Episode 65: Dave Wengel and Mary Lacity
Dave Wengel is the Founder & CEO of iDatafy, a real-time information services company.
Mary Lacity is a Professor of Information Systems and Director of the Blockchain Center
of Excellence at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
More About This Episode
Dave Wengel is the Founder & CEO of iDatafy, a real-time information services company.
Mary Lacity is a Professor of Information Systems and Director of the Blockchain Center of Excellence at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
By applying blockchain technology, Dave and Mary are leading the way in certified resumes. More information on SmartResume can be found at their website.
00:08 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education, and your life today.
00:28 Matt Waller: I have with me today Dave Wengel who is the CEO and founder of iDatafy and Professor Mary Lacity, who is a professor in the Walton College, in the area of information systems. She's also the director of the Blockchain Center of Excellence. Thank you both for joining me today.
00:51 Mary Lacity: Our pleasure.
00:51 Matt Waller: We're talking about something today that is unique, innovative, and has a blockchain kind of an approach to... Methodology to implementation, but I wanna back up a minute before I ask you a few questions. The Walton College wanted to get into blockchain as a technology. It's such a new technology. We don't know where it's going, but as an academic institution, it seems like we should be involved in it, trying to understand it. And we hired Professor Lacity. And she's written 28 books, and published lots of articles, and is a very accomplished professor. A lot of her work has been on things like robotic process automation, which is another hot topic we could talk about. But today, we're talking about an application of blockchain, which is the SmartResume, and we'll tell you more about that in a minute. But we hired Mary, and Mary has developed a team that has allowed us to create the Blockchain Center of Excellence.
02:03 Matt Waller: And we have a minor in blockchain, a certificate in blockchain, students can learn blockchain, they can also participate in hackathons. But after we got going on this, I was thinking more and more... When I became dean five years ago, I kept thinking, "Let's practice what we preach in every dimension." So, as I've been dean, I've been experimenting with various leadership methodologies. I'll try leadership techniques and methodologies, see how they work. And I've kept notes on it. In fact, I've got about a 70,000-word document that summarizes all of my experiments with this. But I thought, "Gosh, wouldn't it be great if we applied blockchain instead of just teaching about it and studying it, actually implement it somehow." And then I was fortunate enough that Dave called me with an idea, and I got really excited and I thought, "I wonder if this could be it." Dave, I'll let you talk just a little bit about maybe the origins of this.
03:12 Dave Wengel: Sure. And what makes our efforts around SmartResume unique is that we're not a blockchain shop necessarily. Our background is unique in that our specialty over the last eight or so plus years at iDatafy is in building data consortiums. And so when we look at opportunities... We've already built consortiums in higher ed, where we can see the value of leveraging data, along with consent, to solve really tough business problems. And it was about probably May of 2018, we had just attended the first Blockchain Conference, and around the time we noticed how MIT had started issuing diplomas on the blockchain, which we thought was interesting. And then shortly thereafter, New Mexico Community College started doing the same thing. And while those were both interesting initiatives, my team doubted, "If we had a certified diploma, would we really use it?" And our answer was, frankly no.
04:15 Dave Wengel: And we started talking about, "Well, LinkedIn's become the de facto of resume bin, but nothing's certified." And that's where when the light bulb went off, which was, our background is in building consortiums. We literally Googled "certified resume," and we were shocked that no one's ever done this before. So if you think about universities have issued diplomas for 600 years, they've issued certified transcripts, but they've never actually issued a certified resume. And we thought, "What a great opportunity in Arkansas, as our laboratory, what if we could help trusted universities here actually issue certified resumes that were not only attesting to academic information," but I think in the news, we had seen, Matt, Leadership Walton, and that was something that wasn't showing up on transcripts. And we thought, "I think it would be worth the call to Dean Waller to see if he'd be the first one willing to raise their hand to participate." So that's the origin.
05:15 Matt Waller: Well, after we talked, of course, I immediately called Mary. Mary, what did you think when we first started talking about that?
05:24 Mary Lacity: I think I had been here for about four hours, and you brought us in. To be frank, I was a little skeptical at first, only because to me the hardest thing about blockchain technologies is that they're ecosystem solutions, right? So if you don't have scalability, you don't really have a blockchain use case. So I thought you had a long haul ahead of you, Dave, and here we are, 19 months later, and you've done what very few people have successfully been able to do, and that is to build the consortium of the people to get value outta this. The other challenges that we see in blockchain is it's easy to get one stakeholder group excited 'cause they see business value, but when you have all of... When you have a market, how do you create value for all the players? And that, Dave, I would love for you to share with the audience, how you thought through the different audiences and how you bring value to all of them in the SmartResume project?
