Is effective change management the key to a successful digital transformation?

Posted on 22 Apr 2019 by Jonny Williamson

An expert panel at Industrial Data Summit 2019 explored the common change management pain points associated with digital transformation and advised businesses on how they could overcome or eliminate them.

The digital transformation of manufacturing poses new and unique challenges to businesses, particularly around how to successfully and sustainably manage the change.

Tackling these challenges head-on was a core focus at this year’s lively Industrial Data Summit which took place at London’s Mary Ward House in April.

The Summit was deftly chaired by Gerard Bartley, global master data manager at international coffee and tea business Jacobs Douwe Egberts. He also chaired the day’s expert panel discussion, which comprised:

  • Andrew Wall – head of project data management, Airbus Defence and Space
  • Juan Villa – systems integration manager, SEM Ltd
  • Suresh Daniel – data & architecture integration director, Coats

Executives gathered to discuss how best to take advantage of and leverage the power of digital technology at Industrial Data Summit 2019.

When it comes to successfully aligning an organisation around digital transformation, what is the one key piece of advice you’d offer?

Andrew Wall: Secure engagement and sponsorship from senior executives and/or the board, as well as the wider workforce – What’s in it for them? How will it make their job easier and more rewarding?

Juan Villa: Aligned to that, make sure you have a sponsor or champion within teams who deeply care about the project and will help drive momentum on the ground.

Suresh Daniel: Make sure your plans have concrete links to the overall objectives of the business, and ensure you know what ‘good’ looks like and have suitable metrics to measure success.

Should these digital initiatives be driven from the top-down or bottom-up?

AW: People often expect this to come from the top, but increasingly a bottom-up approach is paying dividends. At Airbus Defence and Space, for example, we currently have around 80 digital continuity pilots being instigated and driven at the coal face. However, that’s not to say that executive sponsorship of their endeavours isn’t vital.

SD: It’s difficult to say, it’s not that binary. There can be a conflict in priorities between the board and the front-line workforce which need to be managed and overcome.

JV: I would say from the bottom-up, but they need to be based on actual business needs with a clear idea of potential ROI.

Communication is crucial for effective change management, what tips can you offer?

SD: We’ve seen a lot of success through ‘Influence Metrics’. Use them to identify everyone within your organisation who’s influential, bring them onboard and get them to be your champions of change. One thing we’ve noticed is that different regions in a global organisation may have varying priorities, so try to be pragmatic and plan ahead.

JV: For many people, change represents something to be wary of. Keep your communications positive, focus on the opportunities and rewards and make sure you listen to what your workers are telling you. Find the time to support your teams and be there for them.

AW: There will always be some form of fallout from change, be that big or small; acknowledge that and plan accordingly. It’s also useful to build a certain level of flexibility into your project delivery timeline to accommodate any missed deadlines or milestones.

Panel Discussion Change Management - Executives gathered to discuss how best to take advantage of and leverage the power of digital technology at Industrial Data Summit 2019.

Your organisations are all undergoing a digital transformation, what difficulties have you experienced so far on your journeys?

AW: There will always be a person or department that tries to stonewall progress. Airbus overcame that by running workshops which got participants to identify reasons why we shouldn’t change, we then worked through them all together. We certainly saw an increase in engagement and buy-in as a result.

SD: You need a comprehensive communications plan which has good punchlines, statements and reasons to engage. Ultimately, you’re trying to sell a story, so use some marketing. Convince yourself of the inter-organisational benefits and then share them with others. Get other people to do the same.

JV: Try to be aware of dead-ends. We’ve all gone down the wrong path; that’s not a problem if you react accordingly in a timely fashion and learn from the experience.

Once businesses have begun their digital transformation, how can they sustain momentum?

AW: Engage your HR department and recruit for the future. What skills and talents will you need moving forward? Are you attracting and recruiting people who will question traditional approaches, bring new perspectives and help deliver positive change?

SD: People, fundamentally, don’t like change. Try and make your change as fool-proof as possible by using metrics to measure progress and results. Are employees actually making use of the new technologies, systems and processes you’ve implemented? What are their motivations for doing so? Could you ‘gamify’ adoption, make a competition out of it, to try and drive higher engagement?

Top three reasons the panel believes digital transformation budgets are cut short:

  1. Lack of demonstrable ROI
  2. Not tied to wider organisational goals/objectives
  3. Quick wins / Early efficiency gains aren’t shared