Eamon will discuss ServiceNow’s new cross-functional organization – Center of Excellence for Accessibility – to make the Now Platform more inclusive for a wide range of diverse needs as well as why Eamon was chosen as the new VP & Global Head of Accessibility. The video and a transcript of the conversation are below.
Moderator: This is Digital Anarchist.
Alan Shimel: Hey everyone. Welcome to another Techstrong TV segment. I have a first-time guest on here I want to introduce you to. His name is Eamon McErlean. I did it so good off camera, and I messed it up. Eamon, say it right for me.
Eamon McErlean: Eamon McErlean.
Alan Shimel: Eamon McErlean. Okay. Eamon, now that we’ve got your name, why don’t you give people a little bit of your background, your current position and a little bit of who you are?
Eamon McErlean: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Alan. Appreciate it. Yep, Eamon McErlean. As you can probably tell from the name, born and raised in Northern Ireland, just outside Belfast. Been working in the IT industry now for about 25 years, overall, 26 years. Did seven years at Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, based in Miami, after [crosstalk].
Alan Shimel: My neck of the woods.
Eamon McErlean: By your neck of the woods, exactly. Then ended up doing a startup with a couple of business partners, which lasted about four years. To supplement that startup, I did a lot of consulting work. And the last consulting gig I did was with Apple. And after six months, I ended up taking a full-time role at Apple. We moved over to the Bay Area.
Did 7.5 years in Apple global retail under Ron Johnson and his team, which was phenomenal. And then up to about just over four years ago got an opportunity to move up here to Portland, Oregon to join Nike, to run Nike’s quality, automation, analytics. And then that transitioned into deployments and support with Nike’s phenomenal digital team.
And ultimately, about the end of October, I decided to move on to where I’m at now, which is VP and global head of accessibility for ServiceNow. So currently, I’ve been in this role, like literally, this is my three-month anniversary.
Alan Shimel: Congratulations.
Eamon McErlean: That’s my history. Yep.
Alan Shimel: That’s fantastic. You’ve been blessed. You’ve worked with some great companies, some great brands. I live down here in South Florida. There’s a lot of cruise lines down here, but Royal Caribbean has, there’s a certain quality to the Royal Caribbean brands that may be. And I’m not bad mouthing any other cruise lines, please don’t yell at me, but there’s quality within the cruise industry.
But then, obviously, going out to a place like Apple, you want to talk about quality, and Nike. Nike was doing digital transformations before it was cool. And they’ve led the way there too. Even I remember I was involved in the TechStars program. And there was a Nike TechStars, TechStars just for Nike at one point where it was helping to develop.
They were looking for companies that were developing apps for the Nike technology. It was pretty cool stuff. But this role at ServiceNow is a little different, around accessibility. I make a habit of trying to talk to people who have these up-and-coming new roles, especially at an executive level.
For instance, I have a friend I’ve spoken to a number of times, I think it’s at Twilio, where she’s chief of corporate responsibility. Doing good for the world, using the corporation’s assets and roles. Let’s talk about this accessibility, Eamon. In your mind talking to people, what’s really your job? What’s your aim here?
Eamon McErlean: I think my introduction to accessibility started at Nike working with the retail stores. I had the good fortune of working with many companies or many departments within Nike. But ultimately, we had an initiative going called a career experience. And that career experience enabled our retail store team members to come to WHQ help us test, help us validate new features, gets feedback of product owners.
And we realized when we were doing that that we hadn’t brought in enough adapted users or people with disabilities to follow the path side of it. And when we went to the stores, honestly Alan, to see the challenges that some of our team members at Apple faced with our applications, we jumped on that and said, listen, we need to do better here, we need to improve accessibility.
That was about six, seven years ago. I had limited knowledge of accessibility at that time. But it’s something that really appealed to me. I think when you see it firsthand, the impact that it can have to an end user, I think that empathy instantaneously is awoke. And from my perspective, I knew there was something that I wanted to go after.
