How to harness innovative disruption to better serve your customers


Editor’s note: This blog post was originally published on

“I lived in 21 houses by the time I was 21 years old,” said Packy Hyland Jr. “So I love change. I look for change. For me, innovation is the natural order of things.”

Moving every year during your formative years is one way to become accustomed to change. But as the founder of a software company that now has more than 14,500 customers in 70 countries, Hyland realized early in his business career that innovation doesn’t really matter if it didn’t produce positive changes for every single customer.

Because the customer experience is everything.

In my role as Vice President of Strategy for the organization that Hyland started back in 1991, I help drive long-term strategic vision to achieve aggressive growth goals. So even though he left to start another company in 2001 – starting to see the pattern? – I asked Hyland to return to share his passion for innovation at his former organization’s External Speaker Series.

Prime your innovative pump by listening to external experts

Like most industries in the 21st Century, enterprise content management (ECM) is dynamic. It capitalizes on cutting-edge technology and evolves rapidly. That’s why we instituted the speaker series – as a way to gain unique perspectives on innovation and inspire employees with new ways of thinking. By including outside voices, we’ve expanded the field where we find inspiration.

Hyland created an organization whose philosophical approach is based on taking risks. Now, almost 25 years later, we’re still finding innovative ways to encourage employees to try new approaches and learn from any failures. The only catch is: They need to keep the focus on customers.

“Think how crazy it was back in 1991 to try and get banks to decrease their dependency on paper,” said Hyland. “Mortgage, anyone?”

Everyone in attendance nodded in agreement. Back in the early 90s, it was a tough sell. Customers thought it was nice that they could use what was then called document management solutions to increase their speed and accuracy while decreasing costs. But they were scared. They should print mortgages and reports on paper, right? That’s the way it had always been. And at some financial institutions, it still is.

Mortgage, anyone?

But once these customers saw that they could click a mouse to instantly see customer checks in electronic form, a light went off. This discovery – based on letting customers use the software themselves during demos – led to a host of new functionalities, all based on what customers needed to solve business problems. Unfortunately, they weren’t the bright, shiny things developers wanted to create.

This innovation is how our organization still develops our product to this day – based on customer feedback. Using important customer conversations to steer product innovation seems obvious, but in the world of software development, you need to vigilance – and a strategy – to make sure you don’t develop functionality because it’s cool.

You need to focus on solving your customers’ business problems. Always.

Establish specific goals and set them in stone

Hyland ended his speech with an exercise. Everyone in attendance had to set at least one goal. The five-pronged approach he uses might seem simple, but as he said, the more detail you put into goalsetting, the easier it is to make sure your taking appropriate actions.

Here is Hyland’s approach to goalsetting and driving innovation:

  1. Figure out exactly what you want to accomplish
  2. Create specific, well-formed goals – no scope creep
  3. Write your goals down
  4. Make a plan
  5. Take action

When you have clear goals, you have clear direction. That makes decisions easier – especially since you’ll need buy-in from other executives. If you know specifically what you want to accomplish, and you review this on a regular basis, you take the appropriate actions. And when you write down goals, plans and strategies, you commit to them.

That’s how you harness the endless technologies that come online every day. But remember, if they don’t help you better serve your customers, walk away from those bright, shiny objects.

Brenda Kirk joined Hyland, creator of OnBase, in 2000 and has since held several key positions in support of sales initiatives. She joined the company as an Accounting Manager serving Financial Services customers, was promoted to Director of Financial Services in 2002 and held that title until becoming VP of Sales, Americas, in 2005.

Under Brenda’s leadership, Hyland’s total revenues increased more than 96 percent. In 2010, she took on the newly created VP of Strategy post to help drive the company’s long-term strategic vision and aggressive growth goals.

She serves on the Foundation Board and also the Children’s Hospital VAC at MetroHealth Medical Center, one of the largest, most comprehensive public health care providers in Northeast Ohio.
Brenda Kirk

Brenda Kirk

Brenda Kirk joined Hyland, creator of OnBase, in 2000 and has since held several key positions in support of sales initiatives. She joined the company as an Accounting Manager serving... read more about: Brenda Kirk