Digital Transformation • May 6, 2020

3 Cultural Factors to Consider During a Digital Transformation

iBase-t Experts

3 Cultural Factors to Consider During a Digital Transformation

Most discussion about digital transformation is focused on the systems involved: The software, the hardware, and the processes that must be changed to enable the digital enterprise. Much focus is invested in the need to unify Information Technology (IT) with operations technologies (OT) yet often the biggest challenge is getting employees to think differently to embrace change. As you evaluate your digital transformation journey, this article will present three cultural factors to consider that will help improve employee adoption and accelerate the timeframe for implementing change at your organization.

Earlier this year when we were all attending in-person events, ARC Advisory Group hosted their annual industry forum where this topic was presented. Paul Miller pointed out in a recent article based on observations from that event how the cultural divide is just as important to traverse as any systems disconnect between IT and OT.

The larger the company, the greater the challenge. With so many functional silos spread out over geographical regions, there is little understanding or collaboration between IT departments and operations. Consequently, they tend to interact poorly when forced to do so as part of strategic digitalization initiatives ordered by management. IT, for example, might be asked to select a new tool to be used by both the IT group and operations. But without adequate collaboration, IT may face an uphill battle trying to achieve broad adoption of that tool.

This article Why is Industrial Transformation so Difficult? provides further insights into the challenges associated with digital transformation.

Here are three cultural factors to consider that might help to streamline your digital transformation program.

1. Establish a Common Language

Cultural transformation starts with a common language. Given the amount of change that your organization will be subject to, it makes sense to think about a new language to describe how your “new” organization will operate and be measured for success.

This is not suggesting that a whole new set of terms and phrases must be made up. Rather, be aware as you discuss new programs and what will be involved with the implementation, to consider modifying traditional terms, borrowing from across the organization, or even coming up with a couple of new ones. What is important is for employees to see that one group is not necessarily calling all the shots. Instead, the company is going through a change and everyone is impacted. This philosophy will help to avoid turf battles and open new possibilities for how to overcome new challenges in different ways.

2. Create Cross-Functional Teams

While it may seem like extra work, the establishment of new teams with representatives from across all departments in the company will go a long way to gaining acceptance of the findings and recommendations necessary for the new culture that will emerge. This activity can open the door to IT and operations finding common ground and set of terminology.

From there, each can put more time into learning the intricacies of the other’s domain. These new joint teams can then be able to institute innovation from the group of members with the responsibility to build tools and platforms to move forward the digital migration. The mutual trust engendered by a cohesive culture will have greater success in bringing together the necessary level of cooperation, starting by breaking down any silos that may exist. The domain knowledge resident in each group will be shared to enable them to partner more effectively to solve the business and operational challenges the organization faces.

3. Set New Expectations

It is not common for past misunderstandings to linger, contributing to faulty perceptions about a “rival” group over time. Each side has a perception of how “other” departments operate. This can bring about a lack of trust in their actions. It can go as far as each side has no idea how the other operates in the real world, what it does, or the technologies and disciplines involved.

After all, the world of IT is quite different in many ways from OT. What works well when deploying desktop software throughout the enterprise may not have broad applicability on the roll-out of software on the factory floor. Each party, therefore, needs to be willing to take the time to understand how things function on the other side of the table. Without the attainment of mutual understanding, any assumptions made should be regarded with suspicion. Such assumptions may well lie behind earlier breakdowns when IT/OT meetings descended into recriminations and finger-pointing.

Despite the current downturn in production, now represents an important time for digital transformation programs to continue forward. Now is an opportunity to bring cultural dissonance to the surface – a new common challenge must be overcome by all. There is nothing like a common enemy to bring unlikely alliances together.

Now is a good time to begin the process of bringing IT and OT together to discuss and resolve differences in approach, technology, and terminology. Training and education programs can be started that can set the stage for much faster digital transformation when budgets are back in place to order the systems and software that is an integral part of the digital enterprise.

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