UC Pros: Mio chats with IT Director Chad Reese @ Pro Football Hall of Fame
Modern companies have a huge amount of messaging and chat apps in play today — Microsoft Teams, Glip, Skype for Business, iMessage and WhatsApp feature heavily at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
We caught up with Chad Reese, Director of IT at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to get his thoughts on how the collaboration landscape, and messaging in particular, has changed over time.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame serves a multitude of customers. From their museum to the website, Pro Football Hall of Fame provides a niche fan experience. Outside of the Hall of Fame itself, Pro Football Hall of Fame runs the “A Game For Life” academy, providing school visits and distance learning for children that wouldn’t usually get to experience the benefits of sports and working together as a team.
Messaging over time
Mio: You’ve been at Pro Football Hall of Fame for nearly 25 years, you seem the perfect person to comment on how your messaging stack has changed over the years.
Chad: When I started, straight out of college, we were still using green screens. It wasn’t until the Y2K phase where we decided we really needed to do something. When I was in the marketing and operations team, I had to bring my own personal computer and plug into a credit card terminal! Once the Y2K stuff happened, we moved onto more modern systems. For a long term it was just emails and so many of the staff didn’t want to use it. Everyone did everything over the phone.
It wasn’t until about 7 years ago when we started to use things like Skype. We started using Skype really extensively.
“Employees loved Skype because it was similar to AOL Instant Messenger and Yahoo Messenger. It gave them a look and feel they were used to.”
They loved the almost-private conversation that wasn’t cluttering their inbox. A lot of users saw their email turn into a giant repository for one sentence conversations. We had a lot of success, especially with the younger crowd, with Skype at the time.
Mio: How has that changed since the introduction of more collaborative working?
Chad: Eventually we moved to Microsoft Teams. The move to Teams was somewhat part of the NFL centralized forest. We’re on a separate domain but all the teams use it for the most part. Microsoft Teams allows us interconnectivity across our organization so we can message other clubs at league level.
Mio: What about internal comms?
Chad: We also have RingCentral Glip. We use Glip for a lot of things. Right now, there’s a little bit of pain with an app for this and an app for that.
“With Teams and Glip, the trajectory these apps are on now is moving everything into a one stop shop.”
For us personally, more and more people are moving away from the desk phone — I’ve got ear buds in right now — so moving to a one stop shop is right for us. Users get really confused with too many apps. On their phone, they have text messaging, calls, instant messaging, collaboration and meetings apps. Having everything together has really increased user adoption.
Mio: People like best of breed, and what they’re used to. You mentioned Skype, did you mean consumer Skype or Skype for Business, formerly Lync?
Chad: We’ve actually used both. At one point, we had both running.
Mio: Is it a challenge to cater for everyone’s messaging requirements?
Chad: We always refer to this challenge as shadow IT. At one point we didn’t offer a lot phone-wise. People didn’t know you could install Microsoft Teams or Glip on your phone.
“We saw the younger generation start using WhatsApp groups.”
Mio: What’s the strategy for dealing with these rogue messaging apps like WhatsApp?
Chad: It’s a little “be ready and react.” We had an issue where everyone had Dropbox accounts so we went out and got Box accounts for everyone to bring it in and centrally manage things. Sometimes, when you don’t know these things are happening, it can cause a lot of pain down the road. So, with messaging and any other tools we use, it’s important we cater to our employees’ needs. Sometimes our users are ahead of the business technology at the time.
Mio: Do you find that when people are using unofficial business WhatsApp groups, they prioritize these over Microsoft Teams messages?
Chad: Yeah, people do seem to react to these before the business apps. The big danger with these instant message type apps is the way the conversations go. Emails are generally more formal. With messaging, it gets really informal and could evolve into conversations that cause trouble down the line. It’s important to manage and centralize team chat in a business app.
Mio: Of course, as soon as you delete messages on WhatsApp, it’s gone because it’s encrypted. Do you feel it much safer in a business app?
