October 25, 2022

Putting Customer Experience Innovation Into Practice, with Bloomberg Industry Group CEO Josh Eastright

Episode 187 of The Innovation Engine podcast.

Bloomberg Industry Group CEO Josh Eastright leads a company that excels at putting CX innovation into practice. For this episode of The Innovation Engine, he shares some of the key lessons he’s learned over the course of two-plus decades in product development and executive leadership roles with Bloomberg and Bloomberg Industry Group.

Listen to the Episode

Among the topics we touch on in this episode are why providing customers with answers at their point of need is a central component of a winning CX approach, why it’s so vital for those in product to understand the difference between technology buyers and users, and the importance of marrying AI and machine learning with subject matter expertise to provide a differentiated, always-evolving customer experience.

Don’t Just Ask Customers What They Want, Watch Them Work

A deep devotion to understanding customer problems and needs has been central to the success of Bloomberg Industry Group. Roughly a third of the company’s organization works in sales, customer service, and client support, which Josh says means, “That group spends an enormous amount of time talking to our customers and listening to our customers, trying to understand the problems that they’ve got.”

In addition to talking to customers, they also make a habit of actually watching them work. This practice often leads to additional insights and customer points of need that, once identified, the product team can use to inform incremental improvements.

Advanced Technology Works Best When It’s Augmented With Expertise

Another area that they’ve tapped into to drive CX innovations is utilizing new technology, paired with subject matter experts, in service of the customer. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are taking the business world by storm, but they’re not silver bullets that will revolutionize business alone. When it comes to machine learning, those machines have to be taught by someone. If you expect AI to do all of your work for you, you’re going to run into problems. But if you take that in-house expertise and use it to build new algorithms and train machines, you get the best of both worlds: human expertise with computer efficiency.

Episode Highlights:

  • [01:09] The origins of Bloomberg Industry Group and who they serve
  • [04:45] Understanding your customers’ needs and serving them relevant materials during onboarding
  • [07:42] Transitioning from traditional publishing to digital products
  • [17:50] How Bloomberg Industry Group drives innovation at a high level
  • [20:52] Leveraging 90 years of history to create a business advantage
  • [22:51] Providing answers at your customers’ point of need
  • [27:33] The rate of digital adoption and how the pandemic impacted it
  • [31:33] The struggles that come with using AI and machine learning

Resources:

● Learn more at bloombergindustry.com
● Visit Josh’s LinkedIn page: linkedin.com/in/josheastright

About The Innovation Engine

Since 2014, 3Pillar has published The Innovation Engine, a podcast that sees a wide range of innovation experts come on to discuss topics that include technology, leadership, and company culture. You can download and subscribe to The Innovation Engine on iTunes, Stitcher Radio, Spotify, and SoundCloud to listen online, via Android or iOS, or on any device supporting a mobile browser. You can download The Innovation Engine’s dedicated iOS app from the Apple Podcasts App store, and you can listen to all previous episodes on the 3Pillar website.

Transcript

Male: [0:00:04]
This is the Innovation Engine Podcast from 3Pillar Global, your home for conversations with industry leaders on all things digital transformation, platform modernization, and corporate innovation.

Scott Varho: [0:00:19]
Welcome back to the Innovation Engine Podcast. I’m Scott Varho, Chief Evangelist for 3Pillar and your co-host for today’s episode, joined by Bernie Doone, Industry Leader for the information services sector here at 3Pillar.

And today, we are thrilled to be speaking with Bloomberg Industry Group CEO Josh Eastright about putting customer experience innovation into practice. Josh is a more than 20-year veteran of Bloomberg, having started his career as an intern in 1999 and steadily progressing through the organization in the year since.

He most recently served as president of Bloomberg Government for two years, an internal startup of Bloomberg that was then merged with BNA and Bloomberg Law to form Bloomberg Industry Group.

Josh, we’re thrilled to have you. Welcome to the Innovation Engine.

Josh Eastright: [0:01:06]
Yeah, great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Bernie Doone: [0:01:08]
Fantastic. So maybe we can start off by telling us a little bit about your business. We’d love to hear about the origin story of Bloomberg Industry Group and learn about the industry sectors and customers that you serve today.

Josh Eastright: [0:01:21]
Yeah, I guess at a high level, the way to think about it is that we’ve got a collection of subscription businesses that serve the legal, tax, and government markets. And the common thread is people who need to track legal and regulatory information and developments, and we deliver it over our website. It’s a SaaS model.

