Posted on October 23, 2018 by staff

Getting digital transformation projects right


From accountant to techie, Shamira Sanghrajka shares with us how she is changing things up at EY. For the last six months she has delivered the first roll-out of ‘natural language’ in EY’s practice globally and is working with leadership and staff to help drive sustainable change and successfully leverage technology to empower our people.

Shamira talks about how getting frontline staff involved and invested in the journey is key to success of any digital transformation project.

But her digital advocacy doesn’t end in the workplace.

She is also the founder of the ‘1 million women in STEM’ campaign seeking to shine a spotlight on the work of a million women in STEM disciplines to provide role models for the next generation.

Tell me about your background and what you do at EY?

I took somewhat of a ‘non-traditional’ route into my current position but in retrospect I guess you can join some of the dots! Having studied History at university, I then joined EY’s Corporate Finance graduate programme and qualified as a Chartered Accountant three years later. About a year ago I moved into working in our Innovation team, focused on embedding emerging technologies / technological solutions into our business.

I chose to move into this area because I wanted to be part of something bigger that had the opportunity to impact people in a real, tangible, discernible way. It’s not very often you get the chance to take time away from the ‘what’ of your job to analyse the ‘why’ and ‘how’ – and that’s exactly what we are working to do. Specifically, I use my technical knowledge to design and embed natural language technology into our business, with the aim of ultimately changing the way our people go about doing their work. Our solution has the ability to evaluate structured datasets somewhat like a human would and produce reports embedded with some pretty cool analyses almost instantaneously.

Are organisations doing enough to equip all staff with digital skills?

I recently talked about the ‘oh shit’ gap, the gap between the fluency of digital skills with which the whole workforce needs to be equipped and the reality. Indeed, the demand for greater digital talent is only getting louder, more urgent and the gap is widening. Organisations need to, have to, and are going to play a vital role to bridge it.

I think the promotion of hard digital skills is quite often front and centre, but the attention devoted to developing the softer skills critical to creating a truly digital culture is not so targeted or concerted. I see a lot of effort and thought being put to rolling out training initiatives for example but the focus on how to drive successful digital transformations through cultural change is less sharply focussed.

It is as much about developing the best talent and upskilling the workforce, as it is about inspiring people and making them feel comfortable to keep moving with and embracing the development of technology.

EY are doing a great deal in equipping staff with digital skills – digital degree apprenticeships where students earn a BSc degree alongside specialising in data analytics or software engineering at work, and the EY badges programme allowing people to earn digital credentials are just two examples. There’s always more that can be done in this space but I think we’re off to a stellar start.

What sorts of challenges have you encountered while setting up?

I have found seeking to embed a rather new, emerging, and potentially disruptive technology into our business to be a game of trust and belief. We are asking people to change their behaviour – how they currently work – and take a risk – to believe that ultimately, this technology can enable them to work in a better way. It is a risk because of a myriad of factors: we are introducing an element of the unknown, we are redefining their role (to some degree) and we are asking for an investment of time in an already fast-paced intensive environment. And change is always hard.

What sort of impact are you hoping to make with your programme?

We hope that this initiative will empower people to focus on the more human and arguably more interesting aspects of their work, rather than time-intensive tasks like formatting documents or calculating trends. I want them to spend more of their time on things like developing insights based on human judgement and experience, going out there and building deeper relationships and providing trusted advice – doing more of what they do best.

Ultimately we are aiming to introduce a new way of doing certain aspects of our work and are looking to integrate our solution into day-to-day business as usual. I like to think we are bringing a bit of the future to the present day workplace. And I really enjoy that.

If you could give advice to someone out there who wants to start a programme but is nervous about getting it off the ground, what would you tell them?

Be brave!

I would also tell them that communication and engagement are the key. Research has shown digital transformation programmes have a greater shot at success if there is engagement from frontline employees from the start. And it makes sense! If people are bought in on the journey you are trying to take them on, the mission of the programme or the ‘why’ of your work, they will feel personally invested in it and develop a positive interest in wanting to and making it succeed. People want to feel part of something, in and amidst it, not as if they are having it done to them. And clear, consistent and (occasionally) relentless communication is critical in order to drive that engagement.

Finally, I’d say do it, go for it and don’t look back – the rewards are certainly there to be reaped and it’s worth it! As George Westerman so wisely and eloquently said: “When digital transformation is done right, it’s like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, but when done wrong, all you have is a really fast caterpillar.”

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