by Brian Nordli
April 17, 2019

The world has gone digital, but not every company has the power or capabilities to keep up with the latest in machine learning, data analytics or wearable devices.

That’s where Productive Edge comes in. Experts on the consulting company’s digital consulting teams work with clients across every industry to integrate the latest in tech. The team at Productive Edge has developed machine learning tools to help pharmacies automate prescription instructions, worked with farmers to infuse data pipelines to boost crop yield, created a discreet IoT device for breast pumps to give mothers greater freedom in the workforce — and much more.  

No two projects are the same, and that’s how the digital consulting team likes it. We spoke with three leaders on the team about how they translate their expertise into solutions for every industry. 

 

productive edge chicago
photography by Nikki Segarra
productive edge office
photography by Nikki Segarra
productive edge logo
photography by Nikki Segarra

 

FOUNDED: 2008

EMPLOYEES: 200; 97 local

WHAT THEY DO: Productive Edge provides digital consulting and technology solutions for clients across every industry.

WHERE THEY DO IT: Chicago’s trendy River North neighborhood.

CHEERS TO THE INTERNS: Last summer, interns worked with IoT cameras and facial recognition software to see who grabbed what beer in the office kegerator and made suggestions for users based on their preferences. 

PE CARES: Employees are encouraged to give back to the community as part of the company’s PE Cares program. They’ve volunteered with animal shelters, the Greater Chicago Food Depository, TechGirlz, the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Black Tech Scholars Program, and more.   

 

productive edge employees

productive edge Customer Experience

 

Scott Pandel, Director of Customer Experience and Strategy

Scott manages the growing customer experience (CX) team. His team works with Productive Edge’s new and current clients to develop user experience and user interface projects.

BEYOND WORK: Scott enjoys delving into the creative world of video games and is in the early stages of developing a game of his own. 

 

As a consultant at Productive Edge, what opportunities are there to work with different technologies, industries and products?

I’m extremely curious and love to learn about all kinds of obscure things, and being a consultant means constant exposure to novelty. While you don’t have the ability to sink your teeth into a body of work over a long period of time, what I love about consulting is that we partner with stakeholders who do have that intense ownership and we’re able to influence the direction of that work.

 

What advantages are there to working on such a variety of projects?

Being an objective outsider enables us to stay hyper-focused on what we’re there to do: solve meaningful problems for our clients. Exposure to so many different types of companies has broadened my perspective on what it takes to run a successful business. It puts me in a position to identify unlikely patterns that can spark creativity and inform different and new approaches for our clients that I might not have come to if positioned differently.

 

Each team member creates their own objectives and key results, which allows them to frame their career growth.”

 

With a team that is constantly working on different projects, how do you establish a cohesive culture?

The team gets together every other week for discussions around an employee-led presentation on any manner of topics related to user experience. This gives the team the opportunity to get to know each other better while also sharpening their perspectives on the ecosystem of CX. We also have monthly team lunches and outings that range from art museum visits to brewery tours. 

I also connect with each team member during weekly one-on-ones. Each team member creates their own objectives and key results, which allows them to frame their career growth. I use that to determine how I can help them grow.  

 

productive edge culture

productive edge internet of things

 

Tim Arnold, Delivery Director, Mobile & IOT

Tim oversees the team dubbed “Mobile Combat” at Productive Edge. Though his team is named after the beloved Mortal Kombat video game series, they only defeat client challenges with deft combinations of mobile and IoT products (no violence necessary). 

BEYOND WORK: As a member of a group called The Brinksmen, Tim and his friends have climbed frozen waterfalls on Lake Superior, trekked Mount Denali and Mount Everest and backpacked through the wilderness — all to push themselves to the brink. 

 

You’ve earned three promotions in your time at Productive Edge. How have you grown individually and professionally at the company?

I joined as a consultant early on when there were only about 20 employees, and I’ve since served as a team manager and in two different director positions. When I started, everyone wore a lot of hats, and I assisted with everything — project management, testing, sales, product ownership, data analysis and user experience. I also taught myself HTML, CSS, Javascript and SQL to better understand and collaborate with our development team. 

Productive Edge has grown a lot since then. We have more formalized team structures and strategy, but it continues to be a place that promotes the ability for people to cross-train. By latching onto that opportunity, I was able to understand the ins and outs of the technology delivery process. That foundation has allowed me to better guide clients on the decisions made in their digital strategy and execution. 

 

How many different projects is your team currently working on?

Our team has taken on some of the widest variety of projects in the company, and solving all those unique challenges is why I love this job. At the moment, we’re working on projects for companies in fitness, gaming, manufacturing, banking, medical, sales training, maternity and supply chain. We’re building a predictive program for virtual doctor appointments, a discreet IoT connected to breast pumps to provide greater freedom to working mothers, a top-grossing mobile game where proceeds go to disabled veterans, and more.   

 

Our team has taken on some of the widest variety of projects in the company, and solving all those unique challenges is why I love this job.”

 

How do you determine the tools you use to work with each client? 

We’ve built up a large toolkit of experience over our years and always look for the best tool for the job rather than forcing something we’re comfortable with into every solution. By spending time evaluating and testing out new technologies when we have downtime, we stay on top of all the trends to remain the best in the industry at what we do. 

 

We understand you’re active in the PE Cares program at Productive Edge. What does that program involve? 

PE Cares is a program dedicated to giving back to the local community, and we do so in a variety of ways that are reflective of the Productive Edge culture. We’ve worked with animal shelters to assist in creating materials they need for homeless pets, and we help to attack the homeless problem in Chicago by partnering with the Chicago Food Depository. 

We foster a learning environment, so we focus on expanding technology education in Chicago by partnering with the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Black Tech Scholars and TechGirlz. The fields of software, computing and computer science are plagued by tremendous underrepresentation of women and minorities. Partnering with these two groups not only help to solve the need of expanding technology education but ensure we close the gap that leaves so many brilliant minds out of the field.  

 

productive edge work

productive edge machine learning

  

Evan Roth, Delivery Director AI & Machine Learning

Evan oversees the team responsible for working with Productive Edge’s clients to integrate automation and big data into their technology. 

BEYOND WORK: Evan logs time in the workshop, where he enjoys woodworking and building living room furniture.  

 

Your team works with all manner of industries. What impact are you able to have to bring AI and machine learning tools to your clients?   

We recently launched a project to automate the processing of incoming prescriptions for a pharmacy, which involved interpreting the physician’s written instructions and determining the correct standardized instructions to use, like “Take one tablet in the morning.” While it took us many iterations of training models on millions of historical data records, we were able to achieve a massive year one ROI for our client while also shortening the approval and processing time of prescription requests for patients.

 

We’ve learned that a lot of people seem to be intimidated by the unknown ... after we walk them through some quick examples, they start to think of the possible solutions within their own enterprise.” 

 

What have you learned from working with such a wide variety of clients?

We’ve learned that a lot of people seem to be intimidated by the unknown and the perceived insurmountable skill gap of the field. Yet, after we walk them through some quick examples, they start to think of the possible solutions within their own enterprise. 

 

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