bWise – Ep 28: Mastering Digital Transformations with Ben Admin Vet Dave Mankowski

Mastering Digital Transformations with Ben Admin Vet Dave Mankowski

Get practical insights for driving successful digital transformations across industries. Listen in as Dave Mankowski shares his 20+ years of experience and wisdom, with real-world examples of digitizing businesses. You’ll learn about the guiding principles he employs for optimal digital engagement, like enabling consumer control and building genuine relationships beyond personalization. He emphasizes how businesses need to deeply understand customers, taking an anthropologists view to forge meaningful connections. Dave also explores unique healthcare industry challenges and how AI and smart architectures can tailor solutions at scale. Dont miss his perspectives on empowering the next generation to uncover their special powers for making an impact in their careers.


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    Hey Sharon, we’ve got a great guest with us today. Dave Mankowski is a longtime veteran of digital transformation. He’s been with a company called Bounteous for nearly 20 years and his experience in the digital space goes back even further than that. Dave Mankowski is also a new member of the bswift Client Advisory Council, and we’re super delighted to have Dave on our show today. Dave, welcome. 

    Thank you. It’s great to be here. 

    Good. Well, I just want to get underway today, Dave, introducing our audience to you and a little bit of the business that you’re in and how it works. I know that you’ve been in this industry for quite some time and I’ve read a bit about how your company has been helping major global and national brands to digitize their businesses. I’m wondering, just to get our listeners engaged in what you do and how you do it, can you tell us maybe a story or an example of how you’re helping companies today to improve their businesses through digitization? 

    Yeah, no, that’s fun. And actually the phrase digitize their business. I’ll get to a contemporary example from today, but it kind of brings me back to the very beginning when we started working with the internet back in the late nineties, and so we helped this company take apartment shopping from an offline experience to a digital experience that companies So we like to say that we put in apartments, not Jeff Gold boom from all of the commercials. And at that time, it was not long after I finished my MBA at Kellogg, and one of the things going on at that time was re-engineering. And one of the things that was always impressed upon us is that technology had a play, had a role in re-engineering, but if you just apply technology, you’re just going to make bad things happen faster. So when we consult and we work with clients, we consult them not to do that. 

    We’re looking for ways to help them win digitally in a more fundamental level to help transform the brand experience to disrupt the market in which they can compete. So maybe a current example I’ll pull out is Discount Tire. Discount Tires is a wonderful success story in our country’s history. Bruce Holly founded it back in 1960 as he’ll say in his book with six tires in his inventory. Now it’s close to a $10 billion company, 1200 shops around the country. And it’s really not a company that has been known for digital experiences and digital transformation until recently. So one thing that we’re doing with them is that when you buy a tire or tires, this is a purchase, one of the largest purchases you’re going to make without thinking about it much, and it’s not really one you’re looking forward to. And so they feel the way they’re going to grow and sustain themselves as the market leader is very much through digitizing all of those interactions for how you select buy and get new tires, including something new that we’ve helped them enable called a pit pass. So when you can search, you can buy your tires in line, set an appointment, come into one of their new shops, and then basically say in your car, your kid could be in a backseat, you could do your email as you wait to change your tires and you just kind of drive off and they make it super, super easy. So that’s maybe a good recent example of how you digitize a business. 

    Such a good example. Dave and I just unfortunately had to buy a new set of tires due to waiting a little bit too long. So I wish I would’ve wish I would’ve known that and been able to use that experience. But no, it’s a great example. And another thing you just mentioned that I love is that sometimes enabling technology makes bad things happen faster. And a phrase that we use commonly at bswift is garbage and garbage out. Bad data in, bad data out. And so that definitely resonates with us. I would say we have a great tool at our fingertips to deploy to our customers and we can deploy information to them very quickly. We can deploy information between our customers and our vendors very quickly, but we need to make sure that we’re of course doing that in a way that is with good data and presenting the right things to our customers employees. So I love that phrase. What are some of the guiding principles that you focus on when you turn to help clients achieve this optimal digital engagement with their customers? I think that was a great example that you’ve provided in terms of a customer and what are the guiding principles that you use to help them move in that direction? 

