General Manager and Editorial Director,
Techstrong Group


In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights interview, Mike Vizard talks to Librestream CEO John Bishop about why so many digital business transformation initiatives are failing.



Mike Vizard: Hello and welcome to the latest edition of the Digital CxO Leadership Insights series. I’m your host, Mike Vizard. Today we’re with John Bishop, who’s CEO for Librestream, and we’ll be talking about what it is that hangs up these digital business transformation projects most. John, welcome to the show.

John Bishop: Thanks, Mike, glad to be here.

Mike Vizard: It seems like everywhere I turn, everybody’s launched multiple digital transformation initiatives, but it seems like just about everybody’s having some sort of issue that’s tripping them up. And it all seems to come back to one thing. What do you think, John, what’s the one thing that’s kind of holding everybody up?

John Bishop: That’s a good question, Mike. I think a lot of times digital transformation becomes a big catch-all bucket and it gets a little too big, a little too nonspecific, at times. But what we see today is the labor force being a trip-up for a lot. We focus on digital transformation on the office and the factory, but we forget about the people that are involved, as well. So that’s what we see tripping up our customers.

Mike Vizard: It almost seems, to me, we’re trying to take a lot of existing processes and “digitize” them, but they were built for more of a paper or a manual process. And then, when we copy those, they just don’t translate into a digital process in a way that the average worker can make work on behalf of the company. So maybe we didn’t take enough of a – I guess going back to the complete drawing board? Or do we just try to rush something through?

John Bishop: Yeah, probably a little bit of both on that one. Digitization for digitization’s sake is kind of pointless. It’s gotta provide a different outcome, and when you look at, especially the workforce, and the industrial workforce specifically, when you look at how jobs get done, it’s messy. People are – there’s dirt under fingernails, there’s callouses on hands, there’s instructions written on sides of buildings and standpipes. It’s not always in the manual, a lot of it’s trapped in the head, and it’s tough to digitize that. Digitizing a process that’s in a three-ring binder that’s in somebody’s pickup truck or their toolbox isn’t the solution. We’ve gotta capture the knowledge of what the people do, not just what they’ve been told to do or what they’ve kind of learned. There’s a lot of tribal knowledge that goes into the industrial workforce, with people with 20, 30, 40 years of experience, and digitizing that is more complicated than simply making a digital form out of an instruction set.

Mike Vizard: How do we go about doing that? ‘Cause a lot of times, you talk to these folks and what they’re doing is rote to them and they don’t even think about it anymore. And so, how do you get them to articulate something that they do almost as muscle memory?

John Bishop: Yeah, it’s – I think when we look at digitization, digitization’s often gotten into the trap of, “Oh, we wanna digitize so we can push instruction towards a workforce.” And to your point, that workforce already knows what they’re doing, especially that workforce that has subject matter expertise. Digitization, though, is about a push and a pull: how can we learn from that workforce, how can we learn from that workforce to inform the business and the next generation of workers, as well. So you’ve gotta make that digitization bidirectional; it can’t just be, “Hey, this is the operation center pushing out to the field telling you what to do,” because the job may already be understood well by the person in the field today.

It’s not understood by the worker of tomorrow, necessarily, but you learn from, so getting a bidirectional path, and let’s digitize so it’s not just to push instruction but to get information back from that fieldworker. That knowledge that they have, this decentralized knowledge that’s in all these massive workforces, it’s very difficult to capture that in the classroom. You’ve gotta do it by being out in the field and kind of getting dirty with them.

Mike Vizard: Do you think some folks are resistant to doing that? Because they kind of view that as their reason for being at the company, that’s their value proposition, so maybe they’re not always keen to share.

John Bishop: Yeah, absolutely. Big Brother is always one of the early concerns that you hear in this workforce transformation side, “Oh, if I digitize, now I’ve got someone looking over my shoulder. What, do they not trust me?” And there’s all these concerns that kind of come up from a human perspective that are quite real, but digitization’s not just about pushing and monitoring; it’s also creating a lot of upskill opportunity. It’s allowing workforces to grow into new opportunities and new jobs, it’s allowing them to get to proficiency in a new task faster, so they can up-level for a certification, accreditation. In some cases, people are able to get jobs done; in many cases, people are able to get jobs and tasks done faster with a digitization process, and that sometimes impacts their wallet.

That allows them to get out there and go earn more. So, the upskilling, the potential to earn more, and the potential to work in a safer environment. Digitization also helps people stay out of maybe high-risk areas, or maybe there’s a procedure that’s unknown to someone that has an update out there, that needs to be shared with the employee out there and the fieldworker, because they’re on an island, they’ve historically been on an island. And if they didn’t know a task, they were competent enough, many times to get it done, but maybe not in the safest way or the most productive way as it relates to them. So there’s a lot of advantage to not, from the employee perspective, to not just look at this as Big Brother. There’s a lot of opportunity for personal growth, personal safety and modernization of their wallets as well.

Mike Vizard: Do you think we don’t sell that as well as we might? ‘Cause there’s a lot of scut work that people do that they hate, but, you know, maybe we don’t spend enough time explaining to them that we can get rid of a lot of the scut work and do something more interesting.

John Bishop: There’s a pride, though, in that work. I mean, you think of the stories that we tell in the backyard barbeques of, “Oh, I repaired something late at night, I rode out in a torrential rainstorm.” There’s a little bit of the hero complex that comes out. And it’s a real thing: someone went out there and saw the impossible task, this herculean effort, at very inconvenient hours, and they were probably the only person that could solve that. So there’s a source of pride in that, and that does sometimes get minimized or even mitigated in a digital world, where you’re allowed to take your knowledge and share it with someone else, to maybe accomplish the same task. But the role shifted: rather than the worker being just the head and the hands, now you might have the expert might be the head, the thoughts behind it, but they might be using someone else to kind of extend their presence and extend their reach.

