Dan Sheehan, a business and information technology executive, has built a career upon driving digital strategy to accelerate innovation and improve business outcomes. From leading large-scale digital initiatives to positioning companies for successful M&A activities, Dan has helped companies embrace a mindset of continuous transformation.
At SQA Group, we have had the pleasure of partnering with Dan across several software lifecycle transformation projects, both at DentaQuest and Beacon Health Options. Recently, we caught up with Dan to get his thoughts on everything from the macro trends impacting today’s technology leaders to how to cultivate a spirit of transformation internally…
The focus areas for a technology executive is constantly changing. What mindset have you cultivated over the years to keep up with the pace of change, while simultaneously helping the organizations you serve embrace change?
Dan: Throughout my career, I have always been an advocate of understanding the business model first and then determining how technology can be applied against the model to help the organization grow, remove cost, simplify processes, and deepen engagement amongst employees and clients, among other things. I believe all technology leaders needs to be business technologists first and foremost. They need to understand the operational side in terms of how the business makes money and then examine technology’s role from left to right across the organization and how that technology can drive business gains.
I am fortunate that my career has taken me across a lot of different industries and through that I have learned to become a chameleon, adopting to business models and working with my peers to prioritize IT capacity and transformation efforts.
There are so many emerging trends and technologies that are catching the attention of the C-suite these days. Which do you think need to be top of mind?
Dan: The transformation to SaaS and cloud services. While everyone thinks that migrating to the cloud is this saving grace and easy, if you do not have the technical expertise coming into the migration, the process can be filled with complexity and missteps. Oftentimes, business leaders expect everything to work right away but migrations cannot be successful without complete integration with other services and technologies.
The ability to stand up a SaaS based solution for a vertical process is easier as most of the time the software just needs to be configured per the business requirements. This type of solution is ideal, however, I have not seen many of these as most SaaS solutions need to integrate with another system (that could be in the cloud or on prem). Herein lies the dilemma. Creating integration services will increase the scope, time and cost of a SaaS solution so you really need to understand the total benefit of a cloud base/SaaS solution end to end.
At SQA Group, we have had the opportunity to work with you at two organizations: DentaQuest, from 2015 -2018 when you were the SVP & Chief Information Officer, and then again from 2018-2020 when you were the EVP & CIO at Beacon Health Options. What challenges were you facing at both organizations that led you to reach out to us?
Dan: While I was at DentaQuest, we were trying to move from a waterfall development lifecycle to an Agile development lifecycle. When we examined our architecture, we had many different integration systems and some of them were homegrown and came with their own type of development and resources. We had our own way of doing things right down to when the software was moved into production.
I brought in SQA Group and said, we need to start where we are bleeding the most and come up with a new development lifecycle. We were interested in versioning software using an Agile methodology, properly backlogging requests and prioritizing them, automating our testing processes, and ensuring we had the right capabilities in place from the beginning of a sprint all the way to production.
Our second challenge was we had quality issues. There were essentially three different ways we were handling development, and we were experiencing many bugs within the software. Through our partnership, we were able to switch to an Agile development lifecycle, put together a new way of testing and build in new quality thresholds to increase our time-to-market and drive quality solutions. Our team was also empowered, through training and mentoring, to continue to drive smooth software delivery processes moving forward.
A few years later when I joined the team at Beacon, we were experiencing similar issues, specifically when it came to improving our software quality. The way our architecture was set up had caused pockets with different types of development. In one area, for example, we were using .NET, and another we were using Java. We weren’t using Agile and were interested in figuring out how we could consolidate how we were handling documenting changes to the code.
Through our engagement, we standardized our processes with regards to how we were making changes to code and automated our testing processes.
When you reflect on our engagements, what stuck out to you about our partnership?
Dan: The realness of the questions your team posed. I needed to work with a partner who could “chunk it out” and guide us through a process that involved phases so that we could continually make progress. Though both engagements were about 12-18 months, SQA Group asked the right questions, did proper planning up front, and intuitively understood the deliverables at hand so that we could have successful rollouts.
Through our phased approaches, we were able to get releases out the door in some cases daily, instead of the three weeks it used to take. Our software quality improved by over 20%, so there was less defects, rework and more effort towards developing new functionality (reduce the back log) for the business. This was a game changer!
A common theme of your career has been leading teams towards a state of continuous transformation. How do you bring that spirit to the organizations you serve?
Dan: It all comes down to setting expectations. It’s about chunking transformation initiatives out, understanding what needs to be done, getting clear on the requirements up front, and gaining full-scale team participation.
As business technologists, we need to keep in mind that there’s never a shortage of demand. The business always wants to make changes, add functionality, and do things faster with higher quality. Our job, as technology leaders, is to meet the needs of the business, continuously innovate and dot-line everything back to organizational-wide strategy.
Are you interested in being profiled for the work you do to champion digital transformation within your organization and community? Drop us a note; we would love to learn more about you!