06:19 Dave Wengel: Sure, and I think with any consortium... And again, that's really our advantage coming into this, is in building other products with our company. We saw first-hand, that in order to build a consortium, there has to be a mantra of give a little and get a lot in return. So you can't expect any participant or consortia to give more than they're getting back. So universities have to be the ones issuing the resumes. We're only leveraging what's called FERPA directory information. So that means that universities can share with us the information needed for us to create the SmartResumes, to help differentiate their students. So we've got a value proposition for Walton College, in that we can show, "Hey, here's how you can differentiate your current students and even alumni in ways that you couldn't do before." The goal for the recipient's value is this will help differentiate them from other job applicants.
07:13 Dave Wengel: So we're not paying someone to use SmartResume, we're not trying to give a false incentive that may have short-term value. The feedback is, "This differentiates me from other job applicants, so I like it." And then last, Mary, on the employer side, every employer... Or even the largest employers, I should say, can't recruit everywhere. So, our value is for companies that may not yet be being able to see the talent at Walton. We've now made it very easy, so since we've kind of created a certified LinkedIn, we can now create a certified Indeed.com, where employers can identify not just trusted programmers, but who've also rolled out of community colleges. So the multinational companies here at Northwest Arkansas, they don't just need programmers, they need forklift operators and diesel mechanics. And that's been our goal all along, is to provide SmartResume for any Arkansan that has a certified skill, whether it's a certified welder, a certified nurse. And we've had... Just couldn't ask for a better laboratory than Arkansas to do that.
08:23 Mary Lacity: It was fun. So I think your first 20 students were from the Information Systems Department, and you had a couple of alumni and a couple of our current graduate students participate. What did you learn from that first round of data collection?
08:36 Dave Wengel: People are very passionate about their personal resume. And if you think about it, it makes sense. You see all different types of resumes. Some people have degree on top, some have experience, some have job objectives. There was not a correlation between a straight-A student having the best-performing resume, which is interesting. Straight-A students create junkie resumes too. But we knew that in order for recipients, as we call them, the people who get the SmartResumes to wanna use it, they still have to be able to customize it. So an individual can add in their own resume sections that aren't certified, like job profile and job objectives, and then they can configure the SmartResume to look however they want to. And so, Mary, we couldn't have done that without the initial pilot phase, where individuals told us, "If you want me to use this SmartResume, you need to add this functionality."
09:33 Matt Waller: Well, when you first did that experiment with the small group of graduate students that we had in Information Systems, and you compare it to where you are today, there's a big difference because there's... In any business there's so much morphing and pivoting that has to go on. So in some ways for me, there are several reasons I like what we've done. One is we're practicing what we're teaching and doing research on, which really advances our knowledge in this. Mary, wouldn't you agree?
10:04 Mary Lacity: Oh, absolutely.
10:05 Matt Waller: But in addition to that, if you look at our mission statement, it says that we're to be about promoting innovation in our primary strategic endeavors, which include entrepreneurship, analytics and retail, retail in the broadest sense, including CPG and supply chain and so forth, e-commerce. So this really hits on all of them in some ways. And so for me watching Dave, you as an entrepreneur, it's been very interesting because I know you had to get us on board. We were very cautious because we thought, "Well, what information can we share?" One challenge we had is no one knew what we were talking about or why.
10:48 Dave Wengel: Or what's a certified resume?
10:49 Matt Waller: Yeah.
10:50 Dave Wengel: It's never been done before. And I just... We couldn't have asked for a better first partner than Walton, because you all... But we pretty quickly figured out, "Okay, here's who we need to get involved." What really makes SmartResume so unique with Walton is, not only is this the first certified resume any university has ever done, but you all went above and beyond, where this isn't just a registrar saying, "Here's a transcript." This is really fully attesting to what your students and alumni have accomplished.
11:20 Matt Waller: Well, that's the other thing. It's now going to be rolled out so broadly in the state. And in some ways, one of the other things that, Dave, that I liked about it early on was I thought, "It gives our students a competitive advantage in the sense that, one, trust is so important in everything. And if you can trust a resume, you put more weight on it." So if you've got two resumes equal, and one you know you can trust, it's more valuable. But the other thing was I thought from a time perspective, it gives advantage, because some companies require transcripts. Well, that can take sometimes weeks. This way they can get it immediately. So that was some of my thinking. And then of course, when we decided to roll it out throughout the state, which I know you've had to do a lot of work to make that happen, I thought that's really neat because it shows... Arkansas's got a history of being innovative. People don't realize that a lot of times, but when you look at Sam Walton, JB Hunt, Tyson, Stevens, the Murphy's, Murphy Oil, Dillard's and many, many others, I mean, we're full of entrepreneurs.
