Tuesday, 11 October 2016 17:31

Establishing and supporting a digital culture


A lot of the talk around "digital" revolves around external relationships, for example easier or better interaction with customers, partners and suppliers. But what about the things that happen inside the organisation?

Avanade Australia managing director Sarah Adam-Gedge talks of establishing a "digital culture" so the use of technology and data pervades an organisation.

"Every facet of what we do" at Avanade is digital, and the company "works with clients on themselves" to foster digital culture, she told iTWire.

The idea of the broadest possible use of data via smart software that's enabled by technology everywhere rests on several legs.

A digital culture requires "leadership that is digitally savvy", the use of technology to engage and tie together the different parts of an organisation, and the ethical application of analytics and data.

Adam-Gedge noted that a McKinsey report found a gap in digital competence at the board level, and suggested that what's required is not technical wizards at the helm, but rather a general understanding of the available technology and how it can be used to change business processes and improve internal and external communication.

A digital mindset is also important to foster employee engagement. The next-generation workforce (not to mention a great many people of working age) use apps and mobile devices as part of their everyday lives, so such technology has become table stakes rather than something an organisation can optionally deploy. One example is the use of collaboration tools where they are more appropriate than email. The appropriate use of such technology is particularly important to ensure freelancers and other contingent workers are engaged with the relevant groups within the business.

For example, Avanade has replaced its traditional "all hands" meeting to kick off the company's financial year with webcasts that people can join from wherever they happen to be, along with a number of smaller-group physical meetings.

In addition, improvements to digital workflows can reduce the need for interactions outside the applications, especially for routine matters. That makes life easier and quicker for the individuals involved, and helps the organisation by keeping more of the relevant information within the systems of record. Such automation is essential for efficiency and agility, Adam-Gedge suggested.

The ethical use of data and analytics deserves an article to itself, but Adam-Gedge's position can be summarised thus: just because you can analyse data in a particular way, that doesn't mean you should. So organisations need to establish appropriate policies to ensure or at least encourage employees do the right thing when it comes to storing and using data.

These policies will vary from one organisation to another, and they need to be developed with different audiences, including staff and other stakeholders, in mind. Their development requires consideration of the organisation's culture, how it operates, and its desired principles.

It's important to think about unintended consequences, she suggested. For example, a motor insurance company's customer might agree to in-vehicle data logging in return for a "safe driver" discount. But what if they were involved in an accident? How would they feel about the data being made available to the police or other interested parties?

There is also a need to repeatedly test the ethical policies and frameworks and keep them up to date, said Adam-Gedge.

So what can the organisation's IT operation do to support a move towards a digital culture?

Adam-Gedge accepts that getting more money for IT can be a struggle, and that changing the emphasis from legacy systems to digital is hard.

She recommends applying as much automation as possible to systems in order to free up resources that can be applied to new projects.

Reskilling is also important. IT workers can no longer rely on "commodity" tech skills that are being increasingly automated, for example, in the area of systems monitoring. Rather, creative and design skills are in demand (Avanade even employs a cartoonist), along with analytics ability and interpersonal skills. An IT person can no longer just be the tech-savvy geek working in isolation, she said.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.



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