Digitising our people too


This month, David Socha discusses the critical role of change management in achieving the benefits of data and analytics-driven transformation – and proposes that a fear of analytics is not the real problem at all.

In my recent blogs on Machine Learning, I was quite flippant at times about the massive disruption that digitisation and advanced analytics capabilities such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) will bring.  Like it or not, such disruption is coming – or is already here – in many industries, including heavy asset management sectors such as manufacturing, transportation and of course, utilities.  And it’s not as if utilities needed any further disruptors, given the energy trilemma, renewables, smart cities, retail deregulation and such, right?

Now, I’m not suggesting my flippancy was misplaced.  With the inevitability of all of the above, it is incumbent on businesses to just get on with it.  Now.  Those businesses that hope to survive in the digital world must transform.  And only those businesses that embrace the value of their data can thrive.

Experience, and the fear of change

While transformation is not a choice, there is a different choice to be had: should we do this to our people, or with our people?  Should we reimagine our future, then tell our most valuable resource (our people, in case you were uncertain) or should we bring them along on the journey, understanding that change is what so many fear the most?

Typically, utilities have a highly skilled and experienced workforce.  They know the business.  They keep the lights on (or the water flowing).  Such people will have much to contribute in helping to shape the future.  But there’s a downside too:

“The problem is that experience teaches fear of change. Experience kills imagination. Experience makes people conservative. What we are facing tomorrow requires the force of imagination, not wisdom from yesterday,” Jacques Yves Cousteau

In the above quote, M Cousteau was actually talking about the elders of ancient civilisations rather than engineers and asset managers.  But given that Jacques was an arch-innovator and disruptor, I could have fooled you if I’d told you he was talking about the invention of the aqualung, or his pioneering work in creating the first underwater habitat for humans, right?

Almost every aspect of the transformation of utilities is going to change how people work.  Entirely new roles; new lines of business and their business units; as-a-service models are all underway or under discussion already.  I’m sure you’ve been discussing them too.  But let’s get a little more specific.  Let’s talk about analytics.

Analytics is already our friend

Many utilities around the world have by now deployed (to a greater or lesser extent) multiple analytics point solutions.  Some come in the box with the ERP system or Historian or other application and report on the data associated with that application.  Others are standalone purchases to solve specific issues.  Most perform the job they’re supposed to.  As such, many utilities people are already comfortable with the idea that applying analytics to problems from risk management to fraud detection to maintenance scheduling doesn’t automatically make people redundant – and can in fact lead to demonstrably better decisions.  This is a good thing.  Here is the precedent we need to show that analytics doesn’t need to be something to be feared.  Analytics is our friend!

But for analytics to enable transformation, much more than point solutions is required.  I’ve written before and most likely will again on the need for a unified analytics ecosystem, supporting cross-silo, enterprise-wide insights.  Take that as a given for today, though perhaps I’ll come back to it next time.  What I haven’t discussed so often is the people-related disruption this can cause.  Before I do, I want you to consider this absolutely critical point: when it comes to rolling out enterprise-wide analytical capabilities, a fear of analytics isn’t really the problem any more.

Redefining the problem

Consider what a new, holistic view of the enterprise means to people.  Not the people rubbing their hands with glee.  Not the CFO, delighted with the single view of the figures now available at the touch of a button.  Not the Chief Risk Officer, now able to assess exposure and mitigations across the enterprise at unprecedented levels of granularity and confidence.  Not the Transformation Director, pleased to have delivered a key foundation of their remit.

Instead, consider those that have for years “massaged” their numbers for submission upward, making sure they were just right, based on their unparalleled experience and understanding, diligently correcting perceived errors in the raw data.  Do they now feel exposed?  Devalued?  Consider those people who never shared data with another Division, convinced those “over there” didn’t have the knowledge to understand what the data would tell them.  Do they now feel a loss of control?  Or anger that their data will be misused?  Or consider those that don’t understand a new enterprise-wide platform doesn’t mean they’ll have to replace their specialist analytical applications with new generic ones that do the job half as well.  Do they feel let down?  Unheard?  Uninformed?

These are different kinds of fears to those purely about analytics. It’s no longer a question of AI stealing jobs.  An enterprise-wide capability sees across boundaries.  It breaks silos.  Such things bring a different set of concerns about increased scrutiny; exposure; the need to collaborate with traditional rivals; loss of control and autonomy.  Fears not to be taken lightly.

People are still our greatest asset

It is the role of those responsible for bringing the organisation’s people along with the transformation to understand and to mitigate just these kinds of issues.  Each one can be addressed and has been addressed countless times in other industries with previous experience of delivering enterprise-wide analytics.  Some have done it better than others, of course.  So learn from the best and from the worst.

Broad ranging, advanced analytics will be a critical driver of your transformation.  It’s inevitable.  And it has the potential to be massively beneficial.  Transformational, even.  Don’t miss that opportunity by forgetting about your most valuable resource: yes, your people.


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