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Driving the digital future of engineering, human-first

Driving the digital future of engineering, human-first

Originally posted by Kumar Parakala @ ia.acs.org.au

This post is brought to you in partnership with GHD Digital.

In recent years, digital transformation has been a major topic of discourse within and between many industries.

What defines digital transformation as opposed to other forms of digital integration is that it occurs in the form of change that is not just technological, but also organisational and cultural.

It also involves the digital capability of a business merging with its core business model, rather than being a separate part of the business. These two components become one and the same in today’s modern business structure.

Digital transformation cannot be implemented with a pre-packaged, mass-produced solution. It must be bespoke and customised to any specific organisation’s culture, long-term vision and business objectives.

Why do we need digital transformation?

Regardless of business model or industry, digital transformation is vital to remain relevant and competitive in today’s modern business world. We have seen time and time again how disruptive start-up companies have broken into a range of industries and driven out much larger competitors due to their adoption of new and emerging technologies and business practices.

With one in three senior executives saying that digital transformation will have a significant impact on their core business over the next three years according to Gartner1, the leading industry research company, becoming future proof must be the priority of leaders across all industries, including CEOs, CXOs, Chief Digital Officers and CIOs.

In today’s world, digital data, “the new oil” (collectively worth upwards of $25bn in net revenue per annum, according to the five largest technology companies) is arguably a more valuable commodity than oil, known colloquially as ‘black gold” in the early 20th century.

Gartner predicts that by 2021, half of all industrial companies will be using emerging digital practices, resulting in an improvement in efficiency of ten percent across all sectors, and billions of dollars in savings.

These new and emerging digital practices include a range of new technologies and techniques including, but not limited to, big data analytics and algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure, Digital Twins, and Living Asset Management.

Future proofing an industry

Despite the tremendous impact digital technology has and will continue to have across all industries, the engineering and infrastructure sector is the second-slowest industry to adopt emerging technology trends. The reasons for this are numerous and varied, but some of the primary challenges include:

· Operational silos

· Legacy technology systems

· A lack of existing internal skills

· Cultural difficulties related to organisational dynamics and internal politics

· A lack of investment into portfolios of digital integration

· Culture of risk aversion – ‘We’ve always done it this this way. Why should we change things now?’

In order to address these challenges, business leaders will need to drive cultural changes not just at an organisational level, but across the industry. Cooperation between organisations is essential to bring about the necessary redefining of roles and value propositions, as well as bringing about the required skills to make a success of digital business initiatives across the engineering and infrastructure industry.

GHD Digital is leading this drive for change through our ‘Industry 4.0’ Working Group’, a series of roundtable events enabling the discussion of digital transformation between senior executives of engineering and infrastructure organisations across Australia, the Asia Pacific and North America.

These high-level discussions are enabling senior executives to learn from and share examples of highly successful digital integration initiatives. Senior executives are also learning how to implement successful digital transformation practices within their own organisations, including the understanding that people are at the core of digital transformation, the need for upskilling and cultural change, and how technology and data is being used to drive increased value for clients and customers.

The era of the ‘versatilist'

In order to succeed in the pursuit of digital transformation, business leaders must realise that it’s not just a simple adoption of new technologies into the existing hierarchy that’s required but also cultural change.

Due to the unprecedented uptake in emerging digital practices across the infrastructure and engineering industry, there is a critical skills gap within organisations and wider industry. In a rapidly changing digital world, employees require constant reskilling and upskilling.

But how do we develop skills for jobs that do not exist yet? Only a diverse workforce, in terms of age, cultural backgrounds and wide skillsets, will make it possible to constantly adapt as new best practices regularly outpace what was previously best practice only months beforehand. This is true even at a board level.

In order to adapt to the constantly changing working environment, future professionals will need to become ‘versatilists’- workers who can hold multiple roles across a range of disciplines, including a mix of technology, business and communication-based skillsets.

According to Gartner2, by 2021, 40% of technical employees will be versatilists, and this shift will likely originate in the engineering and infrastructure sector.

Business leaders need to adopt first to this new paradigm shift, followed by market-oriented digital business efforts, in such areas as business intelligence, digital risk management and digital engineering consulting.

The future environment of the infrastructure and engineering industry may be not just made up of a broader range of engineering specialties, but also scientists, communicators, artists, designers, inventors and innovators.

Conclusion

At first glance, the topic of digital transformation can seem like an enormous and nebulous challenge to comprehend.

As more and more innovators and industry leaders drive more and more success stories with emerging digital practices, all sectors and industries will face significant disruption in our constantly changing digital world. Only time can tell who will become the next great innovative business leader to drive the next great shift in a wide range of potential industries.

Here at GHD Digital, we look forward to continuing our work through the Industry 4.0 Working Group to develop the frameworks our industry needs to progress into the digital frontier.


Kumar Parakala is Global Digital Leader, GHD.

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