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An Interview With Steve Riat On the State of Technology

Posted by Olga Detrixhe on Jun 16, 2020 8:40:01 AM

Steve Riat, Director of Sales at Nex-Tech, leads B2B revenue streams and market initiatives. He has been a featured speaker by Intel, Microsoft and SonicWALL for his unique ability to integrate business and technology. Steve has been involved with peer and mentoring programs for over 15 years and currently leads two national Technology Peer Groups. An entertaining and motivating speaker, Steve speaks and facilitates seminars on technology, business growth and culture.

Olga Detrixhe: Steve, tell us a little bit more about your role at Nex-Tech. What do you do day-to-day?  

Steve Riat: My job is really all about making sure that Nex-Tech solutions are aligned with what our customers need to make them the most productive in their environment, then enabling our teams to communicate that to our customers.

OD: How did you get to where you are today? Were you always a techy person or did your path lead you here via a few detours?

SR: A: Well, first-off, I appreciate you calling it techy versus geeky.

I guess I’ve always had an affinity for technology. One of my earliest memories was getting a remote-control car, somewhere around 1980 I’d say, and tearing it apart to add more batteries so it would go faster. That led to messing with my Commodore 64, an early device for personal computing, and instead of keeping it to myself, I connected it to the school’s bulletin board systems to share with fellow students. Throughout school, technology helped me be a better student. So much so, that after graduation, I started working for RadioShack, which was THE tech store at the time. I got to spend a lot of time exploring and really understanding how technology not only solved problems for customers but enriched their lives too.

So, I guess, yeah, I was probably a tech geek first, with sales really sprouting from my passion for technology and being able to connect it to people.

OD: Is that people—technology synergy the thing you’re most passionate about?

SR: Definitely. Technology is about creating automation and reducing manual labor so people can focus on doing things they choose to do. Because technology and our world in general evolves so fast, accomplishing automation and user-friendly solutions means keeping an eye on the future, not only as an organization, but as an individual. It’s about really understanding how the technology you build today will equal success in the future.

And, technological success can be measured in a myriad of ways. Take vacuuming for example. Nobody likes doing it, and now we’ve got Roomba. A wonderful, automated device that gives you back that time. Mowing – same thing. Automation is available. So ask yourself—what’s next? While vacuuming or mowing might not seem like huge leaps forward, they are part of a bigger picture. There are advancements in all kinds of areas, and it’s not just about convenience or saving time. Maybe it’s about safety. Or health. Or toll booths. Not that long ago, every single vehicle on a toll road was required to slow down, often wait their turn, stop, pay the toll booth operator, then merge back into traffic. Now? All automated. Toll booth operators are gone, a camera grabs an image of the plate, and the toll is either paid immediately via a digital account, or a statement is automatically sent to the owner of the vehicle. Nobody stops. Those drivers gained a few more minutes in their day. Now, apply the toll booth process to the grocery store. Now, you can shop and pay online. You can track your order and pick it up with no contact, no fuss, no muss. The shopper gained a more minutes in their day. That’s good. Especially right now.

See, there are patterns in technological advancements that provide glimpses to the technology horizon. By looking at technology and applying it to other areas in life, we improve the quality of life.

Finding answers to the question, “How do we use technology to increase efficiency and make life simpler,” excites me. Because that’s what matters.

OD: You’re active in leadership, coaching and facilitating. How did you get involved?

SR: It was a pure accident. About 15 years ago I got a call from Arlin Sorensen who created the ConnectWise peer groups I’m currently involved in. He invited me to one of their sessions and I said “Sure,” not really knowing what to expect. While it wasn’t really strategic on my end, the important thing was saying yes to something new, intriguing, and a bit uncharted. And really, it’s being open to uncharted territory that supports what we’ve been talking about: You have to be open to new opportunities to find new solutions. I was open to that particular one and it was life changing.  

OD: How was that opportunity life changing? Would you tell us more about how it has influenced you?

SR: When I joined the ConnectWise peer group, the furthest I had traveled was around the Midwest. Through my work with that organization, I have had the opportunity to visit multiple countries, meet peers from around the world, and continue to grow those relationships.

Getting a global perspective on technology and business has improved my ability to see the horizon, see the future and understand people. What I’ve learned is that people are people everywhere and this has helped me hone my communication skills, whether that’s technology or just everyday things. The better we can communicate with each other, the more we connect. This ability to communicate will be even more important as we use tools such as video calls. What I didn’t realize before COVID-19, was that doing video chats with folks from other countries actually prepared me perfectly for this current virtual environment. 

