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In conversation with Joe Sczurko: Why people and culture are critical to successful digital transformations

Joe Sczurko has spent 35 years at the engineering and consultancy Wood, working to unlock solutions to some of the world’s most critical challenges. Today he is the company’s executive president of consulting, focusing on helping clients optimize value by planning, designing, building, evolving, and operating assets, facilities, and infrastructure which is more productive, efficient, reliable, and resilient in a changing world.

According to a Tech Pro Research survey, 70% of companies either have a digital transformation strategy in place or are working on one, an impressive figure which might suggest that the vast expanse of industry is well on its way to a promising digital future. In reality, 70% of digital transformations fail, most often due to resistance from employees, according to research conducted by McKinsey.

Stakeholder demand and public expectation continue to rise at pace. Driven by the pressure to decarbonize, nearly every sector is setting more rigorous sustainability standards with digitalization at their heart. If companies can’t manage the change, they risk reputational damage and becoming irrelevant.

“When it comes to digitalization, what companies need most is to outline their commitment and goals and formulate a plan to offer structure and translate strategy into action for their people,” Sczurko said.

A unique journey

“The road to digitalization is rarely a well-trodden path,” Sczurko said. “Each company has its own growth patterns, various risk factors, different funding streams, and unique measures for making more sustainable moves. All these nuances need to be considered for any transformation to succeed. This is new ground for most companies, and it requires interdisciplinary expertise. We have to reimagine how we work, collaborate, and harness the use of technology.”

Sczurko acknowledges that it’s a tall order, requiring enormous cultural change for many organizations: “Silos will be broken, new competence required, and new ways of work will pervade. Long-term learning and efforts to bridge the skills gap will be essential,” he said.

What can companies do to beat the 70% fail rate in digital transformations?

JS: A continuous focus on cultural change is necessary. Companies need a clear roadmap, as well as an objective assessment of where they stand today. And they need to use technology to access real data and insights, and ensure a diverse, talented team with broad skill sets to drive a culture of innovation.

Those are big changes for many companies. Do you see this transformation happening slowly over time?

JS: For me, it’s an evolution. Evolutions have a way of starting small and then building momentum over time. It’s about a long-term and systemic transformation which will filter across every part of a business and completely change the way we think and work.  

Do you have any examples of successful transformations in recent years?

JS: I see examples of successful transformations daily. One great example comes from our environmental business, where we are working with a client with a fleet of buses. Traditionally buses have been powered by combustion engines, but in the future, they will run on electricity or hydrogen. We are helping our client prepare for this change by using simulator technology to decide how many charging (or hydrogen refueling) points will be needed, where they should be placed, and how often buses will need to access these points. This will help reduce emissions, congestion, and journey times.

Another example is from our technology team, where we’ve developed a really interesting tool called ENVision. It enables clients to better understand emissions from their organization, city, or asset on a real-time basis. It streamlines and automates diverse types of data to provide a clear, auditable, and accurate view of emissions, and this information is very powerful in a world set on decarbonization.  

So, essentially, you’re helping them to plan for the unknowns they will meet in their digitalization journey?

JS: Yes, we empower our clients with data and insights, as well as recommendations on the right technological approach.

What are three steps that companies across industry can do right now to ensure their digital success in the future?

JS: Step one is to address decarbonization and set goals and commitments in this area. It’s a long road, and so developing a decarbonization roadmap is essential for success. This will include a critical look at your impact, suppliers, and products. It’s challenging and complex but necessary to provide the structure you need.

Step two is to reflect internally and challenge yourself on what can be made digital. How can you better enable your people? How can processes be streamlined and more efficient? Then you need to look externally to consider how you can improve ways of working for your client with digital tools and processes.

Step three is to understand the future skills you need in your workforce. People who are multiskilled, digitally and environmentally literate, who can collaborate, and who stem from diverse backgrounds are key.

What’s one trend you think will have the greatest impact on the industrial future?

JS: As much progress as we’ve made with artificial intelligence (AI) in the last two decades, we’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible. AI technology is expected to be the next major driver of economic growth, and AI-driven business practices are estimated to add $15.7 trillion to the global GDP. AI, and especially low-code AI, which can be used by those without coding backgrounds, is going to transform not only companies but the relationship between people and technology. This will empower everyone to harness value from data.

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