And there’s a different source of pride that you kind of have to maybe orient to. I think it’s a little bit of a – it’s a human persona thing, it’s something that’s internal to us, in many cases, and that is something that’s – it’s real and it’s difficult to get through and to transition on. But we do see some of the best customers out there saying, “Look, there’s more than just you being onsite, Mr. or Mrs. Kind of Worker. It’s getting your knowledge to get out there and solve the problems, and really using your workforce to solve the most complex problems.” And not to have them solve every problem. We often hear people say, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Doesn’t mean they should solve every problem.

But we want our really talented, our really skilled, our really unique subject matter experts to really focus on the things that are the hardest things for the business to solve. And that’s what digitization can allow them to do: it can allow them to scale their expertise, to help with the rote stuff, the menial stuff, maybe the repetitive stuff, and use their heads to solve the really complex things.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that maybe we should count out the number of heroic acts it takes to make something work? ‘Cause it seems to me if it requires heroic acts, it’s probably broken.

John Bishop: [Laughs] That’s a fair point, it’s a good perspective. Things do break, though. We see, when you look at what a lot of workforce transformation and digital transformation starts with, it’s around those high-value assets, those assets that have high uptime utilization requirements. And when those things break in a predictive maintenance or nonpredictive maintenance model, it does happen, things do break. And so, there is this sense of, “Hey, I got this thing back up and running when it was broken.” Maybe it was ahead of schedule from a predictive maintenance, maybe it broke sooner than we expected, but things do break.

So there’s definitely process improvements, and this is where we can start to, as we digitize the workforce and make it bidirectional, make sure that we can learn from that experience and start to blend that data with what we see in, with what we see in digital transformation that relates to the workforce. There is still this efficiency and this decentralization of data that we can bring all these sources together, the office, the factory, and the field, in one big confluence of data, to make the business and the person more effective.

Mike Vizard: Do you think that the digital CxOs are a little bit maybe too far removed from the processes? ‘Cause I think many a time I will go ask one of them how something works, and they will tell me, with great confidence, that that’s how it works. And then when I go ask three other people, I’ll get four other different explanations of how it works that have nothing to do with the first. So, maybe if we are gonna digitize, you know, does the leadership team _____ _____ need to go spend some time in the line?

John Bishop: Yeah, it’s a good point, you can’t have a digital initiative that just starts at the top and says, “Okay, we’re gonna digitize the whole organization,” without understanding what it means. There has to be buy-in up and down the organization, you need to have champions at the user level, you need to have champions at the administrative level, and you need to have champions at the executive level. And if you can get that executive to go work out in the field and see how things really work, that’s a win, but at least minimally, having that sponsorship and that buy-in throughout levels of the organization, it’s a must _____ you’re not gonna be successful with it. And oftentimes, we find that our user groups, they’re not focused on the buyers; they’re focused on the people that actually use the software that we make.

Because they’re the ones that interact with the product. If the product’s not useable, someone doesn’t wanna add more burden to their day. They already sometimes see digital as a little bit of a barrier, so if it’s digital and it’s hard, it’s out the door, they’re not gonna use it. They’ve got a job still to do, and digital can’t be an extra burden and it can’t be a distraction. So we spend a lot of time with the user group making sure that we understand their needs, not just what’s coming from the executive leadership who writes the checks for purchasing.

Mike Vizard: And a lot of times, I think if you go look at your processes and there’s more exceptions than there are rules, then maybe you should rethink the whole thing end-to-end.

John Bishop: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, fair. I mean, we see a number of sites that we go out to and we look at a site, and I often go out to a customer and they say, “Oh, we wanna show you where your product’s being used.” And you go out there and they start telling you about the site and you say, “Well, this one part, this boiler, this steamer used to be here, then we moved it over here.” And you’re looking at the blueprint and that says the boiler is back in where it’s supposed to be in the original drawings. And so, engineering change plans happen a lot, change is part of the business. Getting this to make sure that we are still connecting that what should’ve been and what actually is, connecting those dots, we have to be able to feed that.

And that’s one of the powerful elements when you look at work instruction and doing it on a global basis and digitizing the workforce. Because you may have a team in one geography that’s doing a ten-step process in an hour, and another team at a different geography doing that same ten-step process in 45 minutes. Well, what’s the difference? Is somebody getting hung up on stage seven? And if they’re getting hung up on stage seven and the first geography, what can they learn from the team that’s in a different geography? Are they taking a different approach? Are they doing something different?

This is where that process efficiency and that optimization and that efficiency and that safety through digitization all become possible. And that’s where we can, as we do it at scale, not just in pockets, I think it’s another trap we get into in the workforce transformation is we start with small pockets, and we just don’t get enough value out of it quick enough. We’ve gotta make sure that we scale it up quickly to the workforce, not just a pocket of the workforce.

Mike Vizard: All right, folks, you heard it here: if you wanna succeed in digital business, start at the bottom. Hey, John, thanks for being on the show.

John Bishop: Thanks, Mike, I appreciate it, always great connecting.

Mike Vizard: All right, and thank you all for watching this latest episode. You can find this show and all our others on the website. We invite you to check them all out. And once again, thanks for watching.

Show Notes