Five Tips To Utilize Before You Transform Your Enterprise
This week on the API Intersection podcast, we spoke with Barb Maclean, who, up until very recently, worked her entire career at Celero Solutions as a VP of Integrations and Analytics. She is now a founder of her own company, Barbmaclean.ca. With over twenty years at Celero Solutions, a leading provider of integration and payments solutions to credit unions and financial institutions across Canada, she's helped grow her team exponentially and make transformational changes via their API program. She started at the help desk, dabbled in a product role, and eventually expanded all the way up to the VP of Integrations and Analytics.
A few years ago, Celero's team had a problem that was both a technical and a business challenge dealing with multiple legacy systems and moving data between them. They were essentially dealing with a pile of exponentially increasing point-to-point integrations that were not sustainable.
Barb was instrumental in leading Celero through a substantial transformational shift (driven by APIs) and shares her advice on properly implementing such a massive change. Hint–most of your problems (like we've touted before on API Intersection) are never technical; they're cultural.
Celero needed a consistent and modern tech stack that could be effectively managed on behalf of all these credit unions they operated in. They decided to build that platform internally, and Barb's team was a large part of that. Her team was tasked with fleshing out an API platform to support new digital banking applications credit unions used to reinvent their member experiences.
"Building out APIs that we would then create and manage was an entirely different skill set than we had ever undertaken before," shares Barb.
Celero embarked on the journey of payments modernization, open banking, and reinventing their member experience to be that more relevant, always-on, and personalized experience—all of which wouldn't be possible without the APIs to support that experience and integrations. Their API program allowed them to break that data out of the traditional silos it was housed in and create a seamless banking experience.
1. Start Small
"We've also learned that the pressure of delivery doesn't necessarily mean blowing your brains out on scaling up people to do the work. We've had a lot of learning on how to balance capacity versus delivery. We are definitely a small team sport, and our mantra is that small teams win," shares Barb.
Barb's team always chose to work in pretty small increments. Starting small for Barb's team meant continually getting that feedback from current customers throughout the design phase. It meant surrounding themselves with a team that relies on trust and that recognizes you can't possibly know everything from the start. Barb emphasizes that when going through a transformational change–you don't actually know the entire road ahead, and that's OK as long as you have trust and the ability to empower your team to figure out as you go.
"You have to start small; we knew where we wanted to be in seven years, but how do you get there? There's also a bit of a mindset that we don't necessarily know how we're going to get there, but we're very confident that if we start small and grow it, we will get there. After constant repetition and building, it will eventually be muscle memory," shares Barb.
2. Build for Tomorrow, Not Just Today
"We also started to make more strategic decisions, predicting what new integrations will use our platform in the future and knowing where to draw those lines for our platform," shares Barb.
You can't layer on a new experience, and they had enough customer nightmare stories of what happens when you try to just layer it on instead of taking a systematic approach. It wasn't just about building forward; it was about addressing the entire platform as a whole and anticipating future integrations before they were a need.
"Why not set our credit unions and ourselves up better for the future and sort of build a new future-ready platform that adapts?" shares Barb.
But that thinking didn't come easy. It meant literally going and rewriting the platform from scratch, and her team had to prove why it made sense from a business value point of view. Rebuilding it meant they could take advantage of the most modern tools out there, and moving forward, they could ride 'the wave of billions of dollars in investment that we obviously as a small organization could never hope to match.'
3. Cross-Company & Leadership Buy-In
"We had supportive leadership buy-in from the start to drive the decisions we were making and backing our API program," shares Barb. "It was working in lockstep together on buy-in, support, and desire to invest in something different and better. We all knew what we were doing previously wasn't the answer, so being able to make those early proof points along the way really helped align the underlying value proposition."
In addition to leadership buy-in, Barb had to get buy-in from her core developers. Barb's team consisted of a couple of senior solid developers and built out from there, accepting new people to join and add to that culture. In addition to her own developers, they had to get buy-in from other teams, recognizing that when working with APIs, there would be multiple opportunities for cross-team collaboration.
An example of cross-team coordination revolved around their primary systems. Celero integrates back to their core banking system that they provide for credit unions, and that responsibility for the core banking system lives in another part of the organization. So, Barb's team of developers plays in that gray zone where they actually understand the provided APIs by the integration vendor of that system better than the team that runs it. Working with those APIs between the vendor that needs to be integrated and the platform itself means a lot of cross-coordination at every stage, so getting all teams comfortable with the transformational plan from the get-go is instrumental.
It's also worth noting that your core API team may be ready to deploy things and run them into production before most of everybody else, and that's an ecosystem change that will have to evolve. Barb emphasizes the need to bring people along the journey with you and your core team of transformers. You may want to rush and speed through it, but bringing all of your stakeholders through your thought process and the design phase is essential for a successful transformation. (We call this the design-first approach).
"We treat those internal customers the same as we would treat our external customers. We're the ones with the expertise, and we recognize internally that users can also be consumers of it, so we need to bring them along. They need to understand our thinking and our journey to buy into it," shares Barb.
4. A Mindset Shift
"We learned that if you're the folks that have been early in that curve of shifting the entire organization's mindset and transformational movement, you need to consistently remind yourself that not everybody's there with you, and you have to take them with you," shares Barb.
This type of transformational change requires a mindset shift across the organization's ecosystem. Celero's API team still had to work with many of the outside colleagues that were still entrenched in trying to operate mainly legacy systems.
Organizations move at different speeds, and it's not a tool or a product that you have to solve that problem. The focus needs to be on building something new, together with company-wide buy-in, finding a balance between your developers' quick and innovative efforts and the greater legacy structures at play.
"We're OK being the trailblazers in terms of our organization. Because we've shown that that's a path that we can be successful, and there are then breadcrumbs that we're leaving for the folks following the trail behind us," shares Barb.
5. Failure Isn't All Bad
"I remember the night we deployed the first set of digital banking APIs that we'd been working on for several months, and we got a few things wrong there, and I think people don't always want to admit out loud that things went wrong. The point is to learn from those things and know how we can approach it better," shares Barb.
Transformation isn't possible without failure. It provides the best opportunity to learn, grow, and adapt quickly. Barb emphasizes that many leaders are quick only to share success stories, but it's in the failure stories where the most growth happens.
While Celero's story did indeed end in success (and their API program is ongoing), they would not have landed on that point without a cross-team of strong collaborators willing to start small, with a healthy transformational mindset, and a willingness to experiment (and sometimes fail).
It was a pleasure hearing more about Barb and the Celero story, and it's a great example of the struggle that many Fintech companies are currently dealing with. APIs are the answer to your transformational change, but most often–your blockers will be cultural. Those cultural things among your developer team, your wider company, and your end consumers need to be fixed first. For more insights, subscribe to the API Intersection podcast.