But, you know, our origin story I think is a little bit more interesting. I always describe to people that we’re a bit of a blended family. You know, we’re a product of an acquisition and then two internal startups at Bloomberg. So, it’s kind of an interesting organization.

For some history, Bloomberg acquired BNA back in 2011. And at the time, we had two internal startups. We had the Bloomberg Law startup, which was started up in New York. And then we had the Bloomberg Government business, which was started down in Washington and they were all operating independently.

And shortly after the BNA acquisition, we brought together the law to leverage the synergies on legal research, legal content, legal news. And then in 2017, we recognized there was an opportunity to get some leverage with the Bloomberg Government business, particularly on news and some legislative and regulatory coverage. So, we brought that business in.

So today, you know, the way to think about us is, you know, Bloomberg Industry Group is kind of like a holding company but we have three distinct businesses as part of it. So, we’ve got Bloomberg Law. We’re very creative with our names, you’re going to realize here. We serve both in-house attorneys at corporations and lawyers at law firms.

We’ve got Bloomberg Tax which, believe it or not, serves tax professionals. And that’s attorneys either, you know, in a big accounting firm or an accounting firm of any size or an internal tax department in a corporation.

And we’ve got Bloomberg Government, which serves government affairs professionals, or lobbyists, members of Congress, agency professionals, and government contracting professionals. So, people that are typically selling things to the government.

It sounds a little disparate, but actually there’s a ton of leverage we get by having all these organizations together. So, you think about something like news, right. You think about like a bill that’s got a lot of tax implications going through Congress, right, that applies to all three of our businesses.

It also applies, by the way, to the Bloomberg Terminal. They’re going to be interested in that kind of content. So, what it means is that we can hit that issue from multiple angles and service a whole bunch of different customers by having these organizations together.

It also means, if you think about product development, we get to leverage learnings from all these products against each other. So, while they’re somewhat independent, we do leverage that. And a good example of that is, we came out with a revised and enhanced onboarding tool for our Bloomberg Law product earlier this year.

And, we did a very, you know, very agile process. It was held together with bubble wrap and duct tape at first. We kind of learned and kind of kept iterating and it got to a point where actually we’re pretty happy with it. And now we’re looking at rolling that similar structure out in the Tax and the Government product. So, we get some leverage on that front, too.

Scott Varho: [0:04:45]
Just curious to push into that. Like, what does that onboarding experience do for your service and for the clients?

Josh Eastright: [0:04:55]
Yes, I mean if you think about our business, a lot of times our buyer is different than our end user. So if you sell to a big law firm, we might be dealing with someone centrally, like a knowledge management professional or a librarian. You might be dealing with a practice group lead, or senior partner. But they then make a purchase on behalf of a whole bunch of other people, whether its associates or other partners.

So, the person who we sell to is really excited and knows the product and understands it and maybe trialed it. But then, a whole bunch of people get a login and it’s sort of, “Okay, go forth and prosper.”

So, what we were doing before is, we had some very basic onboarding, but we didn’t do enough to help understand who that customer, who that user was and what was important to them.

So, I wouldn’t say that we’ve created the wheel here on onboarding, but we spent a lot of time thinking about, “Okay, what are the things we need to know about an attorney that helps us direct them to the most relevant content most quickly?”

So, we’ll ask them things like, “What practice groups or what areas of law do you practice? Are you a labor and employment attorney? Are you a tax attorney, or something else?”

If you say you’re in labor and employment, okay, great, now we know we can start specializing the content we push to you. We know that we can maybe suggest to you, “Okay, would you like to sign up for one of our labor and employment newsletters?” And we’ll make that a one-click for you, as opposed to making you go root through and find it.

So, by the time you get to the end of the process, you’ve got now a home page that is more targeted to you. You might be subscribed to something that’s more targeted to you. It doesn’t mean we’re taking you through everything that the product has to offer, but you’ve got a much better launching off point.

And we’re finding a huge percentage of our customers are actually completing this, which has been really heartening. I mean, we were worried when we did this that everybody would sort of click the x out and, you know, “I don’t want to do this, let me skip out of this.”

But actually, north of 70 percent of people are actually finishing the journey.

Scott Varho: [0:07:03]
That’s remarkable.

Josh Eastright: [0:07:05]
Which is great in product development, right?

Scott Varho: [0:07:06]
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Well, and one of the things I mean buried in there is a critical insight that I’ve been constantly working with clients on, especially in the B2B space is your buyer and users are different people. And they may not even know each other. They probably have different agendas. And digging into that user persona to make sure they’re getting value from the product that you’re selling them.

