. To mitigate this risk, InsideBoard has spared no effort to develop the knowledge on cybersecurity issues among our team. We are actually using InsideBoard internally to manage a community dedicated to cybersecurity. Here we maintain our employees trained and keep a strong focus on security across the entire company.

Key Performance Indicators, best practices, micro-learning, tools, and documentation are all being recommended by our AI engine to the employees who need support in this area.

The InsideBoard platform allows us to provide all the appropriate resources to the employees on various aspects of security, all in one platform. This means making sure that they have learned and understood the various topics. It also means creating a real team emulation on a subject that very often is seen as a burden.

Thanks to this initiative, we have employees who are aware of the risks, have the knowledge to avoid mistakes, and know how to react when necessary. Whether they are working at the office, from home, in France, Spain, or in the US, they all have the same level of knowledge and are never left alone to face one of the greatest challenges we believe companies have to confront in the post-pandemic era.

What do you think the average workplace is going to look like in the next few years?

The last two years of the pandemic have profoundly changed the professional world, shifting from a mandated location for desk-bound employees to hybrid or remote working where employees can work from wherever and whenever. We have seen companies such as Salesforce and Spotify move to a remote-first model.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the office space is dead. On the contrary, the pandemic has pushed companies to rethink their office space making sure that it fits the needs of their employees, facilitates collaboration, and improves their well-being. I see, in particular, the idea of collaboration coming to the forefront. Whatever spaces companies will have in the future they will make sure there is ample space for teams to work collaboratively. This is exactly why we have pushed forward aggressively in the development of successful communities in our product in 2021.

The future of work will also surely emphasize flexible scheduling, especially for working parents, allowing them to better manage their caregiving responsibilities within their working days. So, it is clear that the 9-5 model will no longer be considered as relevant as it was before.

Finally and closer to our hearts we think the digital transformation will accelerate, become prevalent and be always on in the new workplace. This is why a digital change management platform is a must-have in this new more flexible, always changing work environment.

Would you like to share what’s next for InsideBoard?

Our company has gone through two growth phases until now.

We had an initial phase of development of our platform followed by the market validation of this product. This led to an initial strong expansion in the European market.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we launched a major R&D effort to re-architecture our platform. This initiative was launched to pursue two goals: to make the platform infinitely scalable for our enterprise clients and to add the success communities, which as I mentioned earlier are a key feature for our clients.

Having this new platform has enabled our consulting partners to take full ownership of client deployments and we have now signed strategic partnerships with Capgemini, EY, Deloitte, PWC, Accenture, and a long list of local partners in various markets.

This positions us ideally for our third growth phase where we are accelerating our market penetration, directly and also through the partners I just mentioned. We opened an office in New York City in 1Q2022 and are already seeing great momentum in that market. We are also accelerating our growth across new European geographies where we were not active previously.

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