About the Episode
When Kow Samman joined the team at Azusa Pacific University, his department was originally called Document Solutions. But in the spirit of being a difference-maker, Kow and his team found they could do far more than provide document solutions—they could inspire and enable productivity for everyone at the university. To do this, they had to implement a lot of changes. How did he get buy-in from diverse teams to launch new and innovative processes? Listen now to find out.
Meet Our Guest
Kow Samman knows a thing or two about how to be more productive. As a Productivity Solutions Product Manager, he understands the ins and outs of solving Azusa Pacific University’s biggest workplace challenges. His charge every day is to develop processes and discover new products that improve lives throughout the university. Students, faculty, and staff have all enjoyed smart, yet simple solutions brought forth by Kow’s creative mind.
Chris Byers: Welcome to Ripple Effect, a podcast from Formstack revealing how simple decisions can have a lasting effect on others. I'm your host, Chris Byers.
Today, I want to introduce you to someone who is driven to make a difference by empowering a new generation of difference makers. Sound confusing? I'll explain. His name is Kow Samman, and he is the Productivity Solutions Product Manager at Azusa Pacific University. I love that title and we will dive into exactly what that means. As fate would have it, the mission of Azusa Pacific aligned perfectly with Kow's passion.
Kow Samman: What we do here at Azusa Pacific University is produce difference makers. So that's what our goal is here at Azusa Pacific University. And it's our job, even as IT, to help produce those difference makers, whichever way we can.
Chris Byers: The team Kow joined at Azusa Pacific was originally documents solutions, which received its namesake due to the need to simplify the overwhelming documentation processes that come with any university. But in the spirit of being a difference maker, Kow and his team found they could do far more than provide documents solutions. They could inspire and enable productivity for everyone involved.
Kow Samman: But as time went on, our leadership found the need for us to expand from just scanning documents, but also going out there, speaking with customers. When I say customers, I'm referring to staff, faculty, and some of the students as well. So meeting with them, speaking with them, consulting with them, trying to find what problems that they have and then bringing that back and finding solutions for them and having these like tools that we could use and we could introduce to them.
Chris Byers: So how exactly does someone pull this off? How do you gain the by in that has everyone down the line adopting the process? Let's listen in.
Kow Samman: So the Office of the Provost deals with a lot of faculty contracts and payment and all of that. So there's a lot of sensitive information in there, especially when it comes to payment of faculty. So a faculty member will take X number of units per semester that they're going to be paid for. But in addition to that, they might want to teach extra classes or they might be required to teach extra classes. So with that, there has to be a process, obviously. So we have to collect information. What course are you going to be teaching? How long are you going to be teaching that. all that information and then how much you're going to get paid. So imagine the process of having the admin initially fill it out and then sending it through intercampus mail that could get lost in campus mail. It could take days. It could take weeks. It could take months. It was just a problem that had to be solved.
Chris Byers: When you've been able to have a hand in crafting a process like this, that really makes a big difference in the way people operate, how does that make you feel?
Kow Samman: It makes me feel great. It makes me feel even better when I see the smile on the faculty members faces when they're getting paid on time. So it always puts a smile on my face when I see them happy and in control of their form and that process.
How can we get information from point A to point Z with minimal effort? That is my definition of productivity. Improving processes to make them more efficient.
Chris Byers: Yeah. That type of change sounds like just a really good success. The one thing I've noticed is sometimes we decide to make a workflow process change you know, change to a system and people can sometimes be a little bit slow to adopt or they don't want to or they just want to kind of doing what they're doing. You might call that entropy or inertia or something. How have you worked or your team work to kind of overcome that and help people understand the value they could get out of a change in a process?
