How do businesses take advantage of a time of disruption? At this year’s virtual Iowa Technology Summit — itself disrupted by a year encapsulated in a pandemic — attendees logged on for two mornings Sept. 28-29 to hear speakers walk through lessons learned since March and reimagine what industries will look like in the months ahead. 

All sessions of the Iowa Technology Summit will be hosted for free online by the Technology Association of Iowa by the end of this week — but before logging on, take a peek below at takeaways from three panel sessions on organizational passion, evolving existing services and insights by leading Iowa technology companies. 

Hy-Vee: How COVID-19 evolved online grocery services

As consumer culture shifted quickly to a change in e-commerce patterns during the start of COVID-19, Midwest grocer Hy-Vee ramped up data analysis to understand customers’ new normal, senior consumer insights strategist Taylor Oberdiear said. 

“We didn’t know [what] was going to be impacted the most, but that’s really where we gained the insights — deciding, ‘Hey, we can’t fix all of these things at once. Which things are going to impact our customer experience the most?’” Oberdiear said. 

Hy-Vee’s strategist teams made initial quick adjustments: The team built a new customer experience dashboard for Hy-Vee Aisles Online and started tracking where customer satisfaction dropped, such as when grocery pickup waits expanded or when product substitutions missed the mark. 

To judge performance, Hy-Vee sent out surveys asking customers to compare the grocer with brands it identified as major competitors in online orders and delivery. Developing a product substitution review system for customers whose first-choice product was out of stock helped Hy-Vee individualize the process for a range of expectations, said digital product management director Jordan Fitzsimmons. Addressing high-demand delivery was its own challenge, but Hy-Vee launched Express orders for delivery within two hours, and partnered with third-party startups including Doordash and Bring! to offer more delivery time slots to customers. 

“Being able to own our own platform has set us up for success, and that was basically standing on the shoulders of those before us who had the vision, almost five years ago, of what they thought grocery delivery at Hy-Vee was going to become,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’ve tried to build a product organization built around outcomes. … We all know that we all have limited resources when it comes to building all the things. For us, it’s trying to figure out which one is going to be the biggest impact.” 

Leadership insights from Iowa tech executives

“The planning was fast, but the execution and deployment was even faster, and I am really proud of how our workforce rallied and really how every person responded,” said Laura Smith, chief information officer at UnityPoint Health. “Over the past couple of months we’ve really figured out how to operate with COVID. It’s part of our world, and we don’t see it necessarily going away anytime soon.” 

Telehealth is no longer an “emerging” technology, Smith added. 

“Pre-COVID we had very low adoption or utilization … but at its peak we were nearing 1,500 visits a day using virtual care services. That’s backed off slightly as things have opened up a bit, but I think it’s part of our environment. I think it’s here forever,” Smith said. 

Wells Enterprises’ production facilities in four states began working with proof-of-concept technologies to manage contact tracing among employees as production resumed during the pandemic, said Ryan Schaap, chief information officer. 

“I’m not sure if contact tracing for manufacturing is the future of where we’re headed, but I do think the ability to see and analyze movements within a plant and use technology to help keep people safe certainly is,” Schaap said. “We didn’t even have a contract signature technology in place when COVID hit … so we’re looking at this as a path forward, opportunity to really tackle all of the paper and manual transactional-type stuff we’re doing.” 

Ensuring the staff was just as well taken care of as technical needs at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield helped make transitions successful for employees, said Paul Hlivko, chief experience officer and chief technology officer. 

“We did a few things to really focus on mental health and well-being of our team members by making sure we had alternative ways for people to gain access to either exercise or are taking breaks throughout their workday,” Hlivko said. “I think that this opportunity and the future of work is going to flatten the curve a bit, and flatten the access to jobs. I think there’ll be more opportunities for more people thinking about the racial equity in the workplace conversation, and I think having a more hybrid work environment is going to bring more talent, more diversity into the workplace. 

Rebuilding organizational passion in an ‘avalanche’: seek new opinions

“I used to say, ‘You will be disrupted,’ and in the audience people would say, ‘No, I’ll never be disrupted, I’ve got everything dialed in,’” said speaker John Winsor, founder and CEO of Open Assembly. “We all see now that we can all be disrupted — our lives can be disrupted, our culture can be disrupted, our businesses can be disrupted.” 

“COVID’s pushed us five years into the future. There’s been a flattening of the hierarchy inside every organization. Performers have really been able to perform and do the work they want to do, and do it a lot more efficiently,” Winsor said. 

Conceptualizing harmonious passions — “high-priority goals with emotionally important outcomes” — becomes important to engage people on the other side of remote screens. Teams that can reach harmonious passion are able to reach a higher level of intrinsic motivation and leadership, he said. 

Winsor said moving large companies to the mindset of “idea curation” with both employees and freelancers will be a model of future worksites fostering passion.

“I see some passion emerging out of this situation,” he said. “We’re seeing great organizations move from being a ‘knowing’ culture to a ‘learning’ culture. … Learning sparks passion.”