A lot of people lose track of that. They really focus on winning the deal and not on increasing value delivered on the ground. So, that’s a great insight and I applaud your success. That’s awesome.

So, I’m actually interested then, you know, kind of looking at the transition for Bloomberg, the journey from a traditional publisher really pushing content, talents, and expertise to digital product.

I mean you’re using language that is very native to us — agile, starting with an MVP and working through the learnings and developing from there. I mean, that’s bread and butter for us.

So, what does that transition look like? Because I’ve worked with publishers before. They’re not always agile. There’s usually a high bar for polish. So, I’m just interested in the cultural shift and journey from your perspective.

Josh Eastright: [0:08:19]
Yeah, we had a bit of a leg up to be honest with you. Because, one, we’re part of the Bloomberg family and Bloomberg obviously is all over this.

So, a bunch of my colleagues, including myself, have had product development careers at Bloomberg. So, we got to leverage that knowledge. The other leg up that we had was Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Government have been digital from the beginning and followed this product development process from the beginning.

So, as they came into the organization, you know, they natively understood this. So, that really helped us. So, that’s sort of thing one.

I think thing two is though, I think actually the — I get this question a lot and I think the premise of the question is that, you know, it’s actually harder for a traditional company to do this, you know like a public traditional publisher.

And you know, certainly there’s definitely challenges, right. I mean we had a huge amount of revenue tied up in print. That’s a real challenge. And in publications and products that I would call “print like” even just a few years ago.

So, definitely shifting the way that people think about their day to day and the way they think about the product and the support. That was a challenge, no question.

Bernie Doone: [0:09:40]
When you say people think, Josh, is that people using the product or is that people internally at?

Josh Eastright: [0:09:45]
Oh, sorry, internally. Yes, internally I’m talking about. Yeah, thanks for that. Yeah, you know, so we used to be organized very much around publications.

So, just take one of our more popular publications, say like the Daily Labor Report, which has been around for decades. And was a BNA publication that literally had its own news reporting team, it had its own general manager, it had its own engineering allocation of resources. You know, it had its own publishing and all that sort of stuff. So, it’s sort of this complete silo in and of itself.

And then we had the Daily Tax Report which is another one of our products, has been around for decades and is very, very popular with our customers. Exact same setup, right.

So that was a real challenge because you had so much similar work happening, but not being able to leverage each other to get the most out of it. So, you know, that definitely was – that was something that we did very early on as we moved people around.

And, for example, we created a central news desk. So instead of having a whole bunch of different news desks that supported publications, we created a central news desk. And the benefit of that is you get people starting to work together because guess what — when you’re dealing with labor and employment issues, there’s also tax issues, right? Because employees pay taxes and companies pay taxes.

So, now, you can actually get a labor and employment reporter working with the tax reporter on the story and you can cover all the different angles of it. You get much better content for your customer.

Scott Varho: [0:11:21]
Well, and I just want to pick on this for a second. I mean what you’re saying is you had certain advantages, and certainly being, you know, digitally native helps a lot, right and having aspects of your culture that is ready for that transition. But then you had real structural impediments to being able to create the kind of, you know, multilateral services that you’re talking about.

And so, you have to have a view of what kind of an organization you’re trying to become to remove the structural impediments and then get the humans to start behaving differently in collaborating differently. I mean that’s what I’m hearing in your story, do I have that right?

Josh Eastright: [0:11:54]
And you’re spot on, you know. And news is one example of that. But actually, it happened all over our organization over the past couple of years. You know, engineering, for example, a similar thing. And all of our other more analytical content organizations, same sort of thing.

We’re really trying to break down those silos so people will naturally work together. That was really important. And you know, we made pretty dramatic changes that we reorganized but we really see the benefit of it now, a couple years on. And we’re – I would argue we’re ahead of where I thought we would be four years ago when we started this journey. So, it’s great to see.

I think the other big change, though, is just in people’s outlook and the way they think about their job. You know, if you run a print business, the way your mind works is you have to get everything perfect once and then you’re done.

Scott Varho: [0:12:53]
So true, right.

Josh Eastright: [0:12:55]
If you’re running a digital business, a product is never done, right. It’s constantly – it’s always going, right. And you can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. And that is a bigger mindset shift than it sounds like. I mean it sounds easy, you know, talking about it here with you guys, but it’s –

Bernie Doone: [0:13:14]
No small task.