OD: As you work with various businesses and their leaders, what do you see them struggle with the most? Either within the COVID-19 environment or in general?

SR: Communication, hands-down. And it’s not just leaders who struggle, but we as people do too. Here’s an example. When I go home thinking my wife and I had communicated about what’s for dinner and I get there and realize I was on a completely different page, I wonder, “where was the breakdown?” You would think, “How hard is it to communicate about dinner?” Somehow, I missed it. The simplest thing.

Now apply missing simple cues to complex issues in an ever-changing world. We think we communicated, but we don’t check to make sure the person on the other end received what we thought we sent. There’s a miscommunication. Apply that factor to multiple scenarios, and you’ve got a problem. Then, factor in a pandemic that completely up-ends status quo, and you’ve just entered the perfect storm for poor communication.

OD: What advice can you give to overcome that?

SR: I think the key is constant communication, a willingness to listen, and a dedication to clarification. For example, you initially told your team we would all work from home. But a week later, there’s a question and you have to repeat, or confirm, that we’re all working from home. Then, a week later, another question, so we clarify and confirm we are still working from home. And then again, then again, then again.

If you do not have a constant communication path, people will infer their own perspective to fill that vacuum. So clarity and consistency if paramount. Especially when circumstances change quickly. And, part of creating clarity is also understanding what issues people are concerned with and need answers to, or direction for. One interesting observation a peer of my shared with me, was that while we went remote it seemed that issues decreased. Is it possible that we communicated better than usual during this pandemic? Did we communicate more deliberately in this virtual world? And will we take that lesson to heart moving forward, or will we slide into past, and old unhealthy habits?

OD: What else have you seen great leaders do to step up, specifically during the pandemic?

SR: I have seen some leaders not only stepping up and managing the crisis but also thriving. We have seen small businesses innovate quickly in how they serve and run their businesses. We have seen some great leadership from a business perspective. We have seen people lead their teams in the field and continue to serve the public while many of us got to stay home. We have seen increased communication about safety protocols and policies, and prominent communication about how important employees are. We have seen follow through by some great companies like offering hero pay, for example, to show their appreciation. Talking safety and policy and the importance of people all at once is a difficult message to push, but we saw companies step up, do it successfully, and bond and thrive through this.

OD: You work with many organizations across the states – what have you seen across the tech industry and how has that impacted Nex-Tech?

SR: We’re a virtual industry, so it aligned well, even if we didn’t exactly foresee this situation. One great example are the tools of technology many tech companies had already adopted like cloud phone and Microsoft 365. Nex-Tech is no exception. Imagine if we had not migrated—the impact would have been immense. Even debilitating. At the same time, our customers were adopting the same tools, so many of them were prepared too. We saw a lot of great feedback and ‘Thank You’s’ for having set up our customers with the same tools we use.

The next step is looking at whether we’ve leapt into the future 10 years as a virtual workforce, and if so, defining what that means for business moving forward. For example, we have learned that remote work saves on travel cost and time. It may improve efficiencies and work life balance. And we know there are industries that lend themselves well to continued virtual work. Moving forward, we need to define what crisis-driven practices are really proved to be best practices of connectivity in the here and now.

OD: Any great takeaways that you think will stick after pandemic?

SR: You bet. At Nex-Tech, we have learned that video chat works well and is a great tool. No need to travel hours for a face-to-face meeting. We can use video chat to access experts on calls and meetings that we otherwise would not bring in physically. The same goes for our customers. They are bringing managers to remote locations via video resulting in more consistent communication.

Overall, as we get better using the tools of technology, we will also see improved consistency and clarity of communication, resulting in an increased positive experience for everyone.

OD: We will also see you speak at Tech Edge. Can you share a bit about what you will talk about?

SR: It will be around some of the topics we discussed today, but I will focus on the change management that needs to happen between the ears. The technology is the easy stuff, but the people part is where it gets tough. I’ll talk about how setting your team up for success is key to making change work.

Then, I’ll take a look into the future. There are some pretty clear trends for the next three to five years that will be useful in preparing a technology roadmap for yourself and your business.

Thank you, Steve!

If you’d like to hear Steve talk more about business, technology and how it all fits together, tune into his session: “Tackle Change. Enthusiasm Required.” At Tech Edge on June 18th. Register at www.nex-tech.com/techedge.

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