Chad: That’s absolutely one issue. A lot of peers in my industry have concerns from an HR perspective. It’s so informal that you have to worry things get taken the wrong way. You still have to remember you are in a work environment.
“A lot of colleagues have had sleepless nights with instant messages that aren’t reviewed and don’t have filters on them.”
Mio: Do you have that filter functionality on anything you use today?
Chad: Not exactly. Some apps have levels for graphics that are shared. But, we don’t have that level of service like we do for email. We use Proofpoint that alerts us to certain words. In messaging, we like to think everyone is doing the right thing but there’s no way to check.
Interacting with the NFL
Mio: Externally, is there anything different app-wise?
Chad: Generally, we use the same internal apps if we initiate the calls, meetings or messaging. There’s lots of Microsoft Teams across the industry.
Mio: Are you a guest on other business’s Microsoft Teams accounts?
Chad: Yeah, we link in with other NFL teams and organizations and switch accounts to interact. We all have full-access to reach out to each other. That’s probably how we use Microsoft Teams the most.
Mio: External doesn’t seem too different. I guess there’s a lot of email too. Is there anything outside of the internal stack? Do you ever have to download something new to start messaging?
Chad: Every once in a while, we need to download Webex or BlueJeans. That’s really it, there’s not a lot of outside messaging. It really is still email and text messaging.
Mio: Do you use text messaging over desktop at all?
Chad: I used to give out my cell phone to everybody because it never leaves my side. I have two sets of business cards — one with my cell and one without. I use the built-in text messaging on my desktop — it makes responding to my text messages super easy. Glip has a text messaging feature that I use, and a lot of my users have Macs so they use iMessage on their laptops.
Improvements through messaging apps
Mio: What are the key improvements since implementing the business apps like Glip and Microsoft Teams?
Chad: At first, it was just the odd message. But, having everything in one place on your computer and mobile has really helped adoption.
Mio: How important is persistent chat across devices?
Chad: It’s great. Users are able to say, “I’m with my family so I choose to turn this off” and they’re not getting the constant ding ding ding on their phone. A lot of times I message people as the middle ground. It’s not as important as an email and doesn’t warrant a phone call.
Mio: It’s interesting that SMS plays just a role in your organization, even with these business apps.
Chad: If I had a chart with all the ages in our organization, I could show you a lot. People around 65 live in SMS, but people in their 20s are living in SnapChat and WhatsApp. I almost feel like I’m invading their space if I send them a message. When I text someone, I almost consider their age. If they’re under 30, I worry I’m causing them an issue but popping up on their phone.
Messaging app strategy
Mio: We see the biggest challenge for keeping up with what user’s want to use. Do you have a formal strategy for dealing with this? If someone says I want to use Slack one day, how do you deal with that?
Chad: We usually create a test group if someone suggests they want to use something new for messaging. They are varied age-wise and demographically. We trial if for about three months and check back for usage. If there’s a lot, we have a pretty good case to say user adoption is compelling or not.
“That’s how we came across Microsoft Teams and Glip. There was a lot of traction with the under 40 crowd.”
Mio: It sounds as if you run a really fair process. Rather than forcing an app on someone, you trial the adoption before pushing out the app. That’s really unique. Rather than having the challenge of adoption, you know the expected usage.
Chad: So, we tried it the opposite way with Webex. I thought everybody loves Webex. There were some people that didn’t like it and 6 months down the line I found this guy with his own Zoom license. Next thing you know, we’ve lost control. Every time, someone comes to us with a demo tool, we take it to this influential user group to see if buy-in is possible.
From green screens to dedicated messaging adoption groups, Chad and the Pro Football Hall of Fame have come a long way in 25 years. Whilst this is definitely a reflection on innovation and great work put in by Chad and his team, it is also a reflection on the progress of the messaging industry. As time goes on, messaging generally gets better. With so many providers in the industry however, how do we get to the messaging utopia, where all your teams are in sync?
Would you like to be featured on the Dispatch blog? We’re always looking for interesting tech thought leaders. Reach out to @mio on twitter if you have messaging app stories to share.