From the outset, Johann Botha, Chief Innovation Officer of getITright, is very clear about his disdain for the term 'consultant'.
"The ultimate aim of a consultant is to have a resource based at the client's business. Whether that resource is helping the business to solve a problem, or whether that resource is doing the business's bidding, in my opinion that isn't consulting, that's being a contractor. What the business doesn't realise is that it could hire its own resource instead of paying a consulting house to provide a more expensive one."
Often, it suits the customer to acquire a resource in this manner because the person doesn't appear on their payroll, so where the company's operational budget has been spent or there's a hiring freeze, this is one way of bypassing these limitations. However, says Botha, in this type of scenario, it's very difficult to effect meaningful, lasting change within the business, as the minute that the resource is off-site, the business generally returns to its old way of doing things.
"The ideal customer for our approach is one that can commit to a short-term engagement that includes skills transfer during which their own staff can learn how to solve problems, so that going forward, they can resolve their own issues."
The key thing in this space, according to Botha, is to make sure the business is able to stand on its own two feet once the 'consultant' has left the building. This is done by carrying out the work alongside the customer and, in the process, doing a proper skills transfer.
"Our aim is to help organisations to digitally transform, in totality, from strategy through to dealing with the mundane things that go wrong with services and products that worked just fine until they were digitised. Unfortunately, when we talk about digital transformation, companies think it's an IT issue, which it's not. The unrealistic expectation is that IT should be able to deliver on every single thing that goes awry once every process within the business is technology-driven. IT is an enabler and could not, and should not, drive business strategy. That's the job of the business. Digital transformation is therefore an organisational initiative supported by IT, not the other way round."
Botha says there are two elements that needs to be applied to achieve effective skills transfer, and both are required to make lasting change. The first element entails a combination of on-site learning and workshops, where employees learn new skills and how to use them in an iterative process. The second element is workplace-based learning, where theory is applied in the workplace and embedded into the normal way of work. This is done by following up on learning activities, with weekly sessions with the team that's taking ownership of the application of what they have learnt and including that learning in the tasks they perform on a day-to-day basis.
This combination of theoretical and concrete, practical skills in a team environment is key to success in implementing any kind of change within the organisation. Botha says: "It's never a good idea in a corporate environment to train individuals, especially if they're going to be expected to work as part of a team going forward. It's critical to engage the whole team, if that's the way that they're going to work. Thereafter, one can address the division of labour in a real-world scenario."
He adds that learning theory isn't the key element, it's more about developing skills in the organisation based on what was learnt, but then adapting them within the organisational context. It's also about the organisation's ability to objectively measure its investment in people development. "If you speak to students in a traditional classroom environment, they're really excited about the knowledge that's being imparted, but are aware that it may not be relevant to their particular workplace, or that they may never be given the opportunity to apply what was learnt. The only benefit to this type of engagement is that the learner has something to put on their CV; there's little benefit for the organisation, and what little benefit there may be is virtually impossible to quantify and measure."
This is the dilemma faced by the majority of IT managers and CIOs; they know that it's important to train and develop people, but there's no way of measuring the value of the investment. There's even sometimes the perception that it's an investment with a diminishing return as they don't see any difference when the people return from training.
Botha believes management is responsible for the above as most companies lack a well-defined policy or programme around people development. On its own, training solves nothing if the person isn't given the opportunity to apply what they've just learnt.
"We need to think about learning within the context of a team or an organisation, instead of regarding it as an individual activity. We also need to think about how we can create opportunities to apply what was learnt within the workplace context. If the latter, most vital, aspect is left up to the organisation to initiate, there will always be another, more urgent, priority than implementing something new."
Not applying what was learnt is to the organisation's detriment, points out Botha. He refers to a concept called 'technical debt', where employees are so focused on getting systems back up and running during an outage, that they never address the root cause of the problem, or where shortcuts are taken with the intent to 'fix it later'. Over time, the technical debt or quality issues accumulate and compound until the only viable solution is to rip and replace.
People need to learn problem-solving skills; this is possibly the most important thing in any business, so they can avoid passing defects down the line, regardless of the person's function within the organisation. However, this can only be effective if skills transfer is done in such a way that it is able to change the environment within the organisation so that it becomes the new way of doing things. "You need to take what people have learnt, apply it, make sure the new behaviour is embedded within the organisation, and a key behavior must be the obliteration of defects in any task or for every activity that we perform.
"Learning and people development initiatives should be aligned to organisational objectives or problems and focus on getting tangible results as a result of learning; only then you can objectively measure the outcome of the learning initiative. Every learning engagement must result in a team that has learnt how to do something within its environment to improve that environment. If you cannot measure ROI for people development and learning, from a governance perspective, it is reckless behaviour. If you can, you will see the results and the organisation effectively transforms itself from within," concludes Botha.