Two and a half, three years later, and my transition to Nike and Morgan with a few of the phenomenal team members that followed me came with me to go from Apple to Nike. We realized pretty quickly that we need to address accessibility of Nike. I got phenomenal support from the Nike leadership team, especially from a lady called Holly Newton.
And it was then that we started to build the team around quality and accessibility and automation. But we have a dedicated team towards accessibility. And that grew. We were able to hire a director and build that team up. And literally, what happened about just over a year ago, I hit a certain age website, without going into too many details, and I realized this is something I want to do. This is something that I really want to dedicate myself to.
Alan Shimel: I know about those ages.
Eamon McErlean: And rather than doing something that not that I have to do, some work that we have to do, but this is something I truly wanted to do going forward. I was fortunate enough to go into the ServiceNow. The leadership team that I’ve met at ServiceNow and their passion for accessibility and how we want to drive it, which I can discuss, has been phenomenal. It has just progressed smoothly, thankfully, and fairy intuitive and lucky fashion for myself, I would say.
Alan Shimel: Absolutely. Let me dig in here a little bit. When you’re in a retail environment, an Apple store, or Nike store, accessibility is at a physical level. You’ve got to make sure your doors are wide enough. That there’s [inaudible] or special seating. That’s physical, but there’s also hearing issues, sometimes sight issues, communication issues.
But in a retail environment, it’s had a very physical human to human interface level. Then there’s another accessibility and it is accessibility that I’ve been aware of, and I dealt with on a very periphery old matter. I was designing websites when Netscape was in beta. So going back to 94 maybe, 95 something like that. Shortly after that, was it the 508 accessibilities for screens?
Eamon McErlean: Right, yep.
Alan Shimel: Where you had to have, if people couldn’t see images, but it read the alt tag or certain navigational tools for hearing impaired, sight impaired, people who maybe couldn’t control a keyboard or mouse or what have you. And to me, that was machine to person accessibility. You had to have good user design so that a person can interact with that machine with that website. Different than physical in-person kind of stuff.
We think of ServiceNow as a digital company. You don’t have ServiceNow stores in the mall. Not yet, anyway. So let’s talk about what’s the mission at ServiceNow. It’s a different mission than the Nike store or the Apple store.
Eamon McErlean: It is. Very much so. And it’s as important to make that distinguishment because ultimately, you’re right. When people think about accessibility, that’s the first thing they think of. Can the wheelchair go through the front door? Do we have enough space? Are the restrooms accessible?
But when you go on and start working with a platform company, and as broad as we are, the platform of platforms, it’s a whole different world. And the way that we look at it, is we need to be able to create the optimal consumer journey for every single user independent on their disability. And we work through different companies, W3C, WCAG, the WCAG consortium and conformance that we like to adhere to.
But ultimately, it’s all about working with the people with disabilities. They are the experts, they truly are. And when we start now going forward, we have a multi-tenant approach, meaning it’s not just going in there and fixing issues. Going in there and fixing issues isn’t going to get us to where we need to be. We have to be able to embed accessibility compliance as part of our software development lifecycle.
Because if we don’t do that, we would never going to end up getting to where we want to be. There’s awareness factor, I’m sure you know about unconscious bias training as an example in the HR world. It’s mandatory for every employee. We’re pushing at ServiceNow to make accessibility training for everybody at ServiceNow, for every employee, so they understand the basic principles.
How we communicate with our customers, we want to ensure that we’re going to create a customer hub, a customer awareness board so we really build that overall engagement. The wonderful thing about accessibility community as a whole, it’s the most sharing, giving community everywhere in the word. We’re not sharing it, we put all the work into this, we’re not giving it to you, it’s the opposite.
It’s truly extremely collaborative community. But ultimately, everything that you mentioned, be it from visibility, and being able to use screen readers, cognitive and the way the pages are laid out. Even the color of the screens, it’s everything that we do going forward will have that accessibility mindset in mind.
