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Post-pandemic business transformation starts with people

01 / 03 / 2022
“The future of maritime autonomous surface ships is all about people and the needs of the maritime workforce as the industry moves forward. New technologies bring both opportunities and challenges and we need to separate hype from the real drivers of a technology's