Posted on: February 23, 2021 | 26 min read

Episode #1 - A Data in the Life of Tom Demarest, CEO of OKIN



episode description

How would you categorize your current relationship with data? Happily, married? Still, working it out? Do we need some therapy? We all have different relationships with data and the journey of becoming truly data-driven. On the very first episode of A Data in the Life, I dive in with Tom Demarest, CEO at OKIN BPS.  We unpack their data relationship, the never-ending journey of becoming truly data-driven, and how to sell to your board on the investment.

We discuss:

  1. What is your role?
  2. How has digital transformation impacted your business?
  3. Is the need to be data-driven being discussed in the board
  4. What is your current relationship with data?
  5. How does technology play a role in being data-driven?
  6. What struggles have you faced along the way?
  7.  If you could instantly solve a data problem, what would it be?
  8. What advice would you give

About Tom Demarest

Tom Demarest is the CEO of OKIN BPS. He is an experienced positive culture leader in Enterprise Business Operations launching and running outsource programs and Lean Six Sigma Business Transformation initiatives. Tom is a philanthropist, family man and an Ironman Triathlete. His background of being a highly effective change agent with an entrepreneurial self-made background helps establish OKIN as a dynamic organization.

About Dan Rodriguez

Dan Rodriguez is the Chief Revenue Officer of CCG. Dan is responsible for all revenue-generation strategy and execution including sales, marketing, strategic partnerships, and customer success ensuring alignment across the organization to execute the company strategy and achieve revenue goals.  Dan will also be responsible for conveying value for customers across the entire customer lifecycle. 

About A Data in the Life

The show where Dan Rodriguez, Chief Revenue Officer of CCG, goes behind the scenes with the top data and analytics leaders to understand what they really do every day. Discover how they operate: their goals, biggest challenges, budget, what tools they are using, the skillset of their team, setting expectations with other stakeholders. It’s about people who are smart, reliable, funny, and resourceful. It’s learning about their data culture. We are pulling back the curtain on what’s working now and what is not in how they are using data to gain a competitive edge. It’s learning how the best data and analytics leaders do their thing and lead their company to become an intelligent enterprise.


Dan Rodriguez 0:06
Hello, everyone, and welcome to A Data in the Life a podcast dedicated to gaining insight into how successful leaders can become data-driven and progress on their journey to become an intelligent enterprise, where data is free-flowing and insights are plentiful. I'm your host, Dan Rodriguez, the founder of CCG. We are a cloud, data, and analytics services company here in the US. And I'm joined by a good friend of mine Tom Demarest. Welcome, Tom.

Tom Demarest 0:32
Thanks. Hey, I want to make the joke of like, first-time caller, longtime listener, but I know we're just starting here. So yeah, happy to be here and happy to be part of this.

Dan Rodriguez 0:42
Yeah, absolutely.

So why don't you introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your current role and kind of what you're doing here with OKIN.

Tom Demarest 0:48
Yeah, sounds good. So, Tom Demarest, I'm the CEO for OKIN BPS. So OKIN BPS is a global BPO company that is headquartered out of Prague in the Czech Republic. But we have offices in San Antonio, Texas, and an opening up offices in Johannesburg, South Africa later this year. Again, we always kind of say we're a high-tech, high-touch BPO company, with customers, ranging from one of the largest telecoms in the US to other companies like McDonald's and Whirlpool. And so we have a lot of big logos, but also work in support a lot of the smaller startup companies as well, so lucky to be part of such a good organization.

Dan Rodriguez 1:35
Yeah, fantastic. And so I can only imagine that one of the catalysts that have driven your business is what you know, we're all talking about digital transformation and how that's changing. So how has that impacted your business? And maybe what the customers are talking to you about now versus prior to the digital age?

Tom Demarest 1:55
Yeah, so listen, everybody's out in training, you know, kind of chasing the most efficient way to do things. And so your data and digital transformation are really is what helped shape us, right. So not only do they want to do things faster, cheaper, quicker, you know, our customers, but they want to do it more accurately, as well. So you have those things where you have all these pressures coming along it's how do we make the most efficient? How do we get, you know, the best customer service scores, the best Net Promoter scores out there. And so we use data, and we use machine learning and artificial intelligence and natural language processing, to really help be a catalyst for that. And then use, you know, again, the data to help shape our decisions to see where we're going to invest more and see where we have areas of opportunities, and hopefully use that to move the business forward.