12:17 Matt Waller: The fact that when we took this to our registrar, Dave Dawson, he was like, "Oh yeah, this is a great idea." And then we told it to the CIO. I didn't know what they would think. They could have said, "We just don't wanna do this, we've got too much to do." But I don't think we came across anyone like that.
12:17 Matt Waller: No, and it was singly what we heard in different meetings was, "I think this will be great for alumni. I think this will be great for students."
12:17 Matt Waller: And you've had to get on board to get the network effect going. You've had to get employers engaged as well. How has that gone? Has it been very challenging?
13:14 Dave Wengel: Yeah, early on, it was challenging, but I think one of the good decisions we made was knowing that there was a time and place to start reaching out to employers, and it wasn't really early on. Employers conceptually loved the idea. Practically, they don't get value until there's enough talent in there to meet their needs. And so there's a danger. You don't wanna try to get too many employees on board without enough talent because the employers will think, "Well this doesn't work." But the challenge is, since this is 100% opt-in, you wanna make sure that people that are deciding, "Do I wanna use this?" that they see good blue chip names. And we've been thrilled with how many have signed on, and we've also signed on to start-ups and mid-sized companies. And I think what we've learned from past consortiums is, we felt we were at the point where we had enough talent to get started, and then the later-adopting employers will be at a disadvantage.
14:14 Mary Lacity: So they'll be later to the game to connect with the great MBA grads coming out, or MIS grads. And our hope is that they'll see that they really need to get involved in this also, and then that's the network effect. So as you add on employers, that's just more reason for individuals to wanna actively use the SmartResume. But really it's just a huge opportunity, hopefully, for employers to easily see the talent at Walton. But one of the unique aspects of SmartResume is we're also helping them demonstrate that they're not showing any bias. So when an employer gets a SmartResume, we have masked the identity of the individual. And part of that, in talking with Mary, came out of something like blockchain. You don't wanna put someone's name and address and phone number on an immutable ledger. So what we actually do is we put on what's called an iDataFyer, which, I won't go in the weeds here. But it's letters and numbers that become kind of a proxy, social security number, so that way we're never putting any sensitive contact data on a blockchain. But the dual purpose is, now when companies or employers are searching for talent, they actually don't know the gender, race, or ethnicity of the individual until they decide that they wanna connect with them.
15:29 Matt Waller: Mary, you're a very prolific researcher and you've done research on blockchain. And so with this application, the first time I heard about it, I thought, "Wow, that is a great idea." Since then, I keep thinking of these kinds of potential applications and I think, "Gosh, you all have been able to do this in a short period of time. And there's a lot of companies out there that seem like they are spinning their wheels a little bit." Mary, do you have any insight into what is going on there?
16:05 Mary Lacity: I think the hard part again is the ecosystem, putting the ecosystem together. So eventually, I don't even think we're gonna say the word blockchain, right? We don't talk about TCP/IP underneath the Internet, right?
16:14 Matt Waller: That's true.
16:16 Mary Lacity: So it's really about what can the... What are blockchains uniquely good for? And they're really uniquely good for an audit trail for an ecosystem. But I think that, again, what Dave did to me was really solve three huge problems in job acquisition. We've thrown technology at job acquisition for a long time. We've got all these platforms out there, we've got artificial intelligence. And we found out many times, all that did was make the bias worse. So he really solved the issue of verified resumes. In some of the research, we found 80% of companies find fraudulent claims on resumes. That's huge, that's huge. So that's a big problem. Then the other one, again, is bias. Even all these social media platforms, they've got people's photographs. So you can infer all kinds of things, and you may advertently or inadvertently be selecting candidates based on that information. Then the other one was also about data privacy. What are all these platforms doing with our data?
17:17 Mary Lacity: The SmartResume, it's all FERPA compliant. There's no data that's collected that a SmartResume user would have to worry about. And so to me, I think that was the bigger problem that he solved. The fact that there's a blockchain underneath it is probably the least interesting thing about the SmartResume project, but for the technologists out there it does give that immutable audit trail so that people can be confident when they see a badge, that it's truly been verified.
17:43 Matt Waller: Mary came to me, I don't know how long ago it was, and said, "I think the Walton College should put more emphasis on business ethics." But we did an estimate, and we figured maybe 15% of our students directly get something. Certainly it comes up, if they read the Wall Street Journal, they see ethical problems all the time. Professors talk about it in various classes, but Mary was talking about something comprehensive. And we were fortunate in that this woman by the name of Cindy Moehring, who had been at Walmart for 20 years, in the last 10 years she was Chief Ethics Officer. She retired and wanted to get involved in academics. Now, she is working with us to drive ethics into our...