Kow Samman: As we start to roll out Formstack on campus, naturally there was some resistance to change. There's always that resistance to change when it comes to a new solution like this, especially when it comes to IT. We've had experience with rolling out a lot of IT solutions to faculty, staff, and students. So we're always prepared. What we found is that it's very helpful to include the stakeholders, as usual the stakeholders are the ones who are the most resistant to the change. What we've been doing and we've always been doing it this way. It's not broken, why should we fix it? So we always include the stakeholders in the initial phases of the planning phase as we walk them through the process. OK, this is what's going to change. This is how it's going to change. And most importantly, this is how it's going to be better. It Used to take 30 days to process this, now it's going to take two days to process this. And ultimately, this is better for the students because here at a university the end customer, it's the students. We're here to serve the students. So if the students are happy and the work is being processed in a timely fashion and they don't complain, and then it's a win win for everyone. So initially, some of these processes that took a bit of a learning curve and it took a lot of time for the people building the forms and the departments actually doing the work. But they understood that it would be better for the students, even though it's taken a long time for them to create the forms and do all the work, in the end the students are going to benefit from the solution. So it's just always good to highlight the fact that it's going to make our students happier in the long term.
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Chris Byers: Yeah, and you've mentioned this idea of teaching users to use the software. Where's that come about that? That sounds like again, a very productive way to go about things that allows you to select the right tools and then hand them over and not have to do the job every time. But yeah. How do you think about that?
Kow Samman: Yeah. Because IT is limited in terms of resources. That's natural. We can't do everything. We can't support everything. We don't have enough hands to support every and all tools. So when I got this project from my leadership to like, you know, find a form building tool, there's definitely a need for this. Kow, find a form building tool. But we do not want this to be a large, clunky tool. And the price level that is going to require someone who knows CSS or who was a developer, who's going to actually build out the workflow and build out all of these forms. What we want to do is want to give it out to our customers and have them own the form so that we don't have to do it. And if we don't have to do it, that's less work and also removes bottlenecks.
A lot of times, IT is forced to be the bottleneck because X number of users have created a form, and now the one, just one field or one wording changed in the form, you have to call IT. IT is working on other stuff and can't get back to you until tomorrow, until next week. And then IT becomes that bottleneck. Now with Formstack and Formstack being that self-service tool that's provided to our customers, if they want to make that change, they would just go and make that change. The form is live and up and running without any intervention from IT.
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Chris Byers: You tell that story about IT being limited in resources. I think there's something about your job title, the idea of productivity solutions in an organization and I go back to that idea that your university has chosen a pretty forward thinking and advanced way of thinking about that. I don't hear that job title very often. What would your advice be to the corporation who is listening to this conversation about the need for someone thinking about productivity solutions in an organization and the value it can bring?
Kow Samman: So our organization has taken a product approach. So I'm moving away from project management approach to more product focused. So that's why my job title is Product Manager of Productivity Solutions. So we've got other product managers as well that are leading teams with other products. So that product approach really helps because it's not just a project where, OK, we implement Formstack from A to Z, there's a predefined timeline, after that timeline is done we wash our hands and move on to the next project. We see product management as an essential part in terms of IT. Formstack is my product, I treat it like a human being. As a baby, it needs different needs. It grows up, it's an infant, it needs different needs. It graduates college, it needs different needs. So Formstack, I take it through the whole lifecycle. Right now, I know it's in the maturity phase in terms of our organization. So the needs that it has are different. And the way that we're going to provide and promote it to our customers is different. So anyone listening to this, I would say that having that product management approach to a new product, even if it's product approach to the solutions product or enterprise product, having that product management approach is always helpful.
Chris Byers: You know what you're talking about, that idea of product management is really interesting. I just shared a quote with our team today in an email from Steve Blank, who's fairly well-known in the product world any. And he said something like, there are no facts inside your building, you know. So the way that applies here, of course, is if you just live in IT and make all your decisions in IT and somebody says here, I need a CRM, I need a form provider. You then go out and do RFPs etc., etc. You end up with a product, you technically solve the problem. But I think you're spot on in that thinking. That is a really good product manager. You've got to understand your customer. You've got to understand actually the problem they're trying to solve, not the outcome that they're suggesting, because sometimes, as you know, the outcome they're suggesting isn't quite the answer. Given examples of where someone did come along and say, I think I know the answer to my problem and you actually use that product management approach to say to discover a little bit more and find some problems that they didn't quite realize were there and solve it in a different way.
