Understanding people and their fears: the keys to successful digital transformation

Digital transformation image: scared people
Image: Kiosea39 |
Engaging with people and understanding their fears are the keys to the successful implementation of technology and achieving digital transformation.

That was the unanimous advice of an expert panel during last week’s Global Construction Summit webinars. The session, entitled Make the most of new digital technology: implementation best practice – sponsored by PlanRadar – brought together experts from Aecom, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and the sponsor.

Sadia Janjua, chief of digital transformation and innovation at the Port Authority, and Wes Beaumont MCIOB, associate vice president, digital transformation leader at Aecom’s US East and Latin America division, detailed their three-year joint project to digitally transform how the Port Authority works.

Janjua talked about the volume work in the discovery phase of the project to ensure the project team had achieved engagement with Port Authority’s staff. “Your people need to know what you are doing and why. We interviewed more than 600 of our employees and asked: ‘What is your job? What’s its purpose? How does the work you do influence someone else in the department.’”

She added: “Don’t let the pressure for quick wins drive strategy. And don’t miss the basic steps (or the small ones).”

Janjua and Beaumont suggested that those leading change must act as therapists, listening to people’s problems. Beaumont said: “We’re here to help.”

He added: “We like to talk in metaphors and analogies: it’s a really good way of communicating in plain language.”

Jam today, information tomorrow

To explain the importance of information management to the Port Authority’s staff, he used a jar of jam analogy. “For data, imagine a warehouse with 1,000 rooms, and every room has 1,000 shelving units, and every shelf has a million jars [of jam] on it – if you don’t name the jar and label it correctly, if you place it randomly, it’s unlikely you’ll ever find it again. The data is the sweet jam inside the jar.”

Thinking about technology, Beaumont revealed the three questions the transformation team used to inform their review:

  • What technology do we have to create content [data]?
  • What technology do we have to curate it and analyse it?
  • And what technology do we have to consume it or visualise it or push it out to the public?

Dave Philp, chief value officer at Cohesive and chair of the CIOB’s Digital and Asset Management Advisory Board, echoed Janjua and Beaumont’s points. He said: “Start with the people, understand their processes and understand their pain points. Really focus on discovery: spend a lot more time than you think you need to really understand and frame the outcomes that are wanted.”

He urged anyone leading change and implementation to not be worried about divergent views in the discovery phase. “Don’t be afraid if they’re divergent a first – think about how you can synthesize and converge [the different views],” he said.

Confronting fears

Simon Phillips, senior consultant at PlanRadar, spoke of addressing head on people’s fears of change and new ways of working. “Going digital doesn’t mean giving up everything you know already: it’s about making things easier and more efficient,” he said. “Digitalisation is about enabling people, not disabling them. Think of it as an upgrade.”

He further advised: “Put people at the heart of your digital strategy. Tackle the human culture head on with consistent, relevant communication. Talk to your workforce and pinpoint where uncertainty or apprehension might lie before a full roll-out begins.”

Watch the webinar on demand. It’s worth one hour’s CPD credit for those who complete it before 22 March.

The Summit was organised by the CIOB and Global Construction Review, and was supported by Buildots and PlanRadar.

Read more about the Summit.

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  1. Well, I wasn’t convinced by the jam jar analogy but I’ve already used it to describe what a container is…

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