Josh Eastright: [0:13:16]
It’s a really big job. I’d argue, though, that we had a leg up, you know, in the – I mentioned earlier that we had the leg up in that we had some digital native businesses inside that helped.

I think the other leg up is that we’ve got a few hundred absolutely world class experts that work in this company, whether they’re former attorneys or whether they’re former practitioners on the tax side, or whether they’re reporters who have been covering a beat for years and years and years.

Those people being in-house, there is a real asset there when you think about technology because, right, technology is really great and they can answer all sorts of questions for you and all that sort of stuff, but, we deal in markets where you need that expertise or you can’t fake it.

These people created content for years and now we’re thinking about how to change the form and the format of that content, but it’s just if not more valuable because we can get it to the users more efficiently, and answer the questions more directly.

So, when we build these tools and we’re changing this, we’ve got these experts in house that can help us think about, “Okay, well that makes sense to a practitioner or that doesn’t make sense to a practitioner.” So, it was another big leg up that I feel like we have.

Scott Varho: [0:14:34]
Although, I mean, in my experience, that can cut both ways. You know, if that group sees technology as a way to enhance and amplify their impact, then you’ve got great allies that are going to give you awesome insights.

If they see technology as a threat to the way that they imagine their work, right, again, that mindset shift. If they’re not able to make that mindset shift, then what you’re trying to accomplish is a threat to this view of their work and how it’s best represented, you know, and then they might look at the editorial process of old as a gold standard, and hold on really tightly to that.

So, I’m actually curious how you brought that group through that process of seeing technology as an amplifier or were they already there, were they right for it, ready for it because you know, expertise in tax doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ready to leverage technology to get their message out.

Josh Eastright: [0:15:28]
Yeah, there’s never one answer on these things, right. I think there – again, I’d say we were lucky in that we have a huge number of people that were ready for that and were energized and excited about it.

Like any organization of large people, you have some people that weren’t ready for it. And I think it’s a communications and a management challenge. And,you work to show them value, you work to show them that this is actually going to make their life better.

I’ll give you another good example on this. In our news division, we’ve started using technology to write stories, right. And it’s not – we’re not writing a deep investigative piece, we’re not writing a highly researched legal analysis, but, you know, we can use technology to summarize a Supreme Court cert petition.

And that’s something that we would have had humans doing historically. So we’ve now trained a machine to do that. Well, I still need a human to edit that because we don’t feel like the technology is where it needs to be, to not have a human edit it. But I don’t have a human kind of sitting there writing it from the beginning.

Scott Varho: [0:16:39]
The draft is — yep.

Josh Eastright: [0:16:41]
The draft is there. Yeah, it’s kind of all out-of-the-box. What that does – again you could take two perspectives. You can take the perspective, “Well, that’s my job. I don’t want the machine to do it.” But what it’s actually allowed us to do is to add new beats to our coverage.

Right now, I can cover more things, I can cover more interesting things. So, now that reporter who was stuck, you know, stuck doing, summarizing something can cover a more interesting beat.

Scott Varho: [0:17:08]
So right, the threat and the opportunity come together, right?

Josh Eastright: [0:17:12]
Yeah.

Bernie Doone: [0:17:11]
Yep. So, you get the synergy between technology and talent expertise and you have more time unlocked to do more and accomplish more.

Josh Eastright: [0:17:21]
Yeah. And I think to your question earlier, Scott, I think it’s about showing people those examples like that, that give them confidence that, “Okay, this is the right journey.”

Scott Varho: [0:17:31]
Net-net, they’re gaining, not losing. Yep.

Josh Eastright: [0:17:33]
Correct.

Scott Varho: [0:17:34]
Yeah. I think that’s a – it’s a – the culture of innovation and transition is always a topic of mine that I love because there’s a lot of humans with a lot of emotions. And so, I think that’s a really important, important nuance to bring out.

Josh Eastright: [0:17:47]
Yep.

Bernie Doone: [0:17:48]
We talked about the power of teams and getting cross discipline teams working together to drive innovation. But at the higher level, what is the fuel that drives the innovation engine at Bloomberg Industry Group? Like, how do you keep that innovation engine like finely tuned and keep everyone working towards the North Star?

Josh Eastright: [0:18:06]
Yeah, well, I mean, I will say when I got here, I did bring in some leaders that I’ve worked with over the years, you know, to work with us. And, having a good team around you really helps, right? People who have done it before, people who have seen it.

