Have you ever wondered what happens behind the doors of your favourite companies? I am a regular customer at Clearly, an online prescription glasses retailer. Clearly is a Canadian brand under the Essilor Group, a French-based ophthalmic optics company that manufactures and markets the lenses used in all kinds of eyewear. Clearly’s glasses are high quality, they are always adding new styles, their customer service experience is seamless… I have 8 pairs of prescription glasses, a pair of regular sunglasses, and I order my contacts from them as well. Given how much I love this company, you can guess how keen I was on having some time to talk about their technology with their former COO, Mark Spoorenberg. Overall, I was very impressed to learn of how responsive Clearly is to their business environment.

There were 3 main areas I wanted to cover with Mark:

  1. New technology implementation and where the road to innovation begins,
  2. What happens in the face of technology failure and where solutions begin, and
  3. How a company like Clearly stays on top of their cybersecurity.
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New Technology Implementation

Mark described a time when Clearly replaced their “Try On View” technology with “Real View” technology. “Try On View” was a technology that could show customers what they would look like wearing a pair of glasses they might want to buy. However, when the technology was introduced, the Customer Service team and the Rejects and Returns team experienced an increase in customer complaints and product returns. This was because “Try On View” would fit any pair of glasses to someone’s face as if it fit them perfectly – even glasses with real-life measurements too small for the consumer’s face, for example, kids glasses. Naturally, the increase in customer returns and reports of customer dissatisfaction made it’s way to executive management.

Management knew that customers were still buying glasses without using “Try On View”. So, the question management had to answer was “Do the opportunity costs lost to improving technology outweigh the economic benefits of not doing anything?”. The answer was “No”, and here’s why:

  • First, even though a small number of customers were using “Try On View”, the fact that Clearly had tech that didn’t deliver good results reflected poorly on the company image.
  • Second, not having try-on technology was a bigger problem than having “Try On View” which people didn’t use often. Customers like the perception that they were using a tech-fancy company.
  • Third, – something that I thought of after my interview with Mark – if Clearly didn’t get the try-on tech right, then another one of their competitors was bound to adopt a functioning version of the technology. If that happened, Clearly would lose their first-mover market advantage in using try-on technology for their industry. The perception of Clearly being a bleeding-edge innovator serves Clearly well in the competitive market.

Being on the executive team, Mark was one of the major decision-makers with the authority to allocate resources to certain projects. Once the try-on tech project was approved, the CEO became the internal sponsor of the project and oversaw the Project Managers who initiated and carried out the RFI (request for information) and RFP (request for proposal) process.

After careful consideration, Clearly outsourced a software called “Real View” which measured objects on a 360°, 3-dimensional plane. This would allow for glasses to be true-to-size when customers activated the try-on tech from the Clearly website. I’ve personally used Clearly “Real View” to buy this pair of glasses in the Havana colour. The experience was seamless and because the in-person fit was so great, it gave me the confidence to depend on “Real View” technology for future purchases.

Due to the volume of usage of the software, Clearly found it more cost-effective to invest in purchasing the hardware (3D cameras) so that they wouldn’t have to outsource 3D photography each time they had new frames to photograph.

The above is an example of how technology improvements can be prompted by bottom-up communication in response to customer dissatisfaction. After further consideration of our interview, I also considered that these changes can begin at top management levels in response to the technological business environment.  Were I in that position, I would consider it my responsibility to be aware of new innovative technologies and integrate them into my business units. Doing so will keep my company competitive, relevant, and in certain cases, allow my company first-mover advantages to new products released on the market. What’s neat about this example from Clearly is that technological innovation can begin at all levels of the organization, from entry-level roles to upper management.

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What Happens When Technology Fails Your Company?

Most tech companies will try to build their own online platforms to run their businesses. How that’s done directly affects future enhancements that you want to code into your online infrastructure. Mark described a time at Clearly when their programmers hadn’t been using agile script throughout their web design.

First, what is agile? Agile is an approach to software development that allows changes and improvements to be delivered to customers faster and with fewer failures. Without agile scripting, programmers will need to change everything about a script in order to make one small adjustment. This makes adding a new payment method, for example, a new credit card payment option, as simple as inserting code into the area where it’s necessary. Without agile, programmers would be re-writing code for the entire check-out screen which would require a large consumption of time and company resources.

Mark’s example of Clearly not using agile is not necessarily a technology failure. Instead, it shows a need for continuous improvement of human resources within the company – something which Clearly is also very responsive to. This kind of example, I purport, is also the story behind the following statistics I gathered from my MBA courses, specifically my “Managing Information Systems” course. Those statistics are:

  • 20% of all IT efforts are wasted
  • 15-18% of IT projects are started and then abandoned
  • 30-40% of IT projects are escalated with cost overruns of 43-189%
  • 30-40% of IT projects are implemented with no perceptible strategic benefit

The two common denominators of the above four statistics are technology and people. People – whether employees, management, customers, etc – are the most common reason for technology failures. In Mark’s case, until his programmers adopted an agile-based script, changes took forever to implement because the work required was so extensive. Without the proper adoption of technology, businesses will experience the qualitative effects of employee pressure, manager stress, and distressed customers, which translates into quantitative effects such as profit loss, decreased sales, and an eventual decrease in market share. These effects are a risk in all companies.

In Mark’s case, Clearly set up small working groups that focused on smaller divisions and specialized areas of the business. Part of this new organization method was the introduction of scrum workers – specialized programmers that use a scrum framework to work collaboratively using experiential learning, self-organization, and debriefing on all activities for continuous improvement.

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Cybersecurity is always a hot topic because of the large amount of potential risk that a business is exposed to. Cyber threats are never a question of if a breach will happen, but when. According to Mark, the tech knowledge acquired over the course of a university degree is outdated by the time you hire a recent tech graduate. This is because the technology field evolves so quickly that it’s near impossible for the most forward advancements to be accessible by everyone. Therefore, it is crucial to hire a diverse group of people with an affinity to learn, develop, and adapt to new technology they may encounter. The same applies to individuals working in cybersecurity.

Clearly runs an annual hack-a-thon to test their cybersecurity, and the name of the event describes exactly what you’re thinking. Clearly invites ethical hackers, called “white hats”, to see how far they can infiltrate Clearly’s systems. The process exposes loopholes and potential backdoors that Clearly didn’t know about. Clearly’s programmers will then go through an extensive hack-a-thon debrief process to begin working on fortifying their online security protection.

Hiring white hats to assess cybersecurity vulnerabilities is a common infrastructure enhancement process for many businesses. The process can also be humorous since Mark recalled being able to see what YouTube videos are being watched on company computers during lunch breaks.

Attention, Ben from marketing? Clearly knows you love cat videos.

Thank you to Mark Spoorenberg for the great conversation we shared, as well as for the time spent reviewing this article.