Digital transformation is ultimately about culture

Strategy and Digital Transformation
Strategy and Digital Transformation
January 31, 2017
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If you as a talented executive find your head spinning with hundreds of options to digitize your operations, here is a pointer. A decade ago, popularized technology innovation migrated from redesigning salt shakers and door handles to tackling the industrial world. Along the way, autonomous vehicles, knowledge hubs and collaboration centers entered our work space and occupied much of our thinking time. That was a decade ago.

On the other side of this story is the future made up of artificial intelligence, machine learning with real time information piped from our cloud based data lakes in an all-harmonious, well aligned system that gives us friction-free automated production outcomes. Today, we are somewhere between these two points in time – and we could rightfully ask, “where is that?”

The roadmap to a fully digitized operation consists of a fundamental change in the culture and operating model of the company. It is not about acquiring the latest technology – although Wi-Fi, sensors, mobile, data visualization and collaboration centers are key ingredients (as well as perhaps cloud and data lakes.) In referring to culture, we mean “the way we do things here.” Adapting your company’s culture to the new digital reality is therefore an imperative.

To make digitization work in your operation, we revert to the fundamentals of work execution. Production is a function of People, Process and Technology – get these right and the operation can change with clarity and purpose. Miss one of the components, and management soon leans harder on their technology team to produce more (unachievable) magic.

In a digital operation, people behave differently and they follow different business processes. If they do not, all the technology introduced cannot deliver the sought-after safety, production and financial benefits. Perhaps the toughest maze to navigate in this new digital operating environment is the redefinition of decision rights. With an ever- increasing amount of production data being available to all, many traditional decisions and decision rights fade away. We believe that a keener eye on the work behaviors and active decisions that are made during a production shift will clarify much of what we must redefine to rapidly digitize operations.

Paul Leonardi's Bio

Paul Leonardi is the Duca Family Professor of Technology Management at UC Santa Barbara. He holds appointments in the Technology Management Program (TMP) and the Department of Communication. He is also the Investment Group of Santa Barbara Founding Director of the Master of Technology Management Program.

Dr. Leonardi’s research, teaching, and consulting focus on helping companies to create and share knowledge more effectively. He is interested in how implementing new technologies and harnessing the power of informal social networks can help companies take advantage of their knowledge assets to create innovative products and services.

He has authored dozens of articles that have appeared in top journals across the fields of management, organization studies, communication studies, and information systems research. He is also the author of three books on innovation and organizational change. He has won major awards for his research from the Academy of Management, the American Sociological Association, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Association for Information Systems, the International Communication Association, the National Communication Association, and the National Science Foundation.

Over the past decade, he has consulted with for-profit and non-profit organizations about how to improve communication between departments, how to use social technologies to improve internal knowledge sharing, how to structure global product development operations, and how to manage the human aspects of new technology implementation.

Before coming to UCSB, Dr. Leonardi worked at Northwestern University on the faculties of the School of Communication, the McCormick School of Engineering, and the Kellogg School of Management. He received his Ph.D. in Management Science and Engineering from the Center for Work, Technology, and Organization at Stanford University.

Willem Buhrmann's Bio


Willem Buhrmann is an experienced mining professional that has extensive African and international experience in project management, strategy implementation and corporate finance. Willem was previously Business Development Manager (Africa) for Rio Tinto Energy and more recently consulted to the wider mining industry including majors and a variety of juniors. He holds degrees in finance (Chartered Accountant) and the legal world (LL.B.)

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