Digital transformation is about people, not technology

Digital is about technology, but the transformation is about people and motivating teams to change their mindset. Justin Wright, Americas CIO of Arcadis, explains how he handled the challenge.

Digital transformation is about people, not technology
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When Peter Oosterveer, CEO of Arcadis, told his executive committee that Arcadis would become an industry frontrunner in digital, the firm’s senior management took action. A key part of that was changing the mindset of IT.

Justin Wright, CIO of the Americas for the global architecture, design, and engineering firm, discusses the new mindset and how they got IT to adopt it.


Martha Heller: What does digital mean to Arcadis?

Justin Wright: At a foundational level, digital to us is all about the customer experience, changing the way the company operates and developing more client solutions that use digital technologies.

justin wright Arcadis

Justin Wright, Americas CIO of Arcadis

For example, in the past, designs were done on paper, and now they’re done on computers. For us, digital means being able to share information in a more collaborative way with all of the service providers that touch a construction project. The designers, architects, engineers, contractors, materials suppliers, and our customers are all able to view and interact with the designs more directly. Digital allows us to have more of a partnership across these different groups than when we had to send paper plans around to everyone.

Another example is data. All of the data around a design and construction project or an environmental cleanup effort can be hard to interpret when it’s in a spreadsheet or a database. By putting a graphic interface on the data, by making it more visual, we allow our customers, and all the other people involved in the project, to understand the data at a glance, and then use it for predictive purposes.

Right now, we are doing a lot of development on dashboards so that we can take very complex datasets and turn them into something more visual and useful.

What kind of data are we talking about?

Wright: One example involves our environmental services, where we help our clients understand the various environmental liabilities they might incur and monitor their progress on resolving them. If we’re cleaning up polluted groundwater for them or helping them remove chemicals from property they own, we take the data as we’re capturing it and make it visual. They can more easily see where their issues are and track our progress on resolving them.

This kind of innovation can happen only when IT is in lockstep with the rest of the company. How are you creating an IT organizational model that allows IT and its business partners to co-create?

Wright: The first step is designing a strategy for the company that will make us the digital frontrunner, which is our CEO’s ambition. Three major groups need to be aligned around that strategy: first is the business, the people who are doing the actual work for our clients; second is the digital team, whose job is to lead us through the digital transformation; and third is IT, who is providing the technology work to deliver on that strategy.  

The next step is to make sure that our operating model makes it possible for us to achieve the strategy.

The last step is to organize ourselves in a way that supports the operating model and the strategy. Right now, we are in a very collaborative mode where digital and IT and the business are working together well with a lot of alignment in how we operate.  

Putting the customer at the center of your business often requires a mindset shift on the part of IT. How would you describe the new mindset?

Wright: I started out this year doing a roadshow to gather information about the perception of IT in our business. I heard what we are doing well and how we could be better partners. From those discussions, I identified some themes, which I call the three S’s: speed, service and solutions. Speed has become much more critical in a digital transformation; we need to find ways to address needs as soon as they arise.

The second component, service, is about our internal customers and shifting from “Sorry, that’s not our policy,” to “Let me figure out how to help you.”

The third component is solutions, which is all about collaboration and creating products in partnership with our business colleagues. Speed, service, and solutions represent a different way of thinking and working than in the past.

How are you getting your team to adopt the three S’s?

Wright: IT organizations often feel like order takers who don’t have a voice in the company. To change the culture in IT, we have to make sure we position IT as having “a seat at the table” and able to work collaboratively with our business partners to solve problems.

Today, we held a virtual town hall meeting for the entire company, where members of my IT leadership team presented some of the solutions we’ve provided this year to help our people in their work, and we previewed some new products and services that are coming soon. Each IT leader presented on different areas of the business. What are we doing to improve connectivity? What are we doing to support collaboration?  

During the meeting, thousands of people watched the presentation and many messaged questions in to the team. The IT leaders who weren’t presenting at the moment answered the questions as they came in. It was a very interactive session, and in one hour we were able to connect directly with the business, give IT a voice, and let our team present themselves as the experts they are. We plan to host these kinds of collaborative events three or four times a year.

You are not the only CIO whose CEO has said, “We are going to lead in digital.” What advice do you have for CIOs who need to change IT from a legacy to a customer-focused culture?

Wright: The irony is that while digital is all about technology and automation, the transformation is really about people, and how you lead and inspire them. The first step in cultural change is understanding that it is people first, and that it is your job to find ways to involve and motivate your team.

People don’t like to feel forced. They like to have a voice and share their ideas. When you give them an environment where they can give input, you can move them in the right direction. Schedule regular one-on-one calls with your team, ask them what they are struggling with. Check in with them to know they are on board and that you’re all moving forward together.

About Justin Wright

Justin Wright is CIO for North and Latin America for Arcadis. In this role, he oversees regional IT operations while defining and implementing a progressive digital strategy for the firm and its clients. He joined the firm in 2007 and has held various leadership roles. He has a BS from Arizona State University and a MBA from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

This story, "Digital transformation is about people, not technology" was originally published by CIO.