Don’t leave digital transformation to IT (or learning technology teams)

In a few weeks time, I will be hosting a panel session at Learning Live on the theme of digital transformation. It is, in various guises, a major theme of the event and a significant preoccupation of the LPI membership. Fortunately, I have a wise and esteemed panel to rely on for answers to “What you’ve always wanted to ask” about the topic.

In preparation I have been doing a little more deliberate reading around the many and varied themes. I cannot decide whether a focus on L&D will help the debate or hinder it? On the one hand, we can concentrate on topics closest to our work and our immediate priorities. On the other a, mistaken, belief that learning is a special case in the digital world leads to many misguided decisions. Specialist learning systems are a major reason why learning remains in a technology ghetto rather than a daily tool kit.

This post by Jeff Imelt, ex CEO of GE is a useful input. There are some helpful observations on leading and organising digital transition in here. Unsurprisingly, leadership clarity, trust and empowerment are crucial factors. As important, is the assertion that digital ultimately needs to be a part of everyone’s day job at some point. Whilst a specialist team may be prudent to gain momentum in the early days, everyone needs to make the change and adopt digital ways of working to sustain the changes. This is worthy of consideration for L&D folks. Many organisations have digital specialist managers and teams (often born from a learning technology background) but struggle to make the transition beyond that point. I would like to hear some views on that hypothesis in the session, from attendees in particular.

Imelt also asserts that digital change cannot be the preserve of the IT functions. In many ways these are outsourced technologies and activities which operate at too great a distance from the core business to generate valuable change. I really like this point. Too often digital is seen as the preserve of techies and systems folks, under-cooking the potential it can have and limiting the radical change needed. Technology as a function is often too far removed from decision making to create far-reaching changes.

In the L&D world, I suspect (and observe) that digital change is often handed off to learning technology teams. This limits the changes required – digital transformation is about people and how they work as much as it is about technology. In anxious organisations, there can be an insulation from digital because it is seen as a specialism of technologists. Successful change will not occur under these circumstances. I would also like to know wat people make of this observation. It has happened to me directly. As Director of Digital, I have been given responsibility for digital transformation with only technology levers on which to pull. The remainder of the department remained distant, labouring under the belief that ‘digital’ would be solved for them and launched at them. No. It didn’t work.

A related challenge to the preoccupation with IT lead implementation of digital change is the misplaced faith in systems implementation as a source of digital change. Fundamentally, the revolution of digital has been a product of the widespread adoption of digital ways of working. Inherent to these approaches is the ability to experiment and adjust to seek valuable solutions. Any transformation means the old rules no longer apply. Systems implementation, by definition, precludes experimentation and denies the arrival of unexpected value. The computer will say no.

ERP systems, of which the LMS is a prime example, will not deliver digital transformation for this reason. They will deliver efficiency, order and accuracy (hopefully) to established systems or in the embedding of new ones. This is not to be sniffed at, but is not transformative. User needs are rarely anywhere to be seen either.

Other digital tools are where signals of value can be found. As a rule of thumb, it is always best to look outside our own industries in seeking clues to make far-reaching changes. Social media, digital advertising and content publishing have some useful pointers to offer in designing a really helpful user experience. (They also have some useful lessons in questionable business ethics to look out for).

Plenty to chew on for that session at Learning Live then. What else?

3 responses to “Don’t leave digital transformation to IT (or learning technology teams)”

  1. I’m starting to feel that one of the ‘features’ of getting older is that everywhere you look, the problem looks the same – but I’m worried that this might just be a growing insensitivity to subtlety. Or maybe that’s a ‘benefit’? I also think the Digital Transformation issue is important, and am sceptical about the value L&D adds. I thoroughly agree that the technology won’t save us – that IT implementations do not magically transform things – since success lies at the intersection between the technology and the people using it. There is a name for this intersection – ‘user experience’ – and this seems to be at the crux of the problem. IT procurement bods procure with respect to functional requirements, not user experience and it all goes downhill from there. One would like to think that adding L&D into the mix would bring about a shift; but much of the industry seems to have obsessed over shoving content down people’s throats with sod-all regard for user experience, so that’s my worry. How many L&D people care about user experience? How many L&D projects start with a user journey?

    • Agree with all of the above (age does not equate to wisdom, sadly). UX is where the value lies, definitely. Designing a good UX takes skills, experience and ways of working which L&D are not familiar with by and large.

  2. Absolutely agree that user experience is key (although that means different things to most people) but equally important is an appropriate digital pedagogy or instructional method, which also lies at the intersection of technology, learners and trainers. It’ll get really interesting when we can figure out how to benefit from the the expertise in designing effective user experiences that resides in other parallel industries, alongside an updated digital pedagogy. Beware people who claim there’s an easy answer to that one.

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