Digital transformation requires people with an appetite for disruption

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By Brett Roberts

Digital transformation involves using digital technologies – such as the web, cloud, mobile, social media, the Internet of Things and analytics-driven personalisation – to re-shape and improve customer interactions, business models and financial returns. An important focus area is the provision and ongoing enhancement of customer experiences that are multi-channel, data-driven and digitally-enabled.

Ideally, such changes allow organisations to embrace and exploit the exponential rate of technological change for the benefit of themselves and their customers. This often entails a shift in organisational ‘rhythm’ away from a steady, sustained marathon-like jog towards something that more closely resembles orienteering.

The agents of digital change

In a sense, the Datacom Digital, Customers and Collaboration team is at the sharp end of digital transformation. Put simply, we exist to enable digital business: everything from web design and build, mobile innovation and app development to implementing data analytics, business intelligence, Customer Relationship Management and collaboration technologies, such as Microsoft SharePoint.

As you would expect, we help customers with technology design, build, deployment and management, and deliver related big picture strategic advice and consultancy. We understand the critical roles these play, but a major part of what we do is help organisations to operationalise digital innovation – i.e. make transformation ‘stick’.

Time and time again, we’ve found that the single most important factor for long-term success is the people within the organisation. They operationalise the new technologies and processes; the enhanced customer experience. They need to adopt, embody and express the new mindset that accepts and embraces the new world of constant, or at least hastened, change.

This means that, wherever you start on your digital transformation, you should focus on your people first and foremost. A new Datacom white paper, available free for download here, examines the implications of this and provides guidance on how to do it. It focuses on four people-related areas: recruitment, leadership, change management and culture. Below is an excerpt from the paper, on recruitment.

An appetite for disruption

Hiring the best candidates is a perpetual challenge, full of risk and opportunity. If you take the best, then your competition is left with the rest – and vice versa. But in the new digital world, the best people may not be who you are looking for or who you already have on board.

Lean Startup author, Eric Ries, said: “The modern rule of competition is whoever learns fastest, wins.” In other words, you need to recruit smart people who you can teach to do anything, and who can thrive amid disruption. You need people with varied, hybrid abilities. You might think this means hiring a cohort of digitally-minded Millennials, but digital skills can be taught. What you are after is rarer: attitude on top of aptitude – which can exist in people of all ages.

For example, my team regularly interviews candidates for senior developer roles. We look for technical proficiency, of course, but favour people with the ability to have an engaging conversation with a customer about their business issues over those who are more technically skilled but unable to talk outside their domain.

In general, we look for a broader mix of skills within the ideal candidate, and a growth mindset. This means they are mentally flexible, a fast learner, comfortable with uncertainty, accepting of the need to take risks and experiment – and fail sometimes – in order to succeed and grow. They are able to stand up for themselves, but recognise, and run with, better ideas. They collaborate and communicate well, and have empathy for their customers, colleagues, partners and suppliers.

They can sit in a room with a customer and others for a week and work with them to design, build and test a prototype application that the customer takes to their Board and gets approval to fully implement. In our accelerating, digital business world, this kind of rapid ideation and prototyping activity is becoming commonplace, even core business for many organisations – and applicable to all manner of product or service innovation – making the diverse attributes described above more mission-critical every day. It’s how my team and others at Datacom work, on many projects.

Shifting demands

There is an interesting macro trend at play here – a contradiction: the more digital businesses become, the less they need people with traditional IT skills. As the example above shows, there are plenty of roles for highly technical people in specialist firms like Datacom. But as business (and consumer) technology becomes easier to use, more automated, provided as-a-Service, and so on, the need for deep technical knowledge and skills within other types of businesses recedes. If these skills and services are required, then organisations can call on the specialists.

Conversely, the need for people who can leverage new digital technology to learn faster, work more productively, be more creative, and come up with new innovations and solutions and run with them, is exploding. And if you bring in people with an expansive, flexible attitude and these skills, then you will help your organisation to foster a digital mindset and culture.

For more guidance on, or help with, making digital transformation succeed, please contact us on digital@datacom.co.nz.

Brett Roberts is Associate Director for Digital, Customers and Collaboration at Datacom. 

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