By Geoffrey Cann
Your digital transformation likely requires people with specific skills that are unlikely to be in your company. So what skills do you need and where do you find them?
A few years ago, Esther, a friend from work, invited me to go hiking with her in the Rockies. I was keen because she had successfully climbed to the top of Mount Everest, Denali, Kilimanjaro, and several other summits. I had no hiking experience, but I figured I was in good hands, and I might learn something.
And learn I did. How climbing with poles actually reduces strain on your limbs. How to slide downhill on scree. How to choose routes that get you above the tree line as fast as possible so that you can enjoy the view as long as possible. How the right shoes save blisters, and how layered clothing keeps you from heating up on the climb and from cooling off at the top.
A guide to help you when you’re going on a new journey to a new destination can be invaluable.
On these hikes I asked her how she persuaded people to join her in some pointless weekend quest to walk relentlessly uphill for hours. Her secret was to describe the view from the summit. In the case of Mt Everest, how you can actually see the curvature of the earth (yes, it’s not flat). How the stars don’t twinkle because there’s no atmospheric interference with light. How the jet stream is below you.
To get people to go on a journey to some destination, sometimes it’s best to focus on the destination, and not on how hard the journey is going to be.
This is similar to what’s happening with my digital awareness training course. The companies who take it ultimately decide to act. The course teaches them that the opportunity from embracing digital technologies is definitely superior than the do-nothing-now option.
They have gained a small glimpse of the view from the top, because they have experienced what a digital world could be because of the pandemic. They are feeling some pressure from their stakeholders to change. Their supply chains want to cement some innovations born in the pandemic more deeply into their operating models. They can see the potential for entirely new revenue streams if they could only capitalize on their data. Or they can see how a competitor might upend their market.
This is good. The course is intended to spur action.
But like hiking in the Rockies, or climbing Mt Everest, the course also highlights that execution of a digital pivot often requires skills that are likely not resident in the company, or at least, not intentionally resident. For example, a key technology for any company in the digital era is cloud computing. You might have a cloud expert working away in the technology team, but it’s unlikely. Cloud skills are in short supply, and anyone with that pedigree will want to be working on a cloud initiative.
Without a doubt you have the cyber skills in place to secure your existing use of technology, but those skills might not be sufficient as your digital footprint expands into new areas, or in a new business model.
A number of the companies who have taken my course have since contacted me asking for either introductions to someone to assist them, or for help in selecting some assistance. Like amateur hikers in the Rockies, they have had a glimpse of the view from the top, and now they need guides and skills to bring their digital transformation along.
The Help You Need
I was lucky that my hiking buddy had also climbed Mt Everest. She knew everything about the mountains, from the best routes, to the right clothing, to nutrition, to pace and techniques.
But luck is not a good business strategy. To move your digital agenda forward, you need to be more deliberate.
GET A GUIDE
I don’t think it matters if your overall digital guide is an internal promote or an external hire or contractor. The main point is you need one, the role is going to be demanding and can’t be a side-of-desk thing. For oil and gas, the guide is frequently hired in, because digital is still quite new to the industry. Look for someone with a dual passion for oil and gas and digital, a background in driving change, great communications skills, persuasiveness, and strong commercial instincts.
CONSIDER YOUR TALENT APPROACH
Your strategy will soon tell you what skills you need—cloud know how, or cyber, or agile, or SCADA-digital integration, or machine learning. How you get those skills is the question.
In an unconstrained world, you might simply reassign your best database wrangler to go figure out your cloud strategy, but many things have to fall your way for this to work.
Some manager is going to lose their best resource, and they won’t be pleased. Your assigned person needs to want to do this work. They need the aptitude to work with cloud architecture. You need to be able to backfill while they step out. The time they need to learn and then execute may well be much slower than you want. With their new skills, they may well be poached away before real progress is made.
This plays out over and over for every new skill area you need to fulfill your strategy. It’s slow, disruptive, risky, and painful.
ALIGN YOUR SOURCING STRATEGY
You’re likely to conclude that in many instances, rearranging your existing team is simply not going to work. One company has told me that extensively training selected staff in data science and machine learning is fraught. The staff just didn’t “get it”. It’s like expecting a brain surgeon to be equally competent at welding.
Fortunately there’s no shortage of ways to source help.
A number of businesses have stood up advisory arms to tackle the digital transformation opportunity. Options include top tier strategy firms, the big 4 audit firms, mid market consulting businesses, boutique firms that specialise by industry or technology, services units inside the engineering companies, advisory teams that are part of traditional technology companies, and the big digital companies.
Rather than bringing in partner advisors, some companies outsource their legacy technology footprint to the big cloud computing companies. The big difference between the traditional outsourcing firms and the cloud companies seems to be in approach. The cloud businesses are significantly more agile, obsessed with customer needs, and constantly improving.
Digital has also enabled the rise of new gig platforms where companies can source people and know how for specific jobs. As one executive told me, this is how the digital world works, through accelerators and incubators. Why not engage with the digital world where it exists (on-line gig) which helps teach their organizations the behaviour of the digital start up? A huge number of oil and gas professionals have been laid off and are setting themselves up for gig work.
Finally, some digital jobs benefit from crowd-sourcing, or the ability to find solutions to problems using the power of a crowd. Resources companies were among the earliest adopters of crowd-sourcing, specifically in areas like algorithm development.
Choosing your Guide
Most businesses are already pretty good at selecting other businesses to work with. You probably have a set of criteria to apply, but you may be wondering if that set of criteria applies equally in selecting your digital help.
In short, yes.
Here’s what you are looking for:
Your collaboration partners should be independent and not beholden to some hidden prior relationship, or harbour some secret motive to get you to take a course of action or make a specific investment. Finders fees are the most obvious, but sometimes these commercial arrangements are opaque or indirect. For example, firms who have an audit business may be restricted in providing some kinds of advice—the auditor for Microsoft will be constrained by SEC independence rules from advising on the use of Microsoft’s solutions.
You should be clear on what your collaborator’s motivation is. Motive is often tied to the nuances of their business model. For example, big 4 firms are highly motivated to sell large transformation programs for large companies. They tend to eschew small and mid market businesses. Understand how your guide is rewarded.
SPEED OF EXECUTION
Your need for haste may influence who you should work with. Smaller partners can move faster than large ones.
COST OF EXECUTION
The rates charged by collaboration partners vary dramatically. Big firms are often double the cost of small firms.
RANGE, DEPTH, AND QUALITY OF SKILLS
The larger the partner, the greater the probability that they have the skills needed. Quality can be uneven, however. The turnover rate in the large consulting businesses is 15% or higher. Chances are good you’ll be working with novices.
INDUSTRIAL KNOW HOW
Depth in your industry is really helpful. Oil and gas is a distressed sector, and your people have little time or interest in educating the help.
Digital enables suppliers to work across global boundaries with ease. But different markets and industries are all marked by their own sets of regulations and rules. That nuanced understanding may well prove critical.
This is a tricky criteria for oil and gas because the industry is just getting started with digital. The track record for most help is going to be relatively light.
There are many ways to get the help you need for your digital transformation journey, and it starts with having a guide who can take you to the summit.
Check out my book, ‘Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas’, available on Amazon and other on-line bookshops.
Take Digital Oil and Gas, the one-day on-line digital oil and gas awareness course.