Written by Alison Banziger
on October 25, 2022

Reflecting on xScion’s 20th year in business milestone is one of those things where it feels like we’ve been in business forever, yet at the same time it feels like we just started out. If you zoom out and choose the “max” view of the NASDAQ index, you’ll see the dot-com bubble hit its nadir in October of 2002. When we started, my first-born daughter, now in her second year of college, had yet to reach her second month of life, eCommerce represented 1.5% of retail sales and the first smart phone wouldn’t hit the market for another five years.

Today, much of our focus is collaborating with our partners to help them optimize their enterprise Agile transformations and Cloud migrations, often by using Lean Agile principles. I can’t say those things were part of our initial vision because in 2002 the Agile Manifesto was a year old and I hadn’t heard of it, nearly half of Amazon’s revenue was from the Books, Music, Video and DVD category, there was no Amazon Prime, let alone AWS Cloud Services and Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, was fresh out of college working as a software developer for the short-lived company There, Inc.

While the number of things I’ve learned over 20 years can’t be counted, to commemorate our anniversary, I want to share 20 of the things I learned in my journey with xScion. What is exciting about being in this business at this time is that there is always new and better technology being developed that can transform and improve how things are done. To embrace that continuous change and turn it into value, we must be grounded in firm principles and have a guiding vision, since many of the tools we’ll work with and the processes we’ll use when we hit our 30-year milestone don’t yet exist.

  1. There is never a perfect time to start a business, but any time can work. When we started out, people questioned why we would start in such a down and uncertain time in the tech sector. For us, it worked out in a way that allowed us to build a firm foundation and intentionally steer the business through steady growth without being overwhelmed by market demands and the pressure to rapidly scale. There will always be opportunities and challenges to navigate. If you are ready to go, go.

  2. Pursue impactful, challenging work that makes a difference for both your client partners and the world they serve. We set out to work with partners who work on exciting initiatives and have a strong purpose.

  3. Create lasting value. We follow the adage, “leave a place better than you found it,” meaning we aspire to do more than simply provide a service to our partners. We want to build their capabilities so that long after an engagement our efforts are still having an impact.

  4. Be ahead of the curve. In the context of the classic allegory for dealing with change, Dr. Spencer Johnson’s, Who Moved My Cheese?, your cheese never stops moving today and you’ll never have things fully figured out. You need to continuously pursue learning with open-minded humility and a sense of exploring the unknown to be among the leaders in seeing what’s next and how organizations can benefit from it.

You don’t stop to think about it until you reach a milestone, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics only 25% of new businesses last 15 years or more. How did we make it? What causes businesses to fail. Every case is unique, but I see two key reasons. First, businesses lose focus on who they serve and what they do best, and second, they fail to transform and innovate causing them to be left behind.

We follow a guiding vision that allows us to be flexible in pursuing opportunities, while continually progressing toward achieving the vision by balancing the tactical with the strategic. The constant has been a relentless focus on learning about our customers and the opportunities and challenges they face and mastering the new technology and process developments that can help our customers succeed.

  1. Know what you do well. We are good at building solid relationships and partnerships where customers know they can count on us to deliver. We pursue partners with the intention of building and growing mutually beneficial relationships.

  2. Know your focus. We focus on serving customers and are passionate about collaborating with them to achieve their goals. That’s what we love doing. Our primary measure of success is how successful our customers are.

  3. Continually transform and innovate. Our partners are continually transforming their businesses, adopting new technologies and discovering better ways to connect with and provide value to their customers. While our partners run their businesses, we work to stay ahead of the curve in understanding both business challenges and new technology, acting as their agents so we can help them charter their transformation courses and optimally leverage changing environments for their competitive advantage.

The key component of any successful endeavor isn’t a name, a logo, contracts, cash flows, income statements or balance sheets, it is people thriving individually and collectively. I believe that to the core and prioritize creating an environment that allows people to flourish. When our team and those we impact can do that, we are all better off.

  1. We encourage our team members to “Be You.” We are better when uniqueness and differences are highlighted and celebrated. Diverse teams help us grow and diverse viewpoints and perspectives give us a competitive business advantage.

  2. People are better when they can be fully present at work and at home. People need true work/life balance to thrive. I consider paid time-off and family-first policies as investments that directly contribute to our business success. People healthy in mind, body and spirit who are part of a strong, at home support system are more productive.

  3. Invest in people and their growth. From the beginning, if we pursued a candidate who had an offer from a big consulting firm, we didn’t want to lose out because we offered a lesser benefits package. We wanted to be ahead of the curve for employee benefits, including professional education and development, because as cliché as it sounds, our people are our company. If they succeed, xScion succeeds.

