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Culture and recruitment just as important as technology in digital transformation success

(Image credit: Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock)

Ahead of this year’s Digital Transformation EXPO Manchester, James McGough, Managing Director at Imago Techmedia Group – the organisers behind DTX Manchester, discusses how the right people and company culture is just as important as the technology investments when undergoing digital transformation.

Digital transformation has created a buzz in the business world for the last few years, with organisations of all sizes striving to undergo the process in one form or another.

Perceived by many organisations as a positive process for their business, digital transformation projects have proven to increase both business growth and confidence. However, fears around data storage on cloud systems and the growing concerns of security breaches are also common. Therefore, Chief Technology Officers (CTOs) and IT Leaders are under increased pressure to ensure that the implementation of these projects are both safe, secure, and successful.

As of January 2019, 80 per cent of UK businesses were going through some form of digital transformation process, and so, it is no surprise that many questions have arisen since. With 78 per cent of digital transformation projects not meeting their outlined objects, the question is why has this happened and how can businesses rectify any problems? 

Making sense of the technology

There are several reasons why some digital transformation projects struggle to get off the ground or have their intended impact. These include underestimating the complexity of the task, lacking a clearly defined road map, or having unreasonable expectations and poor organisational structure/culture. So, there’s a disconnect between the idea of digital transformation and how it works in principle.

Naturally, any organisation going through a digital transformation must incorporate an element of technology. But there is not enough work being done upfront to establish which technology will provide the right solution for the desired result. This puts CTOs in a difficult position when it comes to planning and implementation.

From my experience, many organisations are trying to implement services which are not fit for purpose. During our recent research study, we found businesses associated the following technologies with digital transformation: cloud services (51 per cent), cybersecurity (46 per cent), artificial intelligence (49 per cent), modern networks and infrastructure (42 per cent), and data analytics (30 per cent). But these solutions are not always relevant to the majority of organisations. This is because many businesses don’t yet have the necessary infrastructure or data to support AI, but, on the other hand, even the smallest of sole traders could benefit from RPA or intelligent automation. Your business is like no other, so make sure you know what your end goal is and what technology is going to get you there with the resources you have available to you.

One of the largest investment areas continues to be cloud. Cloud-based services have formed the backbone of digital transformation because they offer a network for companies to access collectively, at any time, and from anywhere in the world. With more and more employees wanting to work flexibly or completely remotely, many organisations are trying to implement these solutions to gain, and retain, the best talent. But, usually, cloud-based solutions aren’t a one-size-fits-all service, especially to SMEs. Cloud-based systems work far better when they are built specifically for the organisation it is servicing. So, make sure you choose a provider that understands and meets your needs.

The ongoing impact of the skills gap

With the implementation of any new technology, there needs to be a skilled operative in the background making sure it’s working correctly. For instance, if a new cloud server goes down, your whole operation goes down with it. So, you need to make sure you have the right team around you to get any breakdowns fixed as soon as possible to keep business ticking over. But this isn’t as simple as it sounds. The industry is growing significantly and there is a considerable skills gap, with 90 per cent of organisations reporting a lack of skills in multiple cloud disciplines. So, while the jobs are out there, businesses are struggling to recruit for them.

Data science and cybersecurity fields are also seeing drastic skills shortages. In the last 12 months, there has been several reports of businesses being brought to their knees due to a data hack or security breach. Therefore, in this ever-changing and developing world, it’s essential your team has the skills and expertise to effectively manage any solution which is implemented as part of the digital transformation, if not you could end up with more issues than you started with.

But, it’s not time to throw the towel in yet. Organisations across the UK are on a mission to encourage the younger generations into technology and digital careers in efforts to curb this skills gap. Efforts such as an increased number of tech-based apprenticeships and government funding are also promising. Although we see a shortage now, it’s only a matter of time before we have fully-qualified technology experts joining the workforce.

Mobilise the change

Research has shown if change management efforts fail, it’s because outdated models and change techniques are fundamentally misaligned with the constantly changing business environment. To combat this, businesses must have a robust change management infrastructure in place to effectively deliver digital transformation.

There are several key factors that must implemented by CTOs when it comes to change management. These include: preparation, definition of requirements, the design phase – including the selection of the right solutions, the building phase, the test phase, and finally the launch. To ensure this procedure is a success, all these elements involve the adequate resources, attention, and awareness from those at the top.

With this in mind, those mobilising the change must remember organisations are made of individuals each with their own agendas, interests, and end-goals. Instead of trying to force a culture where you must persuade people why they should change as a collective, look at what the end-goal is of each department and why digital transformation will help them achieve this. Not only will this approach build an effective company culture, but it will also ensure holistic buy-in from all parties.

The new era of digital transformation

We have seen several successful digital transformation schemes that have put people and the business’ culture at the heart of the process, over recent years. One key example is the NHS’ introduction of NHSX for oversight of NHS Digital.

NHSX’s key responsibilities were to: create coordination and consistency – establishing best practice across the whole NHS technology, digital, and data policies; support the use of emerging and technologies; establish cybersecurity standards to protect valuable data; champion and develop digital training, skills and culture; and deliver an efficient process for technology spend, domain name management, and website security.

The result is the creation of a solution that is fit for all purposes. It has also ensured each and every member of the organisation is trained sufficiently in order to implement this transformation, no matter what their business role is. Taking this approach and building a clear structure and culture where all parties are involved and informed, means the NHS has successfully delivered one of the largest digital transformation initiatives to date.

Ensuring a successful future

It’s clear digital transformation works well when there is investment in the people and culture behind it, it’s unrealistic to rely solely on technology to solve all the problems. Therefore, it’s essential for CTOs to ensure their organisations understand the importance of the company culture and people, alongside the need to implement the right technology to produce the end-goal.

Ultimately, businesses must work collectively to ensure the success of the company’s future, whether this is through the purchasing of the right technology, the hiring of staff who can facilitate any change, or establishing a culture which is open to change.

We’ll be answering any questions regarding the digital transformation processes and discussing how to effectively implement digital transformation in your business, no matter what your size, at this year’s Digital Transformation EXPO Manchester, 25-26 March, at Manchester Central. Find out more about the event, here.

James McGough, Managing Director, Imago Techmedia Group