Erik Duffield Of Hakkōda: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Our research shows that organizations leading in AI capabilities and outcomes outsource 63% of data management on average, whereas organizations that are behind the curve outsource only 39% on average. AI capability is not just a matter of integrating modern technology. We’re talking about entirely new design patterns and ways of approaching opportunities that necessitate outside-in support. Scaling new skills and leveraging experiences from outside your organization can be a huge accelerator.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Erik Duffield.

Erik Duffield is co-founder and CEO of Hakkōda, a modern data consultancy specializing in Snowflake. Hakkōda provides services and solutions enabling data driven organizations with deep industry expertise in Healthcare, Financial Services, Supply Chain, and the Public Sector.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I am insatiably curious which is a perfect match for a career in consulting and data. I studied finance and economics, which lead me to seek understanding through data. My career has traversed both software and services for nearly 30 years. As those experiences built up over time, I developed empathy for large organizations that get stuck and an understanding of what it takes for them to adapt and do new things in new ways. That led to the founding of Hakkoda.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We have found a way to combine the capability and scale of a large systems integrator, with the focus and agility of a boutique. Large organizations are fatigued with the same alternatives in partners that they have used for the past 20 years. They need that industry-specific depth we provide, and our global talent pool, but they also want our agility, innovation, and IP. When change is happening this fast, they recognize it’s time to do new things in new ways.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Curiosity — it’s the internal engine to learn constantly; to be open to lateral thinking, to new people, to new patterns. Every week I am most excited by learning something. It can be about people, a company or industry, often a technology advancement. I like to go deep until I have internalized it. Hakkoda’s strategy for GenAI is an example. We approach new technologies from a place of genuine curiosity and research. So our approach to GenAI is a result of not taking it at face value — learning its capabilities now and also exploring what it signals for the future at a deeper level.

Communication — the ability to make complex things simple. Success requires the ability to communicate a vision of the future and the path to get there — and inspire people to join the mission. We have a strategic framework, the Data Innovation Journey, that we use with clients to develop a pragmatic roadmap for moving from Chaos to Innovation. That journey is possible because we prioritize distilling very complex concepts in our industry into something that becomes very digestible — real and fundable programs — so that clients can chart their course for success.

Observation — in the moment, waiting to speak until you have actively listened or collected longitudinal observations. This enables you to connect seemingly disconnected elements and assemble them into patterns you can use. Hakkōda’s strategy is a reflection of 20 years of observation of customers and markets.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

AI will soon reveal a fundamental shift in IT services. If you think about what gives the giants in our industry advantage — it’s their human scale and access to low-cost labor markets. When AI starts to replace labor, innovative firms like Hakkoda emerge to unlock efficiency and capability that will drive the next phase of IT services.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Our AI R&D team or consulting practitioners might provide you deeper or more clever insights, but from my seat, observing our work across clients… LangChain and the retrieval-augmented generation (RAG) framework are enabling some epic innovation across our clients and internally.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

I watched people experimenting with ChatGPT in building apps. Week after week, the capabilities improved exponentially. They went from interesting to scary-good quickly, and it was the pace of improvement that signaled the future that was headed our way. We are by no means beyond the needs of highly capable engineers, but we are entering an ‘enabled’ phase, which implies rapid gains on gains of efficiency.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

We need to train our organization to lean in, not out. I think we have done that. It’s natural for engineers, but unnatural for an industry built on billable time. The tools of AI will be democratized as fast as the core of AI. What happens in labs on Friday will be on the streets for the mortal engineers by Monday. Everyone at Hakkoda will not only be AI enabled but able to build AI solutions.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

For us it’s less of a challenge because we aren’t burdened with legacy skills. Our team knows Python and SQL. They know systems design, how to prototype quickly, and how to collaborate. We won’t have resistance or outdated skills; our challenge will be alignment and focus on the things that create the greatest impact.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

