By Shivendra Kumar, Principal Consultant, Shivendra and Co

Infrastructure companies are undergoing digital transformation programs to create new investment opportunities, more efficient operating models, and greater sustainability. While the technologies implemented are important, the most crucial element of this process is actually understanding the impact on your employees. This is referred to as maintaining the human perspective.

In its 2022 report Delivering Outcomes, Infrastructure Australia found that digital transformation will drive productivity and innovation in infrastructure delivery and that digital is a “core enabler to achieving transformational change across the sector”.

The report found that project outcomes could be enhanced by applying a ‘digital by default’ approach, but that the “potential transformative benefits of digital remain largely unharnessed by government and industry stakeholders”.

Throughout the infrastructure sector, the goal of digitisation is always the same: to increase efficiency and minimise unnecessary spending or processes. But how do you make sure your digital transformation attempt does not end futilely?

How do you ensure that your digital transformation actually makes a significant improvement to efficiency so you’re not wasting the money you invested? How do you avoid becoming the construction company that implemented cloud technology for its field staff without actually solving any of their day-to-day problems?

How do you reduce the likelihood of getting to the end of your multimillion- dollar digital transformation project and only using half of the digital tools you introduced?

And how do you not become the business that delivers its digital transformation project six months late because the business is operating well without it? To ensure your construction company does not end up dealing with these issues when undergoing a digital transformation journey, you must maintain the human perspective.

The ‘human perspective’, or in other words, your employee’s perspective and engagement with the digital transformation implementation process, is the most important element of any digital project, and if it’s not prioritised, you’ll see the consequences. Let’s look at how you can maintain the human perspective.

Engage your employees

The human perspective is critical to the success of your digital transformation because without it, employees aren’t encouraged to support the change for the long term. This is important because we’re not just referring to the IT team and vendors that implement or build your system, it’s about getting all of the employees who will end up using this technology on board from the start.

Digital transformation is about more than implementing new technology or applications, it’s a process that involves changing and modernising the habits of employees so they can be more productive. In short, you’re not just giving them new tools, you’re also teaching them how to use those tools properly.

As with other transitions, this process requires a strong commitment. If you are a company director or the person driving this transformation, you need to make it clear to your employees how this digital transition correlates with their needs, as they are the ones on the ground running the day-to-day operations.

If they understand the ‘why’ of what the company is doing, and how it impacts their daily roles, they will be more motivated to ensure its success. If this isn’t communicated properly, some employees could start to feel unsupported, which can result in low morale, then a growing sense of detachment, and finally loss of ‘ownership’.

It’s this scenario that can cost your company great talent and resourceful people – a challenge that is even more prevalent now with industry wide skills shortages and a sector struggling to meet growing construction demand.

This often starts when a company asks employees to change from an in-house built application that has been created on a dependable software platform and has been used for a while, to something completely new, or conversely, when a company won’t give employees the necessary progress update that they need to remain engaged.

Talk to people directly

While more and more construction companies are digitising, you shouldn’t fall into the trap of implementing technology for the sake of it, because it’s what everyone else is doing. For the digitisation process to work, the new technology needs to be solving specific challenges in your business.

To make sure that your company and its employees actually need the change – whether it’s a software update or new infrastructure – you need to talk to them directly. Before announcing an initiative or plan, talk to your employees during weekly update meetings or speak with the project managers and department heads to gather more information that may either support your ideas, or inform you that a change like this isn’t necessary just yet.

It doesn’t have to be with a large group of people, but your direct presence will give the impression of accessibility and openness to your team. This could enable a deeper connection and ignite a spark that gives people a good sense of direction at work, making the implementation easier.

This process also reduces the risk of your digital transformation projects failing because employees can give you feedback and information from their daily working processes, which can be added to your plan to make it more detailed and prepared for any future issues.

While this feedback can be helpful, if on the other hand, you feel that the software change is important nonetheless, you can do your own research by forming a specific team to test the possibilities of you pushing the transformation to happen.

As a decision-making executive, you might persuade people more by stating the fact that your long-term vision, and the change it involves, will cause disruption in the company and possibly the wider industry, to prepare yourself for the impending responsibilities and decisions that will come with navigating your plan.

After you have collected all of this information, I suggest processing the data with a third party. This could be a vendor or an acquaintance in the company, someone who can process the information you have objectively. This is important because if you handle it yourself, you may cherry pick the feedback that supports your stance.

By rechecking the data together, you will also be able to see a detailed perspective on the situation you are facing, and identify the best way your transformation plan can be successfully executed.

Technology should not make us lose our humanity

Always remember to put the human perspective of your employees and colleagues first to maintain a sense of understanding between you as the decision-maker, and the people who will be affected by your choices.

Entire businesses improve when employees perform better, and they’ll do this when they feel happy and supported. The simplest way to do this is to engage with them, include them in your plans, and give them a say in how the transformation process will impact them.

By incorporating the human perspective in your digital transformation, your company and your employees will experience a holistic transformation and become a future-fit and future-ready enterprise to face the challenges of tomorrow. And if you don’t, your company will notice the consequences.

For more information about Shivendra & Co or to listen to full episodes of Shivendra’s industry podcast The Competitive Contractor, please visit shivendra.com.

About the author

Shivendra Kumar is a global construction business advisor and owns the consultancy firm, Shivendra & Co, where he helps small to medium construction businesses increase their growth potential and profitability, improve their processes and execute business strategies.

Shivendra is using his extensive industry experience from previous roles at large infrastructure organisations including Siemens and Downer to transform the construction industry from the ground up and be a voice for Australia’s contractors.

Shivendra also interviews infrastructure’s biggest names for the The Competitive Contractor podcast. Find out more at shivendra.com.

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