Dan Rodriguez 2:47
Yeah, that's fantastic. And so talk to me a little bit about being data-driven, is that a conversation that's happening at the board level? Or at the executive level? Or is it more happening within the operational units?

Tom Demarest 2:59
It's both right? I think, listen, you know, at the board level, everything is about, hey, what is the strategic vision? Where are we going to be in 18 months or 5 years from now, and, and the board for OKIN is amazing, right? You know, they believe in setting a course for the five years, but know that just like anything else, it's putting a stake in the ground, and you have to pull that stake up and move it around. But it's a big thing of, of our daily lives of what we're doing here.

I equate it to, trying to put yourself in the best possible position. So everything you do in life is based upon data, right? So I always joke that you know, it only took you a few times to learn to not touch a hot pan with your bare hands, because that data point was very quick. And you know, if you touch it, you're gonna burn your hand. Maybe some other data points, like, don't do shots of tequila after midnight, because they lead to 50 other shots of tequila after midnight, is another data point. But as we're doing things, from a business standpoint, everything is small nuances. So you really are trying to pick ways where you have the most opportunity of success.

So as we look at problems in the business, we say, Hey, we have a 14% opportunity to help improve our net promoter score, because we're scoring right around an 86%. Now, how do we encompass and close the gap of the last 14 to 14%, to get our, our SLA higher to get the Net Promoter higher? And so you look at those things and you start targeting it. So you have it at the operational level of they're like, how do I move the needle this one little bit? And then at the board and the senior management level, we're saying, hey, how do we get, you know, to x growth, or, you know, how do we get the 20% growth this year that, we're expecting, and so you use the data in multiple different ways, but it's being used all across the Organization right now.

Dan Rodriguez 5:01
That's fantastic. And, you know, I think we all have had different relationships with data over time. And, in my organization and in most of my customers, yeah, that changes. So it is like a relationship. And people do have bad relationships and bad experiences and good ones. So as your it's one thing to say, we want to use data, and we understand the importance of it. And we know that to hit our goals as a business or to hit our goals as an individual or as a department, that we're going to use data to measure the results. I think that's been around forever, and people understand that. But it's another thing to say, well, and I believe in the data we have, and I have it readily available. And everyone uses the same data and all those fun things that we deal with. So if you had to kind of categorize your relationship currently with data, you know, you happily married, are you still working it out? Do we need some therapy? How would you categorize that? Now? 

Tom Demarest 6:03
It's a funny question, I think, yeah, looking at that, and, you know, probably, don't tell my wife this, but right, there's no such thing as truly happily married, right, there's always everything you have to do is put work into it. So while I think that we've embraced data, and, we know the value and the power of it, it's always a constant work, right? Because it's whether you're trying to define the single truth, are trying to make sure that you have accurate processes behind it, to make sure that the data is, is not just telling you what you want to hear, but it's subjectively giving you answers to it. Right.

So I was fortunate enough to have a graduate degree in statistics. So I, I love numbers, but I always feel there are truth lies, and statistics, right? You can bend the stat in any way to prove your point and a lot of times, but what we do is while we are somewhat happily married, and we certainly love data, and we love what we're doing, and it drives our business from every single facet of what we do. It's constant work for it, right? So as we're doing these things, you never rest on your laurels, right, you figure out ways to say, hey, this was good. I like how we're doing this, it's helping us make decisions is helping us mitigate risk. It's helping us to what I you know, kind of read the book by Chan is, you know, Blue Ocean Strategy, right? So you're, you're always wanting to go to where there's an opportunity and develop those things versus being in you know, kind of the Blood Read Sea if you will, and driving those things.

So yeah, listen, I think there's always work for it. We've embraced it open as an organization because we see the power of it. And there are a lot of nuances and areas that we're bringing it forward that we never brought before. But to me there's there's nothing better than making an informed decision. You're never is never anything where it's fully in the bank for you. But you're able to make an informed decision where you can you mitigate as much risk or challenges as you can and give you your best opportunity for success.