    Yeah, so it is interesting because there’s probably a dozen key principles that we always try to lean into and discuss, but if I lean into your word engagement specifically, think about the tires you purchase. Tires are typically good for six years, so how might a discount tire engage with you throughout that six years between those purchases is a really tough challenge. So engagement is super key, and I think the principle we like to talk about is take an anthropologist view of your customers, go deeper in terms of critical insights, and there’s some great real life anecdotes that bring us to life. So a dozen years ago, one of our clients was one of the largest dog food brands. And what they found is if they knew you tracked your dog’s birthday, you could double the household value almost instantly. They knew how to talk to you, they knew what was important to you and so on and so forth. 

    A very large sporting goods company, if they know what kind of boats you have, tells them a lot to what they need to know about you to market and to sell and to engage you more often an insurance company or a financial planning firm, if they’re trying to sell to my wife versus me, it’s very different of how they should engage with me. So they need to know us and figure out how they can know us quickly because I want to go transactional. I want to understand my options quickly. My wife wants to build trust and a rapport before she wants to transact. Those are very different, and if you get that wrong, you’re going to lose me at hello sort of thing very quickly in that interaction. And maybe one of my favorite healthcare stories I tell is around this principle that was sort of a sacred cow that the relationship between a patient and their primary care physician was sacrosanct. 

    And so a lot of hospital systems would build medical buildings close by so that it was convenient to go see your primary care physician. And then one large hospital system, a client of ours out west found through their research, through knowing their market that people would be happy to drive 34 minutes if they could make an appointment with seven two hours and meet and have an appointment with a primary care physician that they didn’t know. So convenience, that consumerism trend has sort of hit the tipping point and then you do that. And so that’s really key. So knowing your customer, but those examples are just knowing something about somebody and it gives you an advantage, kind of a first mover advantage, but it’s not sustainable. What’s sustainable is when you really get to know somebody. So knowing something about somebody is not knowing somebody, you got to build up that relationship. 

    So how can you engage people with big moments, with big engagements and also those small sort of interactions consistently throughout that journey, throughout that relationship, which is key. And so the other principle we talk about is it’s just not about personalization. That’s not the only thing you need to solve. Relationships are two ways. So a lot of times, consumers, customers, buyers, patients, they want to control their purchase decision, they want to control their choice. And so giving them the ability to have some control over that interaction and not just spit out an answer from a black box is really, really important. So that’s kind of where we tend to focus a lot. 

    That’s great stuff, Dave. And obviously you know how to engage people and provide these solutions in an effective way. You mentioned healthcare and I want to dig deeper on that. That’s kind of the industry that a lot of our listeners are in today. So in the health and current insurance industry or the healthcare industry in general, how do you feel like hospitals, insurance companies and companies like that are doing in terms of engaging their members digitally? Is that successful? Is there a lot of room to grow? What’s your take on healthcare in general? 

    You can’t see me, but I’m kind of smiling when I just have at first a one word answer, which is better. And I think we’re doing better, 

    Fair, fair 

    In healthcare, but there’s so much more opportunity and a need to do much better. So if you take a non-healthcare example in comparison, Caesar’s Entertainment. So they have a big challenge. So if you take the Las Vegas market, it’s an empire. They sit within a marketplace, they have a dozen properties in Vegas, let’s say. And so getting somebody to one of their properties is the first challenge, but it’s only the first one. They could do it by giving a cheap room for a weekend, 50 bucks a night, but when they arrive, they’re in a marketplace, their client can go and eat, gamble, see a show shop at their competitors right next door. So how they engage and how they personalize and how they leverage AI and all these advanced techniques really makes a difference. But that’s hard. But healthcare is exponentially harder. So for Caesars, if you get it right, 80% of the time you’re killing it In healthcare, you now have a regulated environment, and if you get it right, 80% of the time it’s not good. 

