Digital transformation requires a collaborative culture

How to cultivate strong relationships across departments, geographies and partners.

In general terms, digital transformation is the use of technology to connect and integrate processes and people within an organization. This new way of working inherently leads to culture change — which is a shift that should start with the initial technology deployment.

The complexity of digital transformation requires significant multi-disciplinary collaboration to understand, analyze and resolve problems. But, historically, information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) teams have worked in isolation of each other. They have different priorities, often don’t speak to each other at all, and, when they do, they speak a different language when it comes to technology terms.

Bridging this IT/OT divide is an essential aspect of a successful digital transformation. But the need to collaborate to innovate also extends to other areas of the company, including the partner ecosystem.

For some clarity on strategy, this article will help identify ideas you can implement to enhance collaboration in your organization.

Value of collaboration

When engineers and others shift mindsets from a hyper-individualistic approach to a more collaborative culture, then teams make digital transformation progress and foster innovation.

Collaboration causes individuals on digital transformation teams to challenge each other. Those creative interactions lead to:

  • Innovative designs.
  • Practical solutions to problems.
  • An improved level of team performance.
  • Reduced risks.
  • Avoidance of the common reasons for failure.

When organizations enhance their collaboration culture with software that aids collaborative work, digital transformation is more efficient.

Impact of collaboration

Cross-functional collaboration during digital transformation:

  • Breaks down silos and fosters a culture that drives innovation.
  • Engages stakeholders, employees and external partners for a holistic transformation approach.
  • Incorporates digital technologies more efficiently into products, services and processes.

A collaboration culture connects teams that may be geographically dispersed in complex business and multi-cultural settings to promote corporate goals, foster shared values, and build personal relationships. This collaborative work environment helps lower costs, shorten timelines, and improve productivity. These outcomes increase return on investment (ROI), market share and customer satisfaction.

Conversely, a lack of collaboration coupled with communication breakdowns lead to misunderstandings, delays, errors and inefficiencies that negatively impact productivity and quality. These trends will lower sales, ROI and customer satisfaction, threatening the organization’s survival.

Typical issues requiring collaboration

Digital transformation projects frequently encounter the following issues that require collaboration among various professionals, including engineers:

  • Correct data quality lapses such as incompatible dates, inaccurate product codes or incomplete material descriptions due to inadequate quality control of data entry work.
  • Acquire missing data such as product designs not converted after an acquisition.
  • Design, build and test complex data and systems integration, such as multiple BOM structures managed by different inventory or external supplier systems.
  • Acquire new data sources from data vendors such as weather data, standards documents or real-time shipping status data.
  • Design digitally-enabled business processes such as fabrication or logistics.
  • Encourage reluctant stakeholders including the finance or facilities departments.

Benefits of collaboration

Collaboration in digital transformation produces these benefits:

  • Accelerates the pace of innovation by sharing collective knowledge and expertise to ensure first-mover advantage.
  • Improves decision-making processes by involving diverse perspectives.
  • Enhances agility and adaptability to respond to evolving market dynamics.
  • Encourages employee engagement.
  • Improves business execution.
  • Reduces rework.

Collaboration strategies

Collaboration strategies that engineering leaders can use to encourage the team, and which lead to successful digital transformations, include:

  • Building a collaborative ecosystem by fostering strong relationships across departments and with technology and data partners.
  • Encouraging knowledge-sharing.
  • Establishing clear communication channels.
  • Cultivating leadership qualities.
  • Championing transparency that allows team members to reach out for help as soon as they hit a snag instead of worrying about the reactions of their seniors and team members.
  • Fostering trust so team members can freely share their opinions, suggestions and criticisms.
  • Recognizing team achievements.

