Water treatment Digital Solutions Americas Will Sarni

Will Sarni: Digital transformation needs a workplace revolution

Will Sarni
Thursday, 23 July 2020

Technology doesn’t sell itself

Digital water technologies are here to stay and will only increase in adoption. The digital transformation of the water sector was taking off before the pandemic, yet this unprecedented event has been a trend accelerator.

However, now more than ever, it is too easy to fall in love with innovations and believe that the technology will “sell itself”.

As full disclosure, personally I am very bullish on digital water technologies. I have a tendency to fall in love with technologies first and then double back and ask the important questions regarding the business model, team and strategy. While improving, this remains a work in progress! The major challenge the utility and industrial sectors face when adopting new technologies is centred on the ability of the workforce to capture the full value of digital technology. To accept moving past the status quo, it requires a culture of the enterprise.

People and processes; not technology

Adopting digital technologies requires a clear alignment with business strategy, leadership commitment and ensuring the workforce has the capabilities, training and agility needed.

There are multiple examples where digital technologies were not adopted or failed to deliver their full value to the customer for the reasons cited above.

One of the best sources of research and insights on digital transformation is The Technology Fallacy. I often cite this book as a must-read to understand how utilities and the private sector can embrace digital transformation.

“Organisations need to understand their digital DNA to stop doing digital and start being digital.”

The book lays out why an organisation's response to digital disruption should focus on people and processes and not necessarily on technology. Based on my experience, the most important conclusions from the research include:

  1. Digital disruption is primarily about people, and that effective digital transformation involves changes to organisational dynamics and how work gets done

  2. Every organisation needs to understand its “digital DNA” in order to stop “doing digital” and start “being digital.”

Building absorptive capacity

Other key takeaways from digitally mature organisations are provided below, based on my interview with book co-author, friend and former Deloitte colleague, Jonathan Copulsky.

  • Absorptive capabilities (the ability to identify new innovations).
    • The ability of an organisation to absorb new technologies: building absorptive capacity and improve the velocity of internal information flows.
    • The knowing-doing gap: the need to get better about knowing what's out there and doing something about it.
  • Affordances (how to determine the value of technology in terms of how it is put to use).
    • Sometimes we have technologies that we don't quite know how to handle
    • Organisations need to experiment (pilot) with technologies to find out what value they can get out of technology.
  • Digital agility
    • Organisations need to be good at testing, learning and scaling fast
    • Develop business cases after doing the test on a small enough scale, so the price isn't inhibiting to repeat the experience
    • Organisations that are digitally mature not only test more, but they scale better.
  • Talent magnets
    • Digitally mature organisations hire people that have the appetite for learning and give them the opportunity to learn.
    • Successful and digitally mature organisations attract and retain talent.

Will Sarni

Will Sarni

Water Foundry

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