    The tail of the dragon, as we say, is going to kill you as a company. So it is much, much harder to get it right in healthcare. And I think a couple areas where people are starting to do it better, I will say that electronic health records are, I would say dramatically better than what it was five years ago, making it easy to do basic things to refill your prescriptions, get test results. If I move to a different health system, I could bring those records over with me, sends reminders. I mean that’s a big improvement and it’s pretty discreet, but it took a long time before I think they kind got over that one sort of tipping point. Something maybe a little bit more interesting and dynamic might be around physical therapy. So one of my daughters is a doctor of physical therapy. So I get to, in my business, kind of live vicariously through my kids, but if you take physical therapy, the typical program is three, four times a, I’m sorry, two to three times a week for eight to 12 weeks. 

    So you need to find a way to instantly kick somebody into a healthy behavior immediately. And there’s all sorts of human dynamics that sort of put people off track, convenience, they start feeling better, get a false sense of confidence that they don’t think they need to go back. All these different dynamics are super hard to do, but through digital experiences, you can really keep that engagement going when they’re not in a clinic either a simple little smiley face or frowny face, someone might press on their Apple watch, can tell a care team an awful lot that they need to know if you have an iOS device at home to help verify that doing the exercises they’re supposed to do can make all the difference in the world. And so I think in cases like that, we’re starting to see these interactions both in the clinic and virtually really come together to help orchestrate and in this case, improve outcomes in this case, improve what they would call graduation rates. 

    Yeah, Dave, these are all such interesting examples of different types of entities using the strategy of the study of consumerism. I think there’s great incentive for Caesars, funny you mentioned that I was just in Vegas this week, but Caesars and retail companies to take in interest in consumerism because it drives buying behavior, they’re promoting the interest of the customer, but then they’re also in return selling a product or a service. And I’ve been subject to that you use the example of knowing your customer’s birthday, and I will tell you, nothing makes me happier than when September rolls around and I get my coupon emails from all my favorite stores. But the employer environment and the healthcare environment, as you’ve noted is so different. And so I’m curious what your thoughts are around employers deploying consumerism to better understand their employees and if there’s value there and how they could harness consumerism and harness digital solutions to better engage their employee population versus their customers. 

    Yeah, you would think it would be easier, and I think to a degree it is, you have somewhat of a captive audience. And so I think there are ways where I think we will see improvements maybe at a more rapid pace within this particular domain. But the first challenge is around reach. So just reaching people and just connecting with them and making sure they’re aware of what’s available to them is hard or has proven to be hard. And so you start to see people really invested in multiple ways that people can find information, multiple ways that you can reach out to people, and that’s key. But awareness is not enough. Benefits are only beneficial when people use them. And so at the root, you’re still trying to drive good behavior. So the first thing is to get off to a good start. So this gets to enrollment and you have that opportunity when everybody has to go through it. 

    So you have this captive audience once a year and what you do and post-enrollment is such a critical moment that matters as we say, and you need to maximize that moment that matters because that will set you on a good path as you sort of go through the course of the year. And I’ll go back to engagement. I think that’s the key. I’ll share one personal story actually. About 15 years ago I was out of control with my weight. I lost 50 pounds and the secret was engagement. I basically paid a nutritionist more or less $20,000 to follow me around for a few months to kind of reset my behaviors. And it worked and it’s sustained for 15 years now, going strong, but that cost a lot of money and not everybody has access to that. So I think part of what we need to see is these new advancements in digital, and I think AI is now hitting a point where it’s going to be very practical and much more effective in healthcare and how we can drive the engagement and drive the awareness and hopefully change some behaviors because making it accessible, adopting it, adherence is going to drive better outcomes. 

    So Dave, driving those outcomes is really at the heart of what our customers want. Most of our customers are either plan sponsors of healthcare programs or they’re representing blocks of customers or health plan customers. So they all have a stake, an important stake in the cost of healthcare and making sure that it’s well controlled. And so I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what you’ve seen at bswift in terms of what we’re doing to drive better digital engagement with our membership. As you’ve come into our advisory board, you’ve had an opportunity to take a look into not only what we already have today, but what we’re building in the near future and bringing to bear. And I wonder if you could just tell some of the things that you’ve observed that are exciting to you about what we’re doing at bswift and where we’re headed. 