So that was kind of step number one was kind of getting a great team in place. You know, I’ll say we talk about a publishing company like they don’t innovate. I actually think, BNA is now 90-years-old. You don’t get to be 90 years old, you know, without innovating along the way, right.

And I think we actually have an organization that had a history of innovation. I mean you sort of think about they started off as a print company and they were the first subscription business to kind of really use drop shipments to get print product to customers very early in the morning, right. That’s an innovation, right.

And then, you know, when the web came around, they figured out how to digitize everything and get it onto the web and put a simple search layer on it, right. So, we have, we actually have that innovation. I just want to be clear on that, that you know, I think sometimes legacy companies get knocked for not being innovative. I think there’s a rich history here we were able to build on.

I think the other thing that gives us, that fuels us is our direct sales and service model. So, about a third of our organization is in sales, customer service, client support, and that group spends an enormous amount of time talking to our customers and listening to our customers, trying to understand the problems they’ve got, you know.

And then that’s on top of our product teams that are out there, right. And that’s a real rich history that not just we have but Bloomberg does that as well, right, Bloomberg’s sales force is a secret weapon because they spend tons and tons of time with their customers. They understand them really deeply. And we, you know, watch them work.

I mean, we were thinking about a recent, you know, product we were working on at our tax side. We actually had people, you know, go visit customers and literally sit in a chair behind them and watch them work for hours on end to try to look for where there were inefficiencies, where might we be able to help them.

Bernie Doone: [0:20:26]
That’s awesome.

Scott Varho: [0:20:27]
I love to hear that. I’ve been – I was just explaining to someone what contextual inquiry is and it’s that. It’s, you know, literally just sit with them, watch them. That’s where you’re going to find the high value opportunities. That’s phenomenal. That’s great.

Josh Eastright: [0:20:41]
Yeah. It’s about having relationships with your customers, right, where they let you do that, right, I mean —

Scott Varho: [0:20:44]
That’s right, yes. And tell you what’s going on in their head at the same time, right? It’s like, what are you doing and why and what are you thinking about?

Bernie Doone: [0:20:52]
So, Josh, you also have a huge advantage with that 90 years of history with BNA information and data and insights, correct? Like how do you leverage that to your advantage?

Josh Eastright: [0:21:03]
Well, as far as the technology goes over product goes, right?

Bernie Doone: [0:21:07]
Yeah.

Josh Eastright: [0:21:09]
Yeah. I mean, you know, I think the way to think about the, you know, the history and the leverage there is, you know, AI and machine learning and you know these are the sort of buzz words, right, and people like throwing them around, right?

But, you know, you think about what machine learning actually is, right, a machine is learning. Someone has to help the machine learn. You know when you’ve got a few hundred world-class experts in legal and tax and government issues in-house, you know, you think about ripping through a, let’s say like we’ve got a collection of more than a billion dockets, court dockets in our databases, right?

Yeah, I could throw a machine at that and see what kind of insights come up. But man, it’s a heck of a lot more efficient when I’ve got hundreds of attorneys working here that can help to train the machine and help the machine to understand that nuance, you know.

And then you’ve got historical, you know historical, whether it’s historical news stories or historical legal analysis or tax analysis, again, you can use all of that as when you’re thinking about, you know, I’m trying to write – you know, we’ve got a machine that writes summaries of state bills, for example, right.

But we’ve got a collection of human-written bill summaries over years and years and years, right. I can compare the original bill to the bill summary. I can use that to train the machine. That’s the advantage that, you know, technology alone won’t get you.

Scott Varho: [0:22:46]
Yeah, what is quality, right? It’ll give me something. Now “Is it good?” becomes a key piece of that. So, I’m actually interested in pushing – you’ve already given us a couple of hints into the customer experience side of things, but I want to dive a little bit deeper.

I’ve heard you say it’s important to provide customers with answers — meaning actual insights — at their point of need, which is such a powerful statement in and of itself.

Bernie Doone: [0:23:08]
I love that.

Scott Varho: [0:23:11]
Yeah. Can you elaborate on this and share some examples?

Josh Eastright: [0:23:15]
Yeah, sure. I mean, you know, I guess the, you know – I’ll give you an example. Let’s think about a lawyer, right. I mean they spend a lot of time negotiating contracts. And a consistent source of paranoia we hear from our customers when we talk to them is, you know, did it – have I agreed to a clause like this before? Is this a standard provision that we normally sign off on our side?

