Ways of working: enabling digital by putting capability and people first

Many organisations are moving towards digitalising environments with the right operating model, digital literacy and capability-build essential for success.

By Director Guy Beaumont and Senior Consultant Hannah Grealish

Around the world, 2020 saw a seismic shift in the way people connect, work, control and communicate, with many businesses not just digitising their processes (moving existing processes into the digital systems) but moving towards digitalising their whole environment.

Despite these recent changes, fear and scepticism of what digital means to traditional project environments remains across the infrastructure sector. Inertia persists, with organisations often preferring to stick with what is comfortable and familiar – but ultimately less productive. This historic inertia has meant that infrastructure remains one of the poorest performing industries in terms of productivity.

But there are real gains to be made by embracing digital solutions and technology. For example, digitally-enabled environments are one way of adopting manufacturing style productivity levels and also address integrated whole-life asset solutions and fast-paced delivery. They enable a more real-time, retrospective style of governance and enable work to flow much faster. While these environments are heavily supported by technology (by centralising information or data), more importantly, digital enables people to add and gain value when they interact with it.

Ultimately, digitally-enabled environments focus on combining software and technology to link data, functions and assets – creating a single asset lifecycle approach with digital versions of physical assets; digital twins.

Keeping pace with digital evolution

Embracing digital can be challenging and this is only exacerbated by the constant evolution in what defines digitally-enabled, the plethora of technologies and the need to consult supply chains when adopting it. To make an impactful change requires multiple functions to integrate their processes, governance and reporting. This not only requires an understanding across these functions, but it also requires the need – and want – for this to happen.

Our experience highlights that organisations can be overwhelmed by the options and fundamental changes required, and often choose to just digitise their existing processes as this is more easily understood. There are also frequent concerns around the potential for new processes and systems to cause disruption to delivery, their future fitness for purpose, how the supply chain could work with them and ultimately, the change in how traditional functions will work together in a digitally-enabled environment.

Our interviews throughout 2020 found organisations that are experiencing or likely to encounter challenges in adopting digital typically:

  • Have an assumption that digital is about technology and software, or that the responsibility and accountability for technology sits solely with the IT department
  • View digital systems as ‘something I have to use’ rather than ‘something integral to my role’ or ‘something I want to use’
  • See a clear divide between individuals who administer digital systems and those who benefit from their outcomes
  • Lack understanding of how systems can be used to their full potential
  • Lack trust in new technologies or digital approaches and fear digital will harm individuals’ roles or make them redundant
  • Collect, store and use data in functional silos within organisations or supply chains, resulting in inconsistent reporting and varying levels of information and data sources
  • Lack leadership and transparency across organisational levels, including leadership, management and delivery
  • Are not adopting systems or using them at expected levels
  • Lack understanding about the types of decisions or operations that data can be used for.
  • Think it is just about digitising how they work today

The importance of digital capability and people

Digital should not be regarded as a ‘silver bullet’ solution that we unbox, plug in and play and it is not driven solely by investing in new technologies and systems. It requires building capability and a different cultural style across the digital platforms and in the way people work, so that workforces are better prepared for change. It is also about preventing the old ways being re-adopted as it is about creating new ways of working.

Example: 100% of leaders interviewed in one organisation want a people-first approach to digital. 18 senior leaders from a transport company were interviewed to gain an understanding of what they wanted to achieve from digitally-enabled ways of working in the future. All those interviewed said developing capability in people, ways of working and engagement were the focus – not technology itself.

To build digital capability and create a digitally enabled environment, organisations or major projects teams should consider three core areas:

1. Review processes to build understanding

Building understanding will improve digital capability. This can be done by:

  • Challenging approaches to traditional skills: Deep technical skills that are highly detail-focused and technical are highly valued – but must be combined with behaviours or skill development that stimulate ‘growth mindsets’ and the willingness to learn. That means putting more focus on pursuing and nurturing teams that have high ‘learning quotients’, are motivated to pursue new knowledge, and have an intrinsic ability to learn quickly.
  • Building the digital capability formally: Create capability and confidence in using digital tools – at every level of the organisation or supply chain through training and by integrating digital specialists within teams. Further, to enable a digitalised solution that integrates multiple functions there must be understanding and alignment of the functional data, processes and governance. This requires leader-led change, where leaders understand the functions being integrated and can help align working approaches into a technology-based solution.
  • Engaging the supply chain to understand their digital maturity: The supply chain is ultimately an extension of any business where the work is outsourced either fully or in an integrated manner. By understanding suppliers’ existing digital capability and ways of working, businesses can build an operating model that integrates best with their supply chain and incentivises suppliers to share data or adopt digital platforms.