    Yeah, it’s pretty exciting. I think I’ve been on the advisory council for just a few months, but what’s clear to me from the very beginning is that bswift is going through a transformation, like they’re driving transformation at the company level across all those different dimensions, which I think is exciting. Nobody has really cracked the nut yet on benefits administration, as we keep saying it’s hard to do. But I was just in town in Chicago this week with the advisory council where we got to see how some of these innovations are going to manifest themselves. And I got to tell you very soon, bswift, we’re going to see how they’re going to really stand out amongst others in a market because there’s a couple of great examples that I walked away with. One is you can’t get through a podcast without talking about ai. But what I like about the strategy at bswift is following is what I will call sort of smart AI or maybe what others might refer to as mindful ai. 

    So mindful AI is like you’re not thinking of AI as the panacea. You are not looking to sort of create this instant moment so you can just spit out the answer or solve the problem instantly. You’re still committed to the fundamentals. You’re not trying to circumvent what it means to engage, to make sure you understand and know your members so that you can then recommend the right course of action and help them follow through with how they take advantage of their benefits. So I think their approach to smart AI and how that’s going to manifest itself into decision support systems such as Ask Emma and how it supports the call center engagements is going to be amazing. 

    The other example that I saw too is just now more at fundamental technology level and what we like to call smart engineering. So you need an architecture that allows you to be more agile. The space is moving very quickly. So you got to have an architecture that allows you to optimize and tailor solutions for each one of your clients, for each one of the companies. If you just think about the momentum of point solutions or alternative health plans, it’s not easy to just kind of plug in another module into this decision support system and still provide that ubiquitous experience. But with a new architecture, that’s going to become much easier so that now bswift can really tailor whatever set of health plans or whatever configuration a company wants to use and then help that sort of propagate down to how those benefits will be enjoyed by the employees. 

    Yeah, one of our other advisors who was previously at bswift, John Hanson always says bswift is expert at agility at scale, which is something that we’ve really had to be is agile because of the complex needs of the customers on the direct side of our business and the channel partner side of our business. And then we also are tasked with being able or having to do that at scale because we serve 45,000 customers over both sides of the business. And so I would agree with you, I think that’s something that we are very strong at and we’ll continue to put energy behind. And it has been fun. We’ve delivered a lot of new items on the roadmap. AI is certainly a shiny object, and being intentional with how we plan to deploy AI is crucial, as well as other items. There’s so much that can be packaged into a benefits administration, and I think you’re right when you say how we need to be mindful about what we deploy is paramount, just so that we don’t get distracted and we’re paving a strong process for our administrators, but then also the best possible experience for the employees at the end of the line. 

    So I’m glad, I’m glad you’re with the team in Chicago this week and got to have those discussions. You’re a busy man, Dave, and so curious with all of the options that you have in front of you and all of the stuff you have going on, how did you choose or why did you choose to be an advisor for bswift? 

    I think it begins first. Why healthcare, right? So I think at a personal level, I love the challenge of healthcare. It’s also something that I’m very passionate about as I think a lot of people are. And so as we sort of think about what is our purpose beyond just driving growth within companies, healthcare is where I’ve kind of leaned in myself personally. So then the question is like, well, why? And I think whenever you look at an investment of time, I mentioned busy. Everyone’s busy. So in the context of this, it is like where do you want to make an investment in time? And any investor often will just go to the leadership team. They want to follow smart money, they want to sort of look at the leaders of the company. And honestly, that’s what it did it for me, getting to know Ted and the whole leadership, including John, who I saw again earlier this week. I mean, this leadership team is committed, committed to do it the right way, committed to make a difference, to be smart and savvy about how to leverage best practices, but doing it for the right reason, doing it to drive adoption, to reduce claims, to drive better health outcomes. So that’s exciting. And I just keep going back to, it’s great to get into these conversations and learn what these other advisors bring to the table as well. So that’s been very energizing for me 