And what we’d see them do when we watch them work, is they’ll have a Word document up that they’re working on. And then they’ll have maybe, you know, a SharePoint file with a bunch of old contracts on it. And then maybe they’ll have our product up in a web browser. And they’re jumping between all these different tools to get their work done.

And look, I mean they get it done, right? But, you know, kind of the constant going back and forth as they’re working on this contract. So instead of thinking about, “How do we add another search facet on our website?” to maybe make search a little more granular, we took the attitude, “Let’s flip it on its head.”

Why don’t we ask them to give us the contract they’re working on, you know, upload it to us and we’ll run it against everything we’ve got. And we’ll tell them what we know about that contract, right.

We’ll say like is there any sort of – and I’m sort of switching between contracts and maybe like a legal brief here, but we have tools for both. But you know, let’s say you’re talking about like a legal brief. Yeah, we can look at it and say, “Okay, well, these are all the cases that are cited in that legal brief. We found it. Here’s the link to the cases.”

But by the way, we’ve also got, you know, an artificial intelligence tool called Points of Law that figures out okay, what are broad legal concepts and then what are cases that referred to that legal concept. Well, because these cases are cited, these are probably the points of law that are referenced in the brief and these are other cases you might have missed that you want to cite.

Now, or if you’re looking at a contract, you know we’ve got already natively in our product, the Edgar database, right? So, all these publicly filed contracts, but we can compare your contract against a similar contract from the company in your industry, of your size, of the type of contract and does this look like one of those contracts?

Bernie Doone: [0:25:34]
That’s phenomenal. Wow.

Josh Eastright: [0:25:36]
Yeah. So, it’s sort of – what it does, I guess the whole point is it puts the customers working in Word and they’re working with that document, so why swim upstream, right? Point – put the information we have, put the intelligence we have right at the point of need in the Word document versus make them jump between multiple different platforms.

Scott Varho: [0:25:58]
You know, it’s interesting. We met not too long ago with Bob Moesta. I don’t know if you know him, but he’s a big evangelist of the Jobs to be Done framework which – and literally I was just reading a quote from him yesterday about really focusing on the point of struggle for your users and understanding that point richly and going right at that.

And it’s – I think you just represented a great example of mining for the point of struggle and then solving it at the struggle itself, and providing back a much richer service than you would otherwise if you were just thinking about like hey, you know, how else could we make – how about if they just upload this little bit of text and we tell them what we think.

You know, there’s – you could be in any aspect of that but you’re really trying to point go right into the pain point which in order to find that pain point you have to do those kinds of contextual inquiry that you were talking about earlier, have your sales team sitting with trusted customers who are looking to you to like, hey, what can you do for me in this space. That’s really phenomenal.

Josh Eastright: [0:27:03]
I hadn’t heard the term, “point of struggle” before. I like that one.

Bernie Doone: [0:27:06]
Yeah, it resonates a lot with me. I was going to bring that up as well. But I think you turn that moment of struggle into an evolution in the customer experience and you’ve given relevant information in a timely manner that makes it easy for them within the context of the job that they’re trying to do, right.

They were trying to do something before that would be multiple tools and you’re working in Word. So, anytime you can make the Word experience easier, I think is a win for everyone.

On that note, you know, given your customer base and the industries you serve, you mentioned tax and accounting law, government affairs and government contracting. How quick have, you know, users in those industries been to adopt digital product experiences?

And then maybe a related question since we’re coming out of the pandemic, did you see an acceleration of digital adoption in the pandemic and coming out of that?

Josh Eastright: [0:28:00]
Yeah, I mean it’s a good question. You know, I think it, you know, in general, we serve customers whose own customers expect them to be right and perfect every time, right. I mean you hire a lawyer, you hire an accountant, right, you as their customer need them to be spot on and precise.

So that’s sort of the mindset that our customer operates with. So, they don’t have a lot of room for error. So, I think it’s fair to say that, especially pre-pandemic, there was certainly a degree of caution in those industries and sticking to what they know in terms of products or workflows.

But I think the pandemic certainly has sped things up. And you need to be clear, there’s some really innovative organizations out there that have always been pushing the edge. But I’m giving a real generalization.

But I think some stuff that I’ve noticed changing, I think for lawyers, I think the real notable change is a growing comfort with cloud technology. You know, you used to see law firms be very insistent on everything stays in my own metal, my own —

Scott Varho: [0:29:13]
The security of the IT closet.

Josh Eastright: [0:29:15]
Yes, exactly. Which, you know, you try to explain the irony that the cloud is actually more secure than your IT closet.

