How to deal with the cultural and technological challenges of transformation

How to deal with the cultural and technological challenges of transformation

Lendlease and Willow execs discuss their journeys

Lendlease's Ciaran Hennessy (centre): Uses multiple methods from internal digital literacy uplift to talking about digital technology at board level to help build the right culture.

Lendlease's Ciaran Hennessy (centre): Uses multiple methods from internal digital literacy uplift to talking about digital technology at board level to help build the right culture.

Credit: David Thompson Photography

There is one brutal truth about any digital transformation project: if you don’t get your culture right during and after the process, you are most certainly going to fail. In other words, if your staff or board members are not along for the ride, you’ll be in a world of transformation pain.

“Culture is, frankly, everything,” says Will Sessions, chief information officer at smart building technology provider, Willow.

Willow is helping to digitise the real estate and construction industries, which are usually slow to roll out technologies that support transformation. The company rebranded in April after it merged with Ridley, a technology firm known for its digitisation of buildings with specialist skills in architecture and engineering.

He says Willow has had a mostly positive experience with transformation but it hasn’t been without its hurdles.

“I make sure I take the time to meet with as many people as possible from the organisation, understand what they do, how they use technology, what blockers they have and what they need from me to be successful.

“By working closely with all levels of the business, not only is there a deep level of understanding…there is then the personal aspect which helps to build a culture of candor, openness and respect,” he says.

This means the IT group gains an understanding at the deepest levels as to what each department is trying to achieve and what they need from a technology perspective to be successful, Sessions says.

“In turn, the business understands from IT what initiatives are in place to help them, why one core technology may have been selected over another and, in most cases, buy into and help advocate IT initiatives.”

Since 2017, Willow has transformed its team, product offerings and focus on product, particularly within the US market, says Sessions.

He says the organisation has set a clear directive that it uses the right tool for the right job. For that reason, there are no restrictions in place for what tools can be made available.

“In fact, we encourage users to come to us with ideas and suggestions for what technologies or apps should be part of our offering. We still have processes and hard requirements such as security prerequisites and for the ability to interconnect data points. As a result, we find our users are far more engaged and willing to work with us as opposed to working in the shadows. Now, our developers, product owners and managers can address a market where speed is critical for success,” says Sessions.

Property giant, Lendlease, has moved into a wider and more focused transformation program since it hired William Ruh as CEO, digital in January, the company’s head of technology research & development, Ciaran Hennessy tells CIO Australia.

“As part of this, we are looking at the capability and skills we have internally and making sure they are a key enabler of our wider business model. This helps us move away from the technology as a ‘cost conversation,’” says Hennessy.

Hennessy says the company uses multiple methods from internal digital literacy uplift to talking about digital technology at board level to help build the right culture.

“Our aspiration will be to have high quality physical products aligned to high quality digital products and enhance our internal capability to deliver these ourselves,” he says.

Meanwhile, Nathan Knight, general manager, A/NZ Data Center Group at Lenovo, adds that digital transformation involves consistent and ongoing company-wide change. Consequently, it’s important for business leaders to build a culture that invites, embraces and drives constructive change throughout the business.

“The most common trap businesses fall into is change for the sake of it. This is fastest way to waste resources and budget. All parts of the business transformation need to be driven by a common goal and vision,” says Knight.

“To get buy-in from employees and senior stakeholders at all stages of the digital transformation journey, the vision needs to be clear and regularly communicated. It needs to be relatable so every member of the business in every department understands their role in driving successful digital transformation [activities] as well as the benefits they can look forward to experiencing.”

Data is a business’ most valuable asset and the organisation’s success will rely on its ability to capture, make sense of, and use the data they collect both online and offline to inform business decisions. This means that tech chiefs need to make this an absolute priority across all of their initiatives and investments, he says.

“The evolution of smart IoT and new standards in connectivity means tech leaders need to be constantly thinking about how intelligent transformation of the business will incorporate the exponential growth and complexity of data among their customers, partners and prospects,” says Knight.

“When selecting the right technologies for the business, ensure there’s a long-term lens and that the infrastructure is set up to address the next generation of data needs.”

He adds that intelligent transformation involves much more than improving the technology within a business to be faster or more cost-efficient.

“It’s about empowering the business to make the most of emerging technologies while balancing risk and rewards to deliver on the customer’s needs. This means business leaders need to think beyond the technology itself and also assess the kinds of people they hire, the kind of culture they are cultivating, and the processes implemented internally to make the most of the changes as they eventuate,” he says.

Lendlease’s Hennessy recommends that tech chiefs embrace the internal community, who up until now, have been relegated to the ‘shadow IT’ category.

“In my experience, most people experiment with digital approaches to fix problems that they can definitely see in their working day. No-one does shadow IT because they have time to do it. It usually has purpose,” he says.

“So I think that using this community and embracing the way they use and choose tools is enormously helpful and driving a pattern of discovery and scaling these products quickly can create a much bigger virtual team focused on the right outcomes.”

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Tags CultureRidleyLendleaseWillowWill SessionsCiaran HennessyNathan Knight

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