  4. People are motivated by the pursuit of excellence. We try to tap into peoples’ innate desire to be great at what they do. We established communities of practice, provide upskilling and certification opportunities and try to create an environment where colleagues work together to sharpen their skills and increase their capabilities.

  5. People are driven by purpose. I often meet people who say, “I worked on this, I developed it, I deployed it and it sat on the shelf.” People want to work on something that adds value and makes a difference. They want to be able to say, “I was a part of that!” and make things better, whether it’s making it possible to process health claims quicker so people get their payments sooner or developing a higher quality, efficient, user-friendly banking experience for customers.

COVID-19 brought workplace challenges as overnight our teams began working from home and sharing space, and Wi-Fi bandwidth, with their families. In the earlier 2000s, my previous employer was a true pioneer in providing flexible work schedules that gave employees the option to work from home mainly due to the explosive growth in internet connectivity. This was a value-add, but especially for new parents who wanted a balance between their thriving tech careers and personal lives. A few years prior to the pandemic, xScion had a 20+ member team working fully remote on an information security project for the Veterans Administration in addition to several members of our corporate team. I believe we were better prepared than most firms because of these experiences which allowed for a smooth transition to a 100% remote workforce triggered by the pandemic.

  1. Pick people over geography. Location shouldn’t be a deciding factor in bringing on the right team member. With existing collaborative technology, the right person will get the job done from wherever they are. Over half of our corporate team and many of our consultants work remotely.

  2. You can create a culture for successful, productive remote work. The first remote person on our corporate team is now our Chief Marketing Officer, Kelly Siebold. The way she works, it always feels like she is right down the hall, which set the bar for us and has been an example for others in how to work and stay engaged from home.

  3. Don’t neglect team building activities. We learned to do many of the standard office water cooler activities virtually, from coffee breaks and new employee welcome happy hours to March Madness pools and Fantasy Football, we always have something going on.

  4. Prioritize family and health. We always say, “your family and your health come first.” If there is a crisis, the work can wait. It’s not going anywhere and the rest of us can pull together if needed. We want to help how we can and not add work pressure to a difficult situation.

In October 2002, I was less than two months into being a first-time mom. As we pass the 20-year milestone, my son is in high school so I’ve spent the entire time since founding xScion as a working mom. The next three items are tips and encouragement for the current and future working moms.

When we started, I felt like I had the best of both worlds. It was an exciting time. I had the opportunity to focus on a new journey as an entrepreneur at the same time I was on a new journey as a first-time mom. They seemed to go hand-in-hand. I was fortunate enough to know that it could work from my experience with my prior employer where people were able to balance work and being new parents with the flexibility to work from home.

  1. Plan your day with purpose. Juggling both parenting and building a business forces you to put purpose into the time you focus on your kids and the time you focus on the business. Be fully present in both and avoid trying to multitask as much as possible. Even if you have to block out smaller chunks of time, you are better off with a singular focus within those chunks.

  2. You can do more than you think. The two roles can be complementary. When my daughter was in pre-school and my son was a few months old, the pre-school was looking for someone to chair its annual Fun Fair. As time went on the other volunteer roles filled up, but they still needed a chair. I decided to step up, hoping I wasn’t biting off more than I could chew. I was given a binder with the responsibilities and tasks that went into the job. The Fun Fair was a big success. To me, I approached it like another work task and put it in the schedule, which is just how it played out.

  3. Take care of yourself. I learned that you need to take time for yourself to make it all work. I like to find time that doesn’t conflict with family or work, like early mornings exercise. Over the years I used that time to train for triathlons or my two runs in the US Marine Corps Marathon. Recently, I enrolled in a great Pilates class. Do whatever helps you clear your mind and prepare or recharge.

I’m a big believer in the outsized impact of small keystone habits like regular exercise and making the bed in the morning. They tend to correlate to other good things like higher productivity and healthy eating, so rolling good habits into daily “me” time is especially beneficial.

Number 20 stands alone at the end of the list, but it is extremely important to me.

  1. Take ownership and be engaged in your community. I root for the local sports teams and patronize local businesses. It’s not “the” community, it’s “our” community. xScion supports STEM for Her to encourage girls to pursue careers in technology. We support the Capital Area Food Bank to help those in need.

Recognizing our distributed workforce, we encourage our team to engage in their communities by matching their financial contributions, up to $300, to the community causes that they find important.

I’m proud of the business at 20-years and it’s incredibly humbling to reflect on it, especially all the people I got to know. I’m grateful to every person who contributed to who we are today, the colleagues and friends I made along the way and am privileged to have the opportunity to know and serve our client partners over the years. I hope that xScion has played a positive role in your journeys and that we will continue for many years to come!