Kow Samman: Yes, there was a department that came to me and they were like, you know, we're paying for this tool right now and I'm not going to mention the tool, but it's a little outdated. And most of all, it's expensive. This tool takes payment, it's meant to take payment. So I use this around campus to collect payment for events and all that stuff. Kow, can you find another tool here? Here is a list of tools that we've already vetted and we know will work. These are industry standard, blah, blah, blah. Please help us in implementing these tools. So I look at a list of tools. I take that back to our team. Our team is like, why do we even need this? The customers recommended this, but we have a better suggestion. We could use Formstack for this, Formstack is going to integrate with other payment processors. We could easily integrate this with Formstack, we already have Formstack up and running. This is something we could definitely use. We took this back to the customer, they were like we don't know if Formstack meets all our needs blah blah blah.
This is a classic example of the customer saying I need to go from point A to point B, and I need a Rolls Royce. Are you really sure you need a Rolls Royce? I can find you something better. So in this case, the team decided Formstack would be the best tool. We sat with the stakeholders, showed them how Formstack would easily collect payment and how we could integrate this with our business office so that each payment is tied to a specific department account. Once they saw that, they were sold, especially since the department would not have to bear any additional costs by another tool. Since we are already paying for Formstack. And they would also not have to pay a processing fee because the business office would pay the processing fee of Authorize.Net. At the end of the day it was a win. Everyone was happy and now everyone's using Authorize.Net to collect payment and to date Authorize.Net is probably the most utilized integration for Formstack on campus.
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Chris Byers: Kow, how do you define productivity and how that plays out in your organization and how it plays out in your team?
Kow Samman: For me personally, productivity is being able to achieve my tasks, but not just being effective or being efficient. So I've got a car that takes me from point A to point B, that's fine. But does it take me from point A to point B, in an efficient way with less gas and all of that? That's what I take into consideration when I talk about productivity. So we've got all our customers and our faculty and our students that have been using paper processes for many years. It does the job. It works for them. It helps them. It does everything it has to do. But how can we get that information from point A to point B in a limited amount of time, a short amount of time with minimal effort. So that's what's my definition of productivity is, I'm improving processes and making them more efficient.
Chris Byers: Kow, you mentioned this idea of difference makers, and I know for me in our organization I'm always thinking about yep, we're here to make a great product and grow revenue and be profitable, but if we're not doing that on purpose, we're probably missing something. How do you and the university think about a defined difference makers?
Kow Samman: Well, I don't know if this is a university definition, but this is a Kow definition. My definition, I'll put it this way, the way we teach our students and the way we give them the knowledge, we want it to be in such a way that as they go out into the workforce, they can make a difference. And whatever they're doing, whether they are a teacher or a lawyer, whatever they're doing, want a situation whereby the student is working at wherever they're working. And the leadership or the other coworkers stop them and say, how do you do this so effortlessly? What school did you go to? The way you're making a difference here at our organization, you are really impacting our organization in a positive way. What university did you go to? This is the result we're talking about when we talk about difference makers.
Kow Samman: On a micro level, can you think of one thing you could do today that would empower someone to solve a repetitive problem or request that your team receives? I know for us at Formstack, oftentimes we'll share ideas on how to become more productive or how to eliminate distraction or noise in our organization. I know even recently our teams shared ideas on how to make e-mail more productive. The question is simply, can you think of a way to take a next step today that helps solve one of those repetitive problems that's eating up people's time and reducing their productivity?
Kow's passion aligns perfectly with the mission of Azusa Pacific, enabling him to be the difference maker he is while empowering those around him. How can we better align the passions of people in our organizations to our mission?