Scott Varho: [0:29:21]
That’s right.

Josh Eastright: [0:29:23]
But that’s really changed, I think. And you know, I think that remote work has really opened more and more firms to be open to cloud technology which opens the door to some of our, you know, some of our products that are cloud based.

You know, just to figure out the example that we’re uploading a contract, right. That’s something that would have been a lot harder to sell pre-pandemic. And then we’re seeing more acceptance of that. Still want to understand our data and our privacy policies really intimately. We’re very transparent about that but there’s more openness.

I also think the other thing you’ve seen in the past few years, some of this is pre-pandemic, there’s been more and more over what I call innovation labs that have popped up in law firms that look to leverage both internal and external sources and create, you know, create solutions.

And they put some pretty neat tools out of these organizations, you know. And the way we’re responding to that is we’re looking at things like APIs outside of our product to be able to deliver core data sets to them so that as they build applications, our data can help to feed that.

So, for example, we’ve got an API for our feed of those billion dockets I was talking about, you know, we’re going to have an API you can call for that, for example. I think tax, you know, tax departments, I think, were always pretty, you know, pretty tech friendly. And I think the pandemic probably just only escalated it.

I think the difference with tax is, you know, it’s sort of a frequency of tax law and regulation changes. Tax professionals always had to be very kind of quick to adapt to “Okay, well, this whole tax law changed, this provision changed, I have to update all my calculations and I have to update all my back end.” So, they’ve always been pretty open I feel like to technology and always understand the impact.

Scott Varho: [0:31:23]
That’s really interesting. Yeah, That’s interesting, right. And these are not industries that I think of as digitally friendly. So, it’s sort of fascinating to hear you say that.

So, you mentioned a couple of really excellent examples of where you’re using, you know, artificial intelligence or more specifically machine learning to do some tasks and with the oversight of humans. But I’m kind of curious to push into some of the struggles you’ve had adopting those technologies.

I’ve certainly seen them abused myself. So, I’m just kind of – just curious to know some examples where it’s been a struggle.

Josh Eastright: [0:31:59]
Yeah, I mean, I think actually I think the successes and the struggles are kind of driven by the same thing. I mean, I think there’s this perception that AI is a silver bullet for all issues or all problems. When, you know, in reality, it’s a way to automate tasks at scale.

And machine learning is, like I said earlier, exactly what it says on the tin, it’s, you know, it’s a machine learning and someone’s got to teach it. And I think when you don’t go into a project with that perspective, that’s where you can run into struggles and just sort of thinking the machine is going to fix all problems.

You know, I think the successes – well, when we’ve had the most success has been when we were able to leverage that in-house expertise to help the engineers as they go through the process of building the algorithms or training the machine. So, we’ve had that expert sitting there, you know, alongside the engineer who’s building it. We’ve come up with some really cool stuff, you know.

So those – the example I gave you earlier of, you know, writing some stories, the first draft of stories with the machine. You know, having the historical training set of data that was helpful and having a good reporter and a good editor sit there and look at every single variation that came up and say, “Okay, well this worked, but this didn’t work. This sounds right, this doesn’t sound right.” We just kind of end up with a much better product.

I think where you get the struggles is when you don’t have the right expectations about where the technology is going to be useful. And you know, people aren’t aligned on what the outcomes are, you know, can or should be.

I also think the other point I’d make is you have to have data that’s organized and managed in a way that you might not if you weren’t using AI or ML against it. So, I think we’ve had to spend a lot more time investing in our data sets ahead of these projects.

And I think where we’ve had struggles is when we didn’t put that investment or didn’t put enough investment in, like I have to go back to the drawing board again.

Scott Varho: [0:34:14]
Yeah, absolutely. It’s great to hear this from someone in your role, because how many times I’m either joining Bernie or someone else in our client services team trying to explain what it takes to take advantage of the power of AI or ML.

And a lot of it is organizing data, having a plan around what is quality going to look like, how are we going to assess what success is, which comes back to that expectation setting, you know, the machine doesn’t teach itself. It’s pretty – it’s actually not that intelligent. Despite the sci-fi aspect of this, you really do just teach it to see patterns and reproduce them. But nevertheless, really powerful technology if done right. But there’s a lot of human investment to get that value out of it.

So, which I think is something that you seem to have a rich understanding of.

Scott Varho: [0:35:05]
All right. So, I think we’re kind of drawing to the end. Here we have a fun round of speed questions we’d like to ask.