    And Dave, we really need your help and we’re looking forward to the advice that you’ll give and how that advice will trickle down to our practices at bswift. As you mentioned, there’s this great challenge in healthcare and to keep people healthy is one of the great things that we can aspire to professionally. And as we think about the role we have to play at bswift, a lot of that is helping people get to the right tools and the right providers at the right time at the time they need it. And as we continue to iterate on the tools that we put in front of our customers, you’ll definitely see Dave’s fingerprints on bswift in the near future. We’re looking forward to that Great help that you’ll give us. Dave, I wanted to wrap us up today with one last question. It’s a little bit personal for me, Dave. 

    I have two children who are of college age, one’s in school now. One starts here coming up soon. And as I think about my children’s future, they have a lot of career options they could consider, and they’re kind of still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. And the thing is, as they consider options out there, you’ve had an amazing career in the digital space and communications, and now you’re helping us in the benefits side of healthcare. What advice could you give to an up and coming young person about the value of the industry that you’ve been able to participate in and the opportunities that lie there? 

    It’s funny about me giving advice and career because both my wife and I are electrical engineers. So then we have four kids ourself and one’s an undergrad still, but the other three became doctors. So one’s at ENT, one’s, doctor of Physical Therapy and one’s at Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine. So my advice to them basically was what they didn’t want to do in life. That was the example I gave to them. So I’m sort of like the George Costanza of giving career advice to 20 somethings. 

    We have to know what the fourth will do. Are they pre-med or 

    Yeah, four for, yeah. No, I don’t know if it’ll be four for four. I think we might have a pilot coming, which would be great. But listen, here’s what I would say though is first of all, both are great fields, and this new generation is really about purpose. Maybe that’s something I’ve learned from the younger generation. And so both fields can serve that higher purpose, I believe, and they also overact as we learned today. So I think the advice I would give is the same that you give to people that have younger kids when it comes to sports, don’t specialize too early. Play multiple sports. Develop what we’ll call your special power. Learn how to be a good athlete, a good teammate, a good leader. So figure out what is your purpose and what is the special power that you can develop in your first few years in your career. 

    So don’t worry as much about what the company you’re going to work for does exactly what part of the industry they sit. Exactly. Think about how you can develop yourself as a great athlete. And then over time, if you keep that purpose in front of you, it’ll kind of pull you through your career. And if you continue to develop your athleticism and being a good teammate and leader, you’ll sort of arrive at that sort of great place you want to be in your career. So I think it’s really about figuring out your purpose and then just looking for that opportunity. And I think digital communications and or benefits administration are two wonderful fields. 

    Well, Dave, you’ve been generous with your time today. We want to thank you so much for all the great advice you’ve given us. And I know my kids are going to love hearing what you said about purpose and about developing your special powers. And as I think about the other things you’ve shared with us today, just the idea of reaching the consumer, that is the number one challenge is getting that reach and then helping them understand what actions they can take at the moments that matter. As we’re able to bring those principles to bear in the products and services that we deliver, we’re going to have great success. Thanks, Dave, for all the advice and appreciate you joining us today. Today. 

    It was my pleasure. 

    About Dave Mankowski

    Dave Mankowski is the Chief Growth Officer at Bounteous. He has more than 20 years of experience in digital transformations, developing businesses, marketing, and managed services solutions. He excels at leading teams to design holistic strategies and drive growth for Fortune 500 companies and startups. His background includes engineering and management degrees from Michigan State and Northwestern.

    The views expressed by guests of the bWise podcast series are theirs alone and not endorsed by nor necessarily reflect the views of bswift, its affiliates or their employees. The podcast recordings and all rights are owned and retained by bswift. Reproduction, duplication or reposting of podcasts or any portion thereof without the express written consent of bswift is prohibited.
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