Dan Rodriguez 8:10
Yeah, absolutely. And I love that you brought up the blue ocean concept because I think that a lot of folks understand where data can be used to kind of look at the day-to-day. I think it's harder for people to leverage data for opportunity or to leverage data for where we should go or where we could go. And I also think that I'm surprised, I should say, at how many folks don't think of data when they're looking for resiliency, or they're looking for cutting costs, or during the pandemic, when things really started to get crazy.

I saw, you know, half of our customers go directly towards the data, and then I saw half go away from it. And no, we don't have time for data right now we have to go focus on how we're going to, you know, get the business, right. And it was really surprising to me, how many people went away from data at a time that they need to figure out how to be resilient, where to cut costs, where to focus that they thought that was a better exercise to do, you know, without having the data available to support it. So I really do appreciate that. And I think the opportunity side is one that is the most exciting as we go forward and use the technologies that you're talking about.

Tom Demarest 9:30
There's no doubt like listen, it's that you got to lean out of the boat a little bit, right? So it's really tough to keep contracting your way to being a growth company, right? You have to do something different and kind of avoid the definition of insanity and doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. And listen, that's what I think the board and particularly the owner of OKIN group, Michal Jelinek, he said, Hey, listen, we're gonna double down and we're going to invest in the business, where do we have opportunities for success, and one of them was around marketing. So OKIN previously did not have a really strong brand from marketing was a central European company and the Czech Republic. And, not a lot of thought was previously done around marketing. And he said, hey, let's do this. And so we invested in rebranding and, you know, kind of did, new logos and re-imaging and re messaging of what we are, you know, it's still open, but it's really around driving what we're doing. And then using and creating a marketing team that is doing account-based marketing, we're invested in tools and invested in stuff that is giving data, and it's helping our salespeople hunt, and find those deals for us. And that's why we've been successful, I think, through the pandemic and coming out of the pandemic is because we use data to make decisions.

We knew that there were areas of opportunities for, let's say, micro call centers, and fractional agents of what we're doing in the US, there was a propensity to bring a lot of work back to us how we can have some different pride on what we're doing. And a veteran workforce and socially conscious by, by using visually impaired resources of some of our programs at 20% of the staff are visually impaired, legally blind. And so we're doing these socially conscious programs that are helping drive customers are responding to it. And it's all predicated upon that we're going to really, you know, expand and invest back in the business and help and help our data and make those decisions. Yeah, that's

Dan Rodriguez 11:44
So there's so much that you've touched on, I want to ask a question because so many people go to technology when they think of data. And so many questions start there.  How would you rate your maturity from a technology standpoint?

Obviously, there's a lot of technology that's on the basis of what you're doing. But do you have for the audience, are you a high maturity from a tech company or a tech knowledge base inside of your company? 

Tom Demarest 12:19
I think that we were poor in it. But we've gotten better. And I think there's always room for improvement. So, you know, I'm a big believer in trying to use best-in-class tools. So we have, you know, some of the world's best, CRM tools and implementing a lot of different stuff. We're doing multimodal from call center and contact center software to be able to interchange from video to chat, email, to voice, and really drive those things. So listen, I think we're probably somewhere in the middle of our journey, we really have a lot of great tools, and some of our account-based marketing tools and some of the things that we have are great.

But listen, I think it's always a journey. If you think, Hey, we're high tech, high maturity, we're the best in the business, I think that's when you become complacent or lose it. And so for us, we take little bits and pieces, where can we be better? You know, even with some of our kind of our data work that we've done previously, there was always room for improvement for it. And so you take these little small bites, and let's make this area better. Let's show that we have improved on and let's show that we have an ROI, and then help drive to the next changes as we grow and get better.

Dan Rodriguez 13:35
Absolutely. So when you've gone through these transformations, and as you're, you know, you joked that you were partially happily married, but always working towards improving that relationship. What have been some struggles that, you know, if you have a company that's fairly comfortable with technology, that may be a hurdle that you haven't had to get over to get people used to using the technology that normally comes around a focus on data? So what has been a struggle maybe culturally or from an organizational model? Or, you know, what have you had to kind of start working on since you've been at OKIN?