Example for a transport operator: The transport operator defined digital as key to breaking down their hierarchy and empowering every individual to take responsibility for driving digital. This resulted in four lenses of their digital vision: digital engineering, digital project management, digital construction and digital operations. These are not specific to divisions, teams or disciplines but rather they articulate the connection between parts of the project lifecycle, including how physical and information assets are designed, developed and put to use.

2. Understand the difference between digitisation and digitalisation

Organisations often get confused between these two terms:

  • Digitisation: the process and its outputs without fundamentally altering the process itself. For example: capturing site inspection notes using an app on a tablet rather than using a paper form.
  • Digitalisation: use of digital technologies to change an existing model and provide new value-producing opportunities. For example: using remote sensing technology to continually inspect operations negating the need for periodic human inspection

Example in an international hub airport: Digitisation pre-2020: development of apps to enable live input of data for airside projects and live reporting and updates for the whole team. Digitalisation 2020+: development of a digital roadmap for the airport to reimagine operational approaches and explore future investment requirements.

In 2020, our conversations with organisations globally revealed that short-term digitisation actions have improved digital capability in workforces and given confidence that work can be done digitally by those previously unwilling to change.

While both digital enablement forms are important, digitalisation creates the most impactful change and requires both cultural and capability advancement, enabling different functions to work together and create a common outcome. This is much harder to do in a physical environment but by thinking differently and creating an integrated digitalised solution, much greater value can be achieved. As organisations look at new operating approaches, they are focusing on how to digitalise at an organisational level. Priority areas are:

  • Looking at system-wide operating models and how digital can help do things differently. For example, organisations are looking at how volumes of data can be used more efficiently to enable more agile and continual progressive governance and assurance – moving away from arbitrary linear stage gate reviews. Areas being explored are people and supply chain capability, organisational purpose and vision, processes and operations, data, technology and digital products. The focus is on the organisation’s ability to analyse accurate information efficiently on a real-time or retrospective basis rather than blocking the workflow via large governance groups.
  • Better predicting challenges and asking big picture questions. Leadership teams are looking beyond what data sources are available through existing reporting/systems and exploring what the bigger questions are that they are trying to answer. Connected to this is how they can then get accurate answers in real time, every time and how they can keep learning from their actions.
  • Considering the whole life of major projects and progressively building structured information models that support the development of digital twins. Digital twins can be used to analyse data such as carbon, stakeholder, safety and service information, in addition to typical asset and usage information – helping asset operators to manage asset performance and user experience in near-time.
  • Looking at government agendas to understand changes to business case requirements or regulations that will require new ways of working or delivery approaches. Organisations are looking at work done by groups such as UK industry initiative Project 13’s Digital Transformation workstream, which is providing guidance and tools to understand readiness and factors for consideration as part of the digitisation journey.

Example in a major rail programme: a digitisation strategy was a part of the organisation’s core culture. It was decided that the digitisation strategy would not focus on tools, such as building information modelling (BIM), augmented reality, or blockchain. Instead, digital transformation prioritised the way the organisation approached its work and its people. For example, rather than give everyone a document to read, teams were actively engaged, which fast-tracked understanding and built relationships between users and those building the strategy.