18:36 Mary Lacity: Into our DNA.
18:38 Matt Waller: DNA. So everything. How we do business...
18:40 Dave Wengel: You need to get it on the SmartResume. Not that all roads go back to that, but this is a real-time, think of this, Matt and Mary, so that is... I know from employers what we're hearing, what they're really looking for is not just academic background, but, "What can we see, where hopefully we can see if someone's gonna show up on time, right? What can we see that we know that this is someone that can be trustworthy?" And just thinking out loud, I think that is, you are all in a great position to now attest to, "Hey, these people are serious about ethics. They either had a certificate or maybe if it's not even credit, our hope is that we can show employers and make it easy for them to find people that have that ethics background." And so I don't wanna seize too much on... But I think that's what we're so passionate about is... That is a fantastic idea. And we know employers. They wanna do whatever they can to find those people. And it's not our job, we're not the right people to come up with, "What should that curriculum be?" That's your all's area of expertise. Our hope is that this is something we can use to really amplify what you're doing, and it wouldn't traditionally be on a transcript.
19:49 Matt Waller: We're calling this, by the way, Business Integrity Leadership Initiative. But if you look at a lot of the material on it, it doesn't include some of the most current ethics issues around big data, artificial intelligence, and things like that. And Mary's been working with Cindy on developing that piece of it.
20:12 Mary Lacity: And there is a great, great article that just came out from Harvard, and it looked at the technical and ethical principles of developing technology. Yeah, so it talks about things like transparency. What do you do with your data? And increasingly with artificial intelligence and machine learning, how the data you train your algorithms on, are gonna either have bias in them. How do you put together a data set so that you don't do that? So these are questions, ethical questions that are new because of the emergence of new technologies.
20:47 Matt Waller: Yeah, and so what's neat about this SmartResume is it brings all of this together, in one way. And I think as an academic institution, we should be pushing the boundaries of these things. And it would be great if we could continue to encourage innovation as is in our mission statement.
21:09 Mary Lacity: And I can see, going back to "How do we formalize soft skills?" If we could do things like even certify. They've worked on... They can work effectively in a group.
21:18 Matt Waller: Teamwork, yeah.
21:19 Mary Lacity: Teamwork effort. I think that would be a huge differentiator.
21:23 Dave Wengel: Yeah, I think that there's been a lot of badge fatigue. There's no shortage of badge companies out there. And to be very clear, we are not a badge company. And so we're really focused on how we can help universities promote their very unique leadership programs or soft skill programs and then conversely make it easy for employers to find that.
21:46 Matt Waller: Mary, it's pretty fascinating how this project has really touched on so many different parts of our vision and mission and values as a college, but as you have mentioned, it also speaks to our efforts to fulfill our land grant mission. Would you mind talking about that for a moment?
22:07 Mary Lacity: Well, actually, I'll probably just pass it over to Dave, because he really saw something that... And took this in a direction that I didn't foresee. So I could see the value for college-educated people to have this SmartResume, but there are so many people in the state of Arkansas that don't have technologies. They don't have good resumes. They don't have a good way to take the skills they're learning in a trade school and take it to a marketplace of who's trying to do it. And Dave, you talk about what you've done because it's really been a marvel to me.
22:37 Dave Wengel: Well, it's... Our customers have always given us our best product ideas. It's amazing how bad our own personal ideas are, but what we get excited about is when we hear not just one but two or three different companies independently tell us the same thing. So increasingly, what they told us, especially with some of the largest employers in Northwest Arkansas was, "I need to hire X amount of programmers, but I need to hire 10 times the amount of welders or forklift operators. And there isn't a blue collar LinkedIn." A lot of the employers in our state have already tapped pretty much all the traditional ways. And so increasingly, employers are looking at second-chance individuals, so people who have been incarcerated that now have skills. But then if you look at that group, they're the most vulnerable or the least trusted. And so that's the opportunity that we're also especially excited about. Is there a number of two-year programs around the state from the UA system that we were introduced to?
23:43 Dave Wengel: Dr. Michael Moore, who is the Chief Academic Officer very early on for the University of Arkansas system said, "Hey, you need to be looking at these other schools and get in touch and provide that value." But we're also very selectively working with nonprofits, so Goodwill Industries of Arkansas is just a great example. Their mission is to put people to work, and that is the type of partner that we wanna partner with.
24:16 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching beepicpodcast, one word, that's beepicpodcast. And now Be EPIC.