But one thing I will add sometimes, is when you create something to ensure accessibility compliance, sometimes it actually helps everybody, because it can actually be an ultimate goal for all users. So we never just like thinking, okay, we’re just taking it for regular users and taking it for working with people with disabilities, we want to look at it holistically.
Alan Shimel: Alright, I think that makes sense. That was the lesson I learned, Eamon, for a long time. I’ve been an Apple user for a while, and I think Windows has it too, they have certain accessibility features that are not turned on by default. And for a long time, I would not even open that folder to see what they were. Because I said thank God, I don’t have any disabilities, and I don’t need them.
And then one day, probably by mistake, I found myself in there. And some of the things in those accessibility options, I found really helpful. I’m not ashamed to say it, and I’ve turned them on ever since, because I like them. Easier on the eyes, easier on the ears, sometimes as you said, you get a little older. I think there is a lesson there that a lot of accessibility options are actually mainstream as well.
I want to talk about a different kind of disabilities, I’ll get your opinion on that. So we have a lot of folks with physical disabilities, whether it’s eye, vision, hearing, cognitive. Then we have a lot of folks who are on the spectrum, for instance, the autism spectrum, or have some other mental kind of, I guess that’s sort of cognitive.
These principles we’re talking about get built into ServiceNow. But they also trickle and find their way into all the companies that are using ServiceNow at their organization. It’s not just confined to the however many 10s of 1000s of people ServiceNow has employed, it’s all the customers of ServiceNow.
Eamon McErlean: That’s exactly why I took this role, because as phenomenal a company as Nike is and the millions of users satisfied customers Nike has, but ServiceNow will be up to 17,000 employees in a short period of time, but all of their own customers and then their customers have that exponential growth impact that we will have overall.
So basically, from the accessibility standpoint, you have visual, auditory, speech, cognitive breakdowns. And from a cognitive perspective, you were looking at more of a understanding of how things flow but making sure that we’re not making it too busy as well. You don’t want to have a list of 40 items for people to flip through. You want it to be as we talked about before, as intuitive as possible from a user flow.
The platform itself is extremely comprehensive that guys can do. But you can make it as complex or you can make it as simple as you wish, depending on what you want to do and your persona, if you will. Moving forward, I’ve always thought this crazy thought about computers and software and UI, UX. And even as it relates to media and an ongoing pierce.
Right now, we were looking at the screen. Everybody does between six, eight, ten, twelve hours a day. I’ve always thought in the crazy term, how can we make that screentime have a positive impact on people’s lives holistically. And you don’t want to make it in a gamified way, but we should be able to make it, and we’re smart enough to make it in a way that somehow it helps people and a little bit every day.
Again, we know the negative impact that can have while having that much screen time. It could be as simple as like, man, you need to walk away right now, you need to take a break, or here’s, I’m going to play your favorite song while you meditate for three minutes, or it could be anything.
But unless we do that soon, I think we are going on the bad road as it relates to constant screen time and not that personal time. That ties into the cognitive area as well, I really do. And certainly, I think we need to address some of them later.
Alan Shimel: I tell you my thoughts on that one, Eamon. Who does it affect the most? It’s the opposite ends of our population. It’s the young people. You got to pry their screens out of their cold dead stiff fingers. They don’t put those phones down. I had my boys home from college, we went out to dinner.
And it’s like, hey, man, you are home for the weekend with your parents, we’re out to dinner, put your phone away and be present, be present, be here. There’s definitely a problem there. But I’m involved in another organization that’s looking at technology in seniors. You start getting a lot of people with dementia or memory issues or what have you.
And they can get sucked into that screen. And it could just as easily be watching movies as it is reading things online or playing games. And the beauty of it is there’s actually good things you could do to help improve memory with computer programs and stuff. But doing that versus just mindlessness, it affects them. So it affects the older and the young more than those people in the middle. And those are too at-risk populations, if you will.