3. Map your digital gap to grow capability long term

The digital gap is the difference between where organisations or major projects are now, and where they want to be. Too often it is seen as too difficult/timely/costly to cross the gap but there is a model for bridging the digital gap:

a) Confront: Create the overarching target operating model to enable the alignment of the workflow across functions and undertake a digital maturity assessment to get under the skin of what is holding back your digital journey and where you need to start. This will enable organisations to prioritise what to address and align this with corporate objectives so that change does not happen in isolation. Our experience shows that being transparent with people about your level of maturity and what you aim to do to transform is important, and ultimately helps plan for capability building.

b) Make it achievable: Convert the integrated operating model and steps into a series of holistic lifecycle roadmaps, integrating the functional flows and detailing exactly what initiatives you are going to deliver and why these will work best. Supporting this, organisations must thoroughly understand their stakeholders, the impact on them and what is needed to bring them on the journey. Implementation must be supported by a team who will deliver the initiatives with enthusiasm, focus and inclusivity, and be supported by regularly checking progress and understanding to ensure plans don’t steer off course or lose support.

c) Human and digital hand in hand: Convert the organisation lifecycle roadmap into bite-size digital solutions that all link back together and enable the adoption of digital systems and mindsets from CEO to graduate. The more digitally enabled organisations will be confident and capable of using well configured digital tools, and ready to adopt new technologies or ways of working if required.

This model provides a foundation for becoming digitally enabled. For it to succeed it must be supported by critical factors including a clear business case, roadmap of change, investment, leadership, top-down commitment and use of specialists. The model also requires investment in technology that meets the clear objectives of the organisation or supply chain.

Key recommendations for digitally enabled working

Organisations can do a lot to commence a more digitally enabled way of working and now is the time to embrace new ways of working. To start on the journey leaders must:

Understand the desire for digital and appetite for change

  • Survey and interview your teams and supply chain to understand their preconceptions, fears, abilities, and aspirations around digital. Identify the opportunities or quick wins you can exploit and key challenges you might face longer term.
  • Take time to explain the art of the possible and excite. Leadership and management levels should not delegate this to others – if you are not excited, or can’t explain it, how can users be confident?
  • For supply chains, understand their digital maturity and aspirations. How can you help provide value and support their digital aspiration?

Create a clear operating model roadmap

  • Map out the target operating model and blend the functions into the asset lifecycle. Understand if this needs to integrate with other business lifecycles (e.g. operational lifecycle or the people lifecycle)
  • Create key digital solutions to deliver the asset lifecycle solution and look for global referencing and benchmarking. Break the work into bite-size solutions areas integrated through the asset lifecycle roadmap

Benchmark your digital adoption maturity

  • Use a Digital Maturity Assessment framework to understand the depth and breadth of digital capabilities across your organisation and/or your supply chain. Benchmark yourself and the extent of your digitally-enabled environment against other similar organisations or programmes. Go further and benchmark against other industries to see what best practice may be relevant.
  • Identify the realistic priorities relative to your near, medium and longer term objectives. Gradually move from ‘doing digital’ to ‘being digital’.

Build a digital capability programme

  • Build understanding through internal or supplier programmes to educate, inspire and create understanding. ‘Unconscious incompetence’ can mean that digital is held back through inconsistent or out of date understanding by people.
  • Adapt processes that are used day-to-day to promote more digital working. Simple digitisation of existing processes or tasks builds confidence in teams and improves productivity. It is also a foundation for developing a digitalisation strategy and operating approach.

Identify early adopters and those with a ‘growth mindset’

  • Identify individuals and teams who are the most adaptive and actively problem solve. These individuals will be early adopters of digital. Encourage early adopters to be ‘digital culture carriers’ by allowing them to become super users and recognising their behaviours. Create a system of support whereby they help others adopt digital, as this will prevent ‘us and them’ issues from developing.
  • Review recruitment, performance measurement and line management processes. Ensure that they are reflective of ‘growth mindsets’ and focused on both technical and learning skills.

Take the leap – and include your supply chain

  • Engage and commit supply chain partners to making digital a part of the way they work. For example, understand what they value and their capability, and collectively build a strategy that provides value, builds skills and enables productivity.
  • Have clear priorities as a result of your Digital Maturity Assessment and put the focus, capability and investment behind making it happen. Small steps will help organisations progress from ‘doing’ to ‘being’.

For further information contact:

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