AI ethics discussions aren’t new and the considerations for our industry (and our clients’ industries) aren’t new either. We need transparency, we need to prevent and identify bias, and to protect these advancements from misuse or abuse. While uniform governmental policies don’t exist yet, we tackle these concerns by staying informed on the risks and mitigations and the guidelines and recommendations that watchdogs advise.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

1. Dive in:

Spend time studying, questioning, and imagining how your industry might change. Not just with the AI we can see and touch today, but the capabilities AI may likely have in 12 months. Nearly every organization is experimenting with AI. In our recent research report surveying 500+ companies across industry, we found 50% of organizations actively implementing AI for limited use cases such as automation. Additionally, every organization surveyed views generative AI as important, and nearly two in three organizations reported that generative AI will be very or critically important to their success by 2027. It will be a journey of learning, so the sooner you get started the further along you will be relative to your peers.

2. Experiment quickly:

It’s amazing how much you can learn through experiments. Figuring out what works, what doesn’t, or how close the capabilities are to being ‘ready.’ Small wins build support and competency. Over time this experimental ethos builds into a culture of agility.

3. Get help:

Our research shows that organizations leading in AI capabilities and outcomes outsource 63% of data management on average, whereas organizations that are behind the curve outsource only 39% on average. AI capability is not just a matter of integrating modern technology. We’re talking about entirely new design patterns and ways of approaching opportunities that necessitate outside-in support. Scaling new skills and leveraging experiences from outside your organization can be a huge accelerator.

4. Ask questions:

Consider how AI’s rapid evolution might be altering your customer’s expectations? This is a good moment to spend time with customers imagining how AI will change how you interact with them, what products or services you provide them, and the form in which you do so. Consider the possibility of new revenue from products or services that are created by AI that weren’t possible before.

5. Think big:

Could your entire economic model change? AI will cause industries to shift both in terms of where revenue comes from and where costs are applied. If you are facing disruption, consider some bold non-linear changes. These will require a lot of change management and may involve some risk to your fundamental model.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

The extremes. It’s always right/wrong. It’s going to kill us or it’s an overhyped toy. It might be fun to play with the extremes, but there’s an amazing revolution in the middle. It’s a pretty incredible thing that changes the way a lot of things can be done, as did harnessing cell signals or wireless internet. All completely ‘knowable,’ but most people accept best- or worst-case scenarios or write it off in the abstract without really understanding the technology. To paraphrase Richard Feynman, knowing the name of something is not the same as understanding it.

By having a deeper understanding of AI and making it consumable for our clients, we offer use cases that drive value. We’ve completely rethought how master data management works with AI. We’ve enabled massive discovery, analysis, and contextualization of information in 10,000th of the time it would have taken before.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

It’s quoted in a few ways but goes something like: “Success is moving from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm,” and is attributed or misattributed to Winston Churchill. In either case, I love the freedom this quote provides. I appreciate the reminder that you’ve only failed when you quit, otherwise you’ve received an education on what doesn’t work.

Sometimes super high achievers rarely experience failure — which can form fear that binds them up. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I don’t suffer from this affliction :). Part of the success I’ve had is surrounding myself with more capable people and informing them of my intent to iterate quickly without fear of mistakes but rather to find the mistakes quickly. They should not expect perfection from my ‘draft.’ That expectation would inhibit my freedom to test strategy and concepts or to push the boundaries. My team is an essential part of the process pi

Conversely, I don’t want to celebrate failure either. Focus on impact and execution. Everything else is a pebble in the path.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

Alignment. The natural entropy that happens in organizations is a sneaky devil. Sometimes that realization comes at night when my brain is filing away all the day’s little bits. Then the realization becomes clear and it’s time to circle back; pulling on all the connective threads to make sure the organization’s efforts are aligned.

Much of my time is spent telling our story to our customers, partners, and our team. By repeating that vision of the future and our path in it, I can see how to reset, and recommit our team to the mission. We all need reminders of where we’re going.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂


How can our readers further follow you online?

Reach out to me on LinkedIn if you find yourself ready to discuss your organization’s relationship with data, or if you’re curious about whether AI can help. You can also contact me through the Hakkoda website or on X (Twitter).

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.