Bernie Doone: [0:35:14]
These are going to be the hardest ones we ask you, Josh.

Scott Varho: [0:35:16]
That’s right. And we want you to answer completely off the cuff. So, I’ll get us started with the first one. So, Bloomberg is famous for its terminals and giving access – users access to multiple simultaneous streams of data. That is the sort of the image that people often have of Bloomberg. So curious, how many screens do you have on your desk right now?

Josh Eastright: [0:35:38]
I’ve got the classic Bloomberg setup of two screens.

Bernie Doone: [0:35:42]
Two screens.

Josh Eastright: [0:35:43]
The Bloomberg branded monitors.

Scott Varho: [0:35:45]
Are they curved? I’m curious.

Josh Eastright: [0:35:48]
No. No, they’re not curved. They’re on an arm so I can, you know, tilt their angle if that counts as curved.

Bernie Doone: [0:35:56]
All right. Josh, I hate to do this to you, but my question is Chelsea Football Club is playing a friendly versus D.C United at Audi Field and Garth Brooks is playing at Cap One Arena on the same night, same time. You can’t see both. Which event are you going to?

Josh Eastright: [0:36:11]
So, I’m a sports fanatic and I love live sports. So, it’s not even a moment of hesitation I’d be at the match.

Bernie Doone: [0:36:20]
Fantastic.

Scott Varho: [0:36:21]
All right. So, Josh, you were on the Varsity swim team at Amherst. That’s – actually, we met playing water polo there. If Michael Phelps were to spot you 15 meters in a 50-meter freestyle sprint, which one of you wins?

Josh Eastright: [0:36:37]
So, important qualifying question. Is this right now, today, or is this back in the 1990s?

Scott Varho: [0:36:43]
I’ll give you a sporting chance, let’s do in the 1990s.

Josh Eastright: [0:36:46]
Okay. Well, so, I think if 15 meters and maybe if he also spotted me, I get to be off the blocks and he had to push. I think it’s a competitive race. That’s probably – I was lucky enough I’ve gotten to see him swim a couple of times.

I mean, I lived in London in the 2012 Olympics and got to see him there. And I went out to the trials, the Olympic Trials in Omaha in 2016. And I mean the guy is an incredible athlete. I’ll tell you that right now, if I got in the pool with him now, though, it would be a sorry sight.

Scott Varho: [0:37:19]
He moves through the water differently than the rest of us, that’s for sure.

Bernie Doone: [0:37:23]
A little bit more of a serious question. So, you started as an intern at Bloomberg and are now the CEO at Bloomberg Industry Group. What advice would you have for anyone starting out their career today, even as an intern?

Josh Eastright: [0:37:34]
So, I think, you know, thinking back on my internship, you know, whether you’re an intern or a new hire in an organization, I think it’s – you take advantage of everything the company offers you. You know, particularly if it’s a pretty structured internship program.

I think sometimes people, you know, either get tied up in their day-to-day work or they’re worried about signing for too many training classes or shadowing or whatever. I mean, I would, if I could go back, I would have signed up for every single training course that was offered to me. I would have taken that – asked every single person around me if I could shadow that and watch what they did and learn more about what they did.

I also, you know, particularly for an intern, you know, someone who’s thinking about maybe working for a company, you’re obviously going to work in the department. You’re going to work with a group of people. But I’d encouraged you to get to meet as many people as you can who do as many different things as you can. Because, you know, it really helps you figure out what you like and what you don’t like and what you might want to do, what you want to dig into a little bit more.

And don’t hide in a silo, I guess, is what I would encourage you to do. And unless by happenstance, you absolutely love the thing you’re doing and you’re like, “This is what I want to do the rest of my life,” that’s cool.

But I think for most people, you know, in an internship, it’s meant to be an opportunity to learn about the company and learn about the industry and just take it all in. You don’t get that many opportunities in life to do that. So, don’t let it go by the wayside.

Scott Varho: [0:39:07]
I love too, that you sort of betray your own authentic curiosity in the way you’ve told us some of the stories here today. And I think that authentic curiosity is such a powerful, powerful tool.

Well, Josh, I just want to say thank you. This has been really great. Some really great insights from you here and an enjoyable conversation. So, thank you so much.

Josh Eastright: [0:39:30]
It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Jennifer Ives: [0:39:34]
This has been an episode of the Innovation Engine, a podcast from 3Pillar Global. If you have questions, comments or guest suggestions, e-mail us at info@3pillarglobal.com.