Eamon McErlean: Completely agree. And I think, unfortunately, social media hasn’t thought upon in the most positive light, let’s say. But I think we as a culture have an opportunity to address that. I think we need to address that; I really do. Because I’ve got college-aged kids myself.
And I know what it’s like when it’s just that constant, I don’t want to say attraction, but pretty close to attraction to the screen time. We have to address that. But the more like COVID, is a perfect example, we’re not physically getting together anymore. We’re doing X amount of hours on Zoom on the screen a today, I think it becomes more and more relevant.
Alan Shimel: I’ll tell you something on that, Eamon, though. And this is my own sherry, I might be crazy. I think what’s going on with COVID and the amount of time we spent on Zooms and stuff like this has taught a lot of people a lesson. That this is not the equivalent of sitting down and having a beer with someone or drinking a coffee or just sitting and talking in person eye-to-eye.
This is good if that’s all you got. But everyone I talk to is dying to get back out to conferences in-person, to interact with real people and see, do they have legs beneath that screen? Real interactions. At the beginning of COVID, everyone was like, oh thank God for Zoom. Look at Zoom stock, it was through the roof.
Thank God For this whole virtual world and the metaverse and whatever else we were calling it. But I think people are fatigued from it. And they’ve learned that this is a poor substitute for real life, for real in-person.
Eamon McErlean: It’s just not the same, Alan. It’s not. It’s really not the same. And what concerns me is there is a certain age group, back to the age group, there’s a certain age group that when I hear our sons or other kids talking about my friends, I’m hanging out with my friends all the time. Well, they’re not actually physically hanging out with their friends.
Alan Shimel: No, they’re not.
Eamon McErlean: They’re not hanging out with their friends here.
Alan Shimel: That’s same goal with that, yeah.
Eamon McErlean: Unfortunately, a certain age group, the longer this goes on, it’s a skill set to being able to socialize when in an environment with physical people, if people do have concerns about that or anxious about that. The longer this goes on, the worse that gets overall as well, that anxiety.
To me, I’ve always been a people person. I always love physically meeting people and standing and looking at them and being there. I think there’s health impacts across the board. And I think, to your point, there’s multiple ways we can address it. I just think we shouldn’t ignore it. That’s the biggest thing.
Alan Shimel: Agreed. Agreed, agreed, agreed. Anyway, hey Eamon, we’re probably way over time, I wasn’t paying attention. But for people who want to find out more about what ServiceNow is doing around accessibility and stuff like that, is there a place on their website that they can get information?
Eamon McErlean: Under servicenow.com, we should have an area for accessibility. If we don’t, please, through this communication here, I can forward all my contact information, @eamon [crosstalk]
Alan Shimel: We will try to put it in the notes. But that will always great man. And Eamon, look, this is really good work. As you said, you get to a certain point in life and just getting up to go to a job every day. If you have to, you have to but you die young. Doing something you’re passionate about that you think makes a difference in the world, it’s not working well, it’s following your passion. I’m happy to see you be able to follow your passion, man. It’s a great thing.
Eamon McErlean: I really, really appreciate that. The last thing about sharing my information, please do because the one thing I’ve learned a bit this role is you have to be humble. You have to understand we don’t have all the answers. The users with disabilities are the experts themselves, and we have to listen to them more than anybody else.
So any advice, feedback, lessons learned, lesson sharing, we are always willing to take as much advice and feedback as possible. So I’ll throw that out there. And Alan, listen, thanks for visibility. We’re trying to do the right thing here.
Alan Shimel: We appreciate it.
Eamon McErlean: Cooperation like this help. We really do appreciate it.
Alan Shimel: Good, man. Eamon, best of luck. Come back and keep us posted.
Eamon McErlean: I will. Thanks guys.
Alan Shimel: Thank you my friend. We’re going to take a break here on Techstrong TV. We’re going to be right back with another guest shortly.
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