Collaboration challenges

Successful digital transformation project teams work deliberately to overcome these collaboration challenges:

  • Resistance to change processes and adopt new technologies.
  • Achieving a consensus among leaders on digital transformation priorities.
  • Interpersonal and political conflicts.
  • Conflicting departmental objectives such as the IT/OT divide.
  • Dated organizational structures and leadership styles.
  • Focusing on technology potential at the expense of business value.
  • Mistaking diplomatic communication for a willingness to collaborate.

Communication is centered around knowledge-sharing, while collaboration applies this knowledge to problems, opportunities and tasks.

Roles in digital transformation

Effective digital transformation collaboration requires a project team. The typical roles on the team include the following:

  • The project sponsor is the senior executive who approves the digital transformation project and is committed to the project goal and objectives as stated in the project charter.
  • The project manager leads the work of the project team. That includes developing a detailed project plan, supervising the deliverables, and resolving issues that invariably arise.
  • Business analysts describe the business pain points, opportunities, customer experience issues and technology strategy. They regularly interact with business staff across the parts of the organization involved with the project.
  • Data stewards manage an organization’s digital assets to provide engineers and other end users with high-quality data that is quickly and consistently accessible. They help the digital transformation team understand available corporate data.
  • Business process experts, often engineers, understand the company’s current workflow and technological environment deeply. They identify processes that digital transformation can improve and confirm the accuracy of project deliverables.
  • Designers expand the work of business analysts and process experts into detailed designs. The designs will be configured in software packages by business analysts or coded into custom software by software developers.
  • Security and compliance specialists contribute to the project’s technology, architecture and design choices to ensure compliance.
  • Software developers code and test the software required to integrate data from diverse datastores included in the digital transformation scope.
  • Change management specialists have the communications skills to generate commitment and help end-users adopt the digital transformation.
  • Implementation staff lead the implementation of process changes and new applications.

Digital transformation projects may not have to fill all these roles depending on their size and goals.

Collaboration software selection criteria

Software that can improve the effectiveness of collaboration is essential for successful digital transformation. Software enables digital and virtual collaboration and remote work among engineers and other employees regardless of their physical location.

Consider the following digital collaboration software selection criteria:

  • Real-time file sharing: Enable team members to access, edit and retrieve the latest files with version control. Enable specific file and folder sharing to authorized individuals outside the team.
  • Multiple device support: Enable team members to access the collaboration environment using laptops or mobile devices.
  • Cloud-based: Allow end-users to access the collaboration environment anytime and from anywhere to stay productive in the office, at home, or on the road.
  • Search: Allow end-users to use keywords, tags, and search filters to locate content, files, and previous conversation threads quickly.
  • Meetings: Support audio and video conferencing.
  • Personal and group calendars: Simplify scheduling using shared calendars to coordinate team meetings and activities.
  • Ease-of-use: How easy is the user interface to learn and productive for ongoing use?
  • Chat or direct messaging: Available?
  • Workflow automation: Ability to define and operate multi-step business processes.
  • Onboarding and training: Provide sufficient training and support so end-users can maximize the productivity value of the collaboration environment.
  • Integration: Support integrating other apps into the collaboration environment.
  • Security: Safeguard sensitive data with encryption to stay compliant with industry regulations.
  • Uptime and backup: Ensure the collaboration environment has built-in redundancy and a comprehensive backup and recovery plan to minimize downtime.
  • Access control: Only authorized end-users can view, edit, or share specific files.
  • Usage analytics: Collate and analyze usage data to improve the collaboration environment.

The differences across the major collaboration software packages are insignificant for most digital transformation projects or digitally enabled work. Don’t acquire another software package when your organization is already using one.

In summary: Digital transformation integrates new technologies and digital data into business processes. To succeed, engineers must acquire new collaboration habits, skills and knowledge to use data-driven digital applications productively.

Written by

Yogi Schulz

Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of Information Technology experience in various industries. He writes for ITWorldCanada and other trade publications. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry to select and implement financial, production revenue accounting, land & contracts, and geotechnical systems. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, from the need to leverage technology opportunities and from mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy, and systems project management.