Technology is evolving faster than utility organizations can skill their people to manage it. What do utilities need to do to keep up with the skills they need in the “New?”
Unlike traditional IT implementations of the past, today’s projects do not often have a definitive end state and are never truly “completed.” Utility organizations are having to get their heads around a new way of operating—a new normal of constantly evolving technology in a disrupted landscape. And in a world where current technology can be obsolete within six to 12 months, how can utilities build the capabilities and skills their people need to manage these solutions? The truth: They can’t. They’ll will need to think in new ways to realize the benefits of these new technologies—partnering across the ecosystem or acquiring skills in unconventional and ultra-flexible ways. Here are some thoughts on the questions utilities should be asking themselves and some potential ways to address them.
Back to basics: What do you want to be when you grow up, and what capabilities does that require?
There’s so much noise around technology itself. But organizations are forgetting that the role of technology is really to deliver on a business strategy (rather than to be cool for its own sake). So what kind of company do you want to be—what’s your north star? What should your operating model be to achieve that goal and what type of technology will help, whether that be cloud, apps, infrastructure or something else?? How fast do you want to move? Once you have those answers, you can define the capabilities you need and pick the most effective solutions to help deliver them using a clear roadmap. For instance, if you move to the cloud, you can take on Salesforce and go agile. Now you’re dedicated to that solution and need to manage it as an owner on the cloud. That means you’ll need new security roles and a new learning plan for all the people involved. And these will need to be incorporated into a coherent organizational design.
Now decide if you’re building capability, outsourcing or something in between.
Many organizations make the mistake of focusing on the technology roadmap and not thinking early enough about building capabilities and skills. You need to plan for people when you plan the technology—and that means doing so much earlier in the game. Think ahead about overlaying a capability plan onto the technology implementation plan to get people ready to sustain it. You may need a learning partner to run the technology while you skill up your own people and then gradually “wean them off” partner support over time. But decide early on if you’re building capability, outsourcing running of the technology or using a managed service until you are ready to take over the running yourself. Be sure you know how you’ll sustain the new solution.
Outsourcing can work well and ease the skilling pressure. Experience tells me many organizations across industries are likely to outsource around 40% of their internal IT operations. And outsourcing may be the pragmatic approach when business survival means going digital, fast. More generally, in this fast-paced context you may need many different ecosystem partners.
Turning to the people: I need new talent…so where do I find the skills I need?
The most obvious answer might be to hire people with the skills you need. But it’s an employee’s market—for example, security skills are in high demand and anyone who has them is almost certainly hired already. So if you can’t secure talent in-house, what do you do? Organizations may be faced with having to acquire startups or other companies to get access to specialist skills. This “acqui-hire” trend is already taking hold across many industries—Accenture research shows up to half of US executives say their organization is likely to acquire a company for this purpose.
And how do I reskill my people for continuous change?
In the New, employees will transition multiple times between roles and technologies. Maybe they’ll start with cloud, then agile, then Salesforce. It’s no longer enough to have a computing science PhD. Because you’ll be working on something totally new and have to become an “apprentice” in that solution in a self-teaching way. You may have to manage an application on-premise (with physical infrastructure) and in the cloud. And whatever you do, it’s iterative, and you’re now your “own consultant,” problem-solving and learning on the job. It’s a new mindset that needs to be supported by new skilling approaches.
How do I secure the investment to train people and how should I do it?
Companies should take the savings generated by things like automation and reinvest them in training and reskilling programs to facilitate e.g., human-machine collaboration—and unlock new sources of value.
Utilities should be thinking about Talent Academies, which can train people up, quickly in each new technology solution. A learning partner organization can run all or some of this setting. And innovative learning approaches can help—augmented and virtual reality can help train people at speed and scale by simulating tasks and stimulating workers. And learning needs to be tailored to new ways of collaborating with technology in the artificial intelligence landscape. A Center of Excellence (CoE) function can be the best approach to defining, managing and adjusting processes and enabling bots and employees to deliver on them. This may involve creating new performance dashboards to look holistically at how well bots are delivering on the intended process and outcomes and to understand the health of automation activities.
Above all, new technologies are challenging the boundary between utilities’ IT organization and the HR function, with fluid and flexible skilling and training methods key to success. Organizations that thrive in the New will understand that capabilities must match up to technology—and that engaging HR as a trusted partner early in the game will be a key lever for success.