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June 17, 2019
Reworking the workforce for digital transformation
By: Candice Ferrales

It’s increasingly clear that to survive in business, companies—including utilities—must become digital organizations, and fast. We are in the midst of a technology revolution, with automation, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud, security and others moving in leaps and bounds over recent years. And due to the speed of technology, it’s natural for organizations to focus heavily on implementation—getting the systems they need in place, now, to keep up with the competition. But where does that leave the organization and its employees, particularly its IT workforce? Are they ready for this new wave? And will utilities be able to realize the benefits of their new systems if they neglect them once they are in place? (Hint: no!)

It’s time to talk less about the tech, and more about people.

Organizations needs to change—but how and when?

As technology changes, the organization must also transform. But transform to what, and how do they get there? Increasingly, I see businesses with a very busy IT roadmap ahead—for example, with lots of automation or AI projects on the go. They feel under pressure to do everything now, in parallel, all delivered within similar timeframes. But to stand a chance of success, leaders must understand what it means culturally to run a new IT model—and what new capabilities and skills will be needed within its existing IT function and beyond.

To succeed in this time of rapid change, I counsel clients to plan early for the capability mix they’ll need. That means planning both the IT strategy and the people strategy side by side from the very outset. And don’t imagine an organization can design a new operating model and then ignore it. My clients are already finding they need to think iteratively—making constant adjustments to their structures and ways of working in an agile way, multiple times, as their IT maturity develops further.

IT organization boundaries are falling away

What is the role of the IT organization to “deliver digital” and how does that transform IT as a function?

The “as-is” role of the IT function has worked well up to this point. The business defines a strategic requirement—for example, to generate cost efficiencies through a financial transformation that involves implementing a new finance system. The technology is then selected as an enabler to generate a set of envisaged benefits and implemented in a proven way with an existing build/buy, test, run approach. And the business at large is mostly been a passive recipient of IT—for example, receiving a new email tool and being trained to use it.

But all of a sudden the business wants to “do automation”—because it’s the next big thing. But IT doesn’t have this in the plan and now they’re expecting to accelerate and deliver something new, fast and outside their normal processes.

And the relationships get complicated as well. A scenario I’ve seen is this: the business decides it’s “doing automation” on its own and “doesn’t need IT.” They select their own vendors and make their own plans. But then, once the implementation is done, they expect the IT function to own and maintain the vendor relationship and the technology—despite their having had no say in the choices made earlier in the journey.

Often what falls by the wayside are the processes, which are the most vital part. Let’s say the business wants to automate a process using a bot. Why do they want to do that? It’s because the original manual process didn’t work—and they’re hoping that a bot will fix everything. But if the process isn’t right, the shiny new bot will just continue using the broken process. So here’s how I recommend companies proceed:

  1. Design the “to-be” process clearly.

  2. Design the way the bot will deliver on that process.

  3. Plan for how the process will be managed and sustained.

New skilling is key

I think one of the most underestimated elements of the “New IT” world is skilling and job definitions at the individual level. Human/machine collaboration is shaking up how we delineate roles and tasks, and breaking things down to a very granular level in some instances. How do we prepare? Some recent Accenture research paints an interesting picture: around two-thirds of workers consider it important/very important to learn new skills to work with intelligent technologies. But only 3% of executives say they intend to significantly increase investment in training and reskilling programs in the next three years.

In my work with clients, I see people in the IT function and beyond changing in the way they are going to need to behave and perform. Let’s say you’re working in IT. You’re implementing something new your boss isn’t skilled to manage; there aren’t many people around you with the skills to help you. You come up against a problem—what are you going to do? You’re going to have to become your own problem-solver, your own fixer. Because your boss can’t solve it and you will need to find a way to learn and solve at the same time. This raises the bar considerably—because you are essentially being asked to be your own consultant. For some, this will be a big shift.

How talent management needs to change

Automation, analytics and AI are hitting the mainstream. If you’re managing employee performance, what’s the talent strategy for your bot (that’s going to need a name)? What are its performance objectives for the year? And still trickier, does its performance plan sit in IT or HR? Managing talent of all types (human and artificial) will be uncharted territory but something companies will need to navigate.

If you think early about talent and workforce as part of your digital transformation, you stand a much better chance of success in the long term.

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