As technology advances, PDS works to lure top talent

Biz News

Asif Naseem, third from left, speaks about the outlook for technology at the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s “Key Industries for Wisconsin in 2017 and Beyond” event in December.

Asif Naseem said one of his early realizations after moving to the Milwaukee area was that attracting employees here would come with challenges.

“It’s very hard to attract technical talent. I don’t want to get myself into trouble, but it’s just next to impossible to attract talent into the Milwaukee area, especially technology talent,” said Naseem, president and chief executive officer of Paragon Development Systems.


As the head of an information technology company headquartered in Brookfield, being able to attract top talent is an important part of the business, especially when the company has ambitions of becoming a national or even international competitor.

PDS has about 300 employees, with the ability to flex up and down as customer demands change. In addition to Brookfield, the company recently expanded its configuration center in Oconomowoc and opened a small research and development facility in Silicon Valley.

At a recent Waukesha County Business Alliance event, Naseem said creating the infrastructure and an ecosystem for technology talent is important in addressing workforce challenges, but he also said capturing the imagination of those with the right skills will help attract people from outside the region.

“We actually have developed a story that helps us attract talent from the East Coast, as well as the West Coast,” he told the audience. “And because we have a story, they want to come work for us.”

The story is one grounded in technology and what it can do for customers, but technology also is an option when the story isn’t enough. Naseem said the capabilities of today’s Internet connections mean PDS can take jobs to wherever potential employees are located.

Naseem says the region has the universities to create top talent in technology. But, “unless you catch them between the day they graduate and the airport, they’re gone,” he said during an interview. “And I think the fundamental reason for that is we just don’t have enough of an ecosystem for graduates and technologists to stick around. We haven’t given them enough reasons.”

The technology story Naseem tells is one that looks to the future and what might be possible. He’s quick to point out that technology is inherently exponential.

“We are wired to think linearly; we can’t think about exponential growth, we have to force ourselves,” he said, adding we have a tendency to overestimate the short-term implications of new technology and underestimate the longer-term effects.

The challenge for businesses is finding ways to marry the potential and promise of technology with human capital, Naseem told the Waukesha audience.

“When you cut costs, when you optimize processes, there’s a limit to it,” he said, adding that combining technology and human capability can “actually get one plus one to equal three.”

Asif Naseem, third from left, speaks about the outlook for technology at the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s “Key Industries for Wisconsin in 2017 and Beyond” event in December.
Asif Naseem, third from left, speaks about the outlook for technology at the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s “Key Industries for Wisconsin in 2017 and Beyond” event in December.

Naseem noted PDS has had to reinvent itself several times over its 30 year history because of the pace of technological change. For businesses, he said it is important to find partners to deal with things like shifting to the cloud, security or taking advantage of mobile options.

At his company’s own conference in October, Naseem said he sees the use of technology by companies on a spectrum, from technology extenders who don’t develop new technologies and focus on cost control, to technology leaders, who relentlessly innovate. In between are technology exploiters, who use combinations of the best off-the-shelf technology, and technology followers, who implement the latest technology with a little of their own intellectual property. The followers invest money back into innovation, but also need the entire ecosystem to continue developing new technology.

When it comes to solving problems, Naseem said technology leaders will opt to invest in the range of possible solutions to innovate instead of just betting on one option.

“Contrary to the thinking ‘do more with less,’ technology leaders do more with more,” he said.

For companies on the leadership end of the spectrum, Naseem said they must be honest about where they are currently, develop a vision and strategy to advance, align it with an appropriate business model and have a leadership team that understands transformation is not an endpoint of its own.

“Most companies get the vision and the strategy right, but the execution is the hard part,” he said, suggesting poor leadership can mess up great strategy and great leadership can take a mediocre vision to another level.

As for which specific technologies might transform business moving forward, Naseem said he sees great potential in augmented intelligence and suggested the term Internet of Things has come to be overused.

At the Waukesha event, he said until about a decade ago, the theory and goal was to develop computer science that mimics the human brain.

“The problem with that theory was we know so little about our brains, to try to mimic it with the same brain is really kind of aspirational and not realistic,” he said.

The goal increasingly is focused on intelligence that augments what humans do to aid decision- making, he said. Instead of trying to replace a doctor, the intelligence should focus on providing accurate, timely, comprehensive and specific information that a physician can use in making a diagnosis.

Doing this requires deep machine learning applied to the vast amount of data produced or collected by enterprises.

Connected devices on the Internet of Things are helpful for this because they can provide information as close to the source as possible. But Naseem said the term is often misused, and connecting devices just for the sake of doing it doesn’t serve a purpose.

“It’s all about gaining new insights to change my business model, to implement new business models and create new applications,” Naseem said. During his company’s conference, Naseem noted that the country had moved from an economy focused on agriculture, to manufacturing and now increasingly, to services.

“I think augmented intelligence will actually replace a lot of things that we do,” he said during an interview. “But we’ll find other ways, so we ought not be afraid. A lot of people are (afraid) that it’s going to take our jobs away and so that gives them the hesitation to actually learn about it and apply it.”

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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