Tom Demarest 14:20
I think the human nature is is to avoid change and stay comfortable with it. So listen, even if you're an organization or someone who says hey, I love change, it's really hard to push, right? So I really subscribe to the, you know, the Simon Sinek approach of starting with why right you know, you kind of say why you're doing something you're driving the rationale and the reasons and bringing people along and, and kind of bring up into the kind of the institutional knowledge and a way of kind of believing and what is going on, you know, kind of bring them along the change management curve. I think it's big, it's hard a lot of times for people to give up control of data like they feel like they have control of data, and it's their knowledge and power. But as you you may be centralized some of that data, or you bring it in, and it allows to create, you know, new insights, or new scoops on, on what is out there, it really helps shape and then it changes the whole business.

So listen, as much as, as much as I'm always comfortable with change, and advancing forward, you know, even I have to get proven with it. So, as we do programs, we usually start small, we don't like to boil the ocean, we don't like to say, Hey, we're gonna solve everything at one time. But we take one area, that is a problem, and then tactically solve it and move forward. Right? I think I think making small changes and incremental improvements helps validate where you're going and what you're doing, you know, avoiding I think, a lot of stuff that, you know, you probably experienced in your career like me, right, those big-bang projects, that you're going to do some massive project, and it's going to be overwhelmingly successful. And, and then, you know, a couple of years later, it's just getting implemented, you know, a lot of the big consulting companies, that's what they do, right? They're thriving on getting in there, and they're going to create something massive. And that can work in a lot of ways. But also to when you have these companies and places and organizations and businesses that, listen, there's always a little kind of residual hold back, or maybe not true believers, in doing those projects, telling them why doing my Simon Sinek thing of kind of walking people through why it's so important, why we're doing it, what they're going to get out of it, and then implementing it showing the results and showing how the power and the value of it is, then the next time through the cycle and kind of the Golden Circle, you're able to generate it out even quicker because people start getting the buy-in sooner, you know, along the path.

Dan Rodriguez 17:04
Yeah, there's a lot of wisdom and what you just went through, so I'm going to go back to a couple of them because they're worth repeating.

Tom Demarest 17:10
I just, I just want to hear that I want all the others out there. Wisdom.

Dan Rodriguez 17:16
No, I really believe it. Because for those of you listening, who are trying to start data initiatives, and maybe you're stuck, or maybe you're going back through it, the first point that you made around data is power, is really, really important because lots of people have built their fight them and their importance and their value to the organization because they're the one that knows how to get data out of systems and bring answers to executive teams. And so going to them and saying, we're going to automate all that we're going to make that easy, and we're going to democratize it so that everyone can just get that data when they want isn't exciting for them. That's not this amazing, wow, that's gonna be great. They're thinking, Wait, so then what's my value going to be? And so you have to be able to create that value chain for those folks that say, you're not going to have the pain that you used to have to get to that value. Now you're going to be able to do this and do the job that we brought you in to do in a better way. And we're going to bring you along. And I think that that's a really big area that people underestimate, especially when they're doing as you said, the broad rollouts for, for a lot of different people, because it's hard to do it at the individual level. But that one's really important.

The other piece is, you know, agility is such it's been a popular word in the tech space, and with software development, and all the Agile practices that have come along with it. It's been in the manufacturing space for a long time. But business agility is something that is fascinating. And we often get brought into those conversations, because we're attacking data in an agile way. And I've had CEOs grab me and say, do you think we could do this at the strategic level? Like we build these strategies that take us months and months? And by the time we get this strategy? It's already stale? And we're going back through it? You know, can we do this iterative approach, and really go after this in a different way? And of course, the answer is yes. And it is a major change issue. But I think you just have to continuously restate that small, iterative approaches after these big goals are absolutely the way to do it. And doing that with data can be challenging because knowing one metric isn't always valuable. So knowing the number of people that bought something isn't always valuable. If you don't know what they bought, what else did they buy along with it? How long have they been a customer so everyone has questions behind the questions and so figuring out how to do that iteratively can be a challenge, but That ability to fail and then celebrate the small wins to build momentum is really, really important?

Tom Demarest 20:09
Listen, I think that you know that incrementalism just makes the difference long as there's progress, right? And, listen, sometimes progress doesn't have to be a straight line that you're exactly one step closer to your target. But even taking a diagonal step towards your target is better than staying where you're at. Right? So like in the laws of nature, if he stands still, you'll eventually die, right? So every business cycle, whether it's, you know, you subscribe to the seven-year, the 10 year model for business cycle death, if you're not constantly changing and improving yourself, you are going to cease to exist, right? There are lots of plenty examples out there of very brilliant companies that had great marketing, great presence, you know, everyone talks about the Blockbusters of the world and, you know, had had the opportunity to buy Netflix, but they didn't want to do it or, you know, Kodak and some of these other things.

But listen, you need to make a change, and you need to advance the ball forward, again, staying still is a recipe for disaster and all across the human mankind stains still usually doesn't work out for you. And so that's the biggest thing as organizations if they can just take one step in one stride forward, prove it out, it becomes very easy, right? And I think what you guys are doing with, you know, your tools and the Microsoft partnership, and, and those things, it helps people get opportunities to see what the potential is and move towards it. Right. So it's a, there's again no big boom, no big silver bullet. But you can get incrementally better by making smart decisions based upon data.

Dan Rodriguez 21:50
Yeah, absolutely. I think we talked about the art of possibility and getting people aligned by that. And I've had that conversation. Sometimes progress is knowing what you didn't know. So sometimes progress is understanding what's happening with your data are all the quality of your data, the challenges you have, or the missing data, or the opportunities that you have with your customers or with your vendors to capture data that you're not, sometimes figuring that out is a great lesson in progress so that you can start attacking it and getting to where you really want to be. It's not necessarily a step backward, which is how it feels. It's a step in the right direction. So yeah, I think that's great advice. So if you could, if you could fix one data problem, whether it be quality, or accessibility, or people understanding it, what would you pick? There are so many that we've all struggled with. But if you can instantly solve a data problem, what would it be?

Tom Demarest 22:51
Yeah, listen, I'm always really around that quality and kind of understanding the value of the data for us because I think the accessibility to it can be mitigated in multiple different ways. But to me, it's around quality and the informational aspect of the data, right? We don't want to be reactive all the time. So we want to use data that helps us make decisions that serve our clients better, or will help us do customer acquisition better, right, from a marketing standpoint. I actually one of the example that I kind of think about this stuff is the NFL AWS commercial with Christian McCaffrey, where he's at the goal line, and, and, you know, they show it and he's like, Hey, you know, you got to see the data on this one. And he's running towards the goal line. And you said, with four defenders on me, I had, I think it's 14.2% chance of scoring. And I thought that was it struck me so much, because he's like, hey, so then I had a zoom and, you know, speed up my thing to four-point something, you know, meters per second, or yards per second. But to me, that was the thing where I'm looking at it is, I have an 85.8% chance of failure. So I want to do things that are putting myself more in success. Like I look at that Christian McCaffrey is like, it's amazing, you can do that. That's a tremendous athlete, you know, he's a freak of nature. But to me when we're looking at business opportunities, we are still at such a young age, I think, from understanding data and able to make decisions on it. There's enough low-hanging fruit, that you could find stuff where you put yourself in the best probability or the best possibility to make positive change, right. Sometimes you don't need to, you know, figure out how you're going to leap over some guys and you have a very low probability of getting in the end zone. And I'm pretty sure you or I are not getting anywhere near the end zone. These days in our athletic career.

To me, that is the coolest thing about it is because we're looking at something and we're saying, Hey, this is an underserved market, we have a really good opportunity to do this or say, from a quality standpoint, what we're using with our AI tools is that, hey, listen, we're really lacking empathy at this part of the call or understanding the situation that our customers are going through, how do we improve the empathy and targeted quality assurance on those particular things, and give us a big jump up in our score, right. So to me, that's the best part about data. It's telling you areas that focus on the future, and be proactive that you're solving the problem next time, not just Hey, I did something amazing, I had a very low probability of scoring, and I did it. For us, it's, hey, I see the landscape, there's some reactiveness, that there are areas of opportunities here. And then we focus our energies to improve that because it's a low-hanging fruit, we get those wins and successes, and then can move on to the next challenge or problem that we have. Or, again, let data sometimes tell us what the next opportunity is going to be coming along.

Dan Rodriguez 26:09
So I'll give you a choose your own adventure and your last one because I want, I want to ask questions that help the listeners understand, you know, things that they can take back to work with them and things that they can use in their career. So I'll give you a choice here, you can either give your advice on how to bring either board members or other senior executives on board when they're struggling with, you know, why are we investing in data? Why is this important? Option two is, what your recommendation would be to other CIOs or folks who are typically in charge the spending around data? What would your advice be to them when they're talking to their CEO about how to position the investments that they need or the aspects that they're trying to drive when it comes to the technology or the data projects that so often are falling in it? Or maybe a data officer? If you have those? I'll let you make your choice there.

Tom Demarest 27:14
Yeah, this is a difficult one that you have here. So I've been on both sides of it, right? I've been pitching to get money for programs, and I've been pitched plenty of times on doing it. And listen, for me. There's always two aspects of it is one, I said it before, you know, Listen, don't try to boil the ocean, don't come with me that this is going to solve all of our problems that it's unbelievable. No one believes everything's going to be perfect and excellent. And we won't have, it'll be all done when we do this. Because it's never, it's never true in business by time. Again, like you said, the someone that implements or even defines a strategy, it's almost obsolete at that point in time. So is as you're pitching it is a discussion of, Hey, this is what we want to do. This is why we want to do it. Because we have a problem and X, Y and Z area. Here's the investment on and here's the return on investment. Right? So the board leadership, the CEO, they're always going to ask really, what are we going to get out of it? And what is it going to cost? Right? So those questions are interchangeable from you know how and when they get into the to the part of it.

So I think as you're going through and figuring out, hey, where there are some areas of opportunity in your business, find ways that you can make those small changes, improvement, that go ahead and prove it out. It's very important that people get a sense of comfort that, hey, we're going to do this, we're going to invest 50,000 100,200 50,000, whatever the number is, we're going to invest this, this is what we're going to do, this is what we're going to get out of it, this is why we're doing it. This is what makes it so important. And then, you know, here's our ROI for it. And then we'll prove it out. And we'll get reevaluated in 30 6090 days or 180 days. And then we'll do the next project to build upon it and get something more out of it. So you listen to me that's it's always big, defining what your problem is. And then talking to the leadership again, whether that's the board or the CEO and saying, Hey, listen, here's the problem. This is what I want to do. This is what's going to cost This is why we're going to do it and this is what we're gonna get out of it in the end.

And listen, I think that's all it's all a stage in evolutionary and you have to be a little bit of a zealot. You have to believe it. Listen, I all my team is the same way we you have to be zealots, you have to be, you know, voracious and what your beliefs are, and really drive to it right you're not committed that this is the only way to do it. But you know, when you buy In to an idea or solution, you know, you sell it, you have all the passion for it. If you don't believe in it, you're certainly your CEO is not going to believe in it, the board's not going to believe in it. So, have that idea, understand what it's going to do, what is going to drive, believe in it, what it's going to cost and what the company is ultimately going to get out of it. That becomes very easy selling and talking points, long as you believe it and can define it, and then get the results out of it.

Dan Rodriguez 30:26
Yeah, absolutely. I think the part around helping to create the vision of what it's going to accomplish is critical. And then I think very often, it's, it's underdone. The selling that what is coming after this. And I think that's where we often see the gotchas is, Oh, I thought this was the spend, I thought this was the project. It's like, No, no, this was the beginning to do this. I love the idea and agree completely that helping to set this is what we're going to do to get going. And we're going to prove this value. And if we do, we're going to keep investing, because we want to invest in what's working. And we're going to do the next thing and the next thing and set that right upfront. Because then if you have the vision, and if you can break it up into chunks, and get people on board that you're going to show value along the way, then yeah, then then you can execute and build that momentum that you're looking for. I completely agree.

Well, Tom, this has been a lot of fun. I appreciate you coming in and one of these first episodes, as we get a date in the light here off the ground. It's always fun to listen and learn from your experience and what you're doing with the open process and how you guys are moving along. So thanks so much for joining. listeners, if you're out there, Tom's information will be down below and so will mine, please connect with either one of us. We're always in the market to share and help our network grow. And we'd love to help out or to hear from you. Thanks. Awesome.

Tom Demarest 31:58
Thank you, Dan. I really appreciate it. Thanks for the opportunity to be on here. And it's always good to chat with you. And again, don't hesitate to reach out if any more questions or thoughts and again, we're happy to help all of us kind of what I call is kind of mid-tier sized companies right now we the small caps were that were that were the people that are striving to be bigger and be great and so, so happy to help out a fellow person here.

Dan Rodriguez 32:23
Absolutely. All right. Thanks a lot, everyone and tune in next time 

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