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How to boost digital adoption in your business Darren Russell

We all understand the need to adapt to the way the digital revolution is changing our businesses. However, change is always easier said than done, and developing a ‘digital first’ culture is difficult in an industry that can be very traditional.

For the last couple of years we have been engaged in a strategy to make our company ‘digital by default’, and most of our success is down to six core decisions:

Top level buy-in is crucial

The crucial thing if you want to embed change in your company is to have not just the support but the active involvement of senior management. It’s all very well ‘talking digital’, but this has to be matched with digital action – everything from engaging in yammer conversations to connecting to company software via mobile devices. But the focus must be on changing mindsets rather than simply adopting new technology. Anybody can be trained to use a new app, but it’s only those with a truly digital mindset that actively find and adopt new technology according to need.

Go digital across the board

It’s not enough to change one or two systems – adapting to the digital world must be a wholesale transformation. This means embedding digital solutions not just in what we offer our clients, but also in our internal systems – everything from the software we use to our HR processes. Promoting progressive digital tools in one part of the business while maintaining antiquated systems elsewhere might keep things ‘comfortable’ for those who are reluctant to change, but just results in a poorer end result, mixed messages and slower adoption. As an example, we now use Skype for Business for all calls. But for some, it was only when we physically removed table-top telephones that they really adapted to the new system.

Use the power of friendly competition

Early on I looked at digital ways of working among our senior managers and ranked them. This had a big effect – people reacted very strongly when they found out where they had been ranked in relation to their fellow managers, and this spurred them on to adopt digital ways of working. By using gamification and fostering competition between colleagues, departments or offices, you can harness people’s drive to succeed, realising a step change in digital take-up as well as having some fun.

Give momentum to new digital developments

Many colleagues have unilaterally adapted existing digital tools or developed their own to aid their work. These include innovative uses of GoPro cameras or virtual reality applications to aid the construction process. But in a large company such as ours, it’s hard to keep track of all such developments, with the risk that the benefits are limited to a few people ‘in the know’ or that colleagues in different parts of the business end up duplicating each other’s work. We avoid this through a centralised hub and an innovation process that supports staff to develop their ideas to a level which can have company-wide use.

Don’t hide from design automation, embrace it

We all know the industry is moving in the direction of standardisation and automation – so much of the work we are doing now is set to change drastically. There is no point hiding from this reality – in fact, those who do will find themselves stranded by a rapidly changing industry. We’ve begun to make real gains in this field, standardising 20 processes such as piling and strut design and have also had success in automation too – developing a programme that can design a water pumping station in just 15 minutes, reducing risk and improving quality while leaving our staff to do the clever stuff such as looking at a wider range of options and adding value for our clients.

Focus on the client

Perhaps the best way to boost digital uptake is to constantly ask: “What would the client expect from us?” Simply allowing this question to lead decision-making will boost innovation in how you use digital tools in the way you work. Our clients expect us to lead the way in applying the digital revolution to the services we provide, and will look elsewhere if they feel we aren’t up to the task.

From the beginning, we have been clear that becoming ‘digital by default’ is a change programme, not a technology programme. While technology is of course crucial, it’s by embedding a change in behaviours within the business that will allow us to truly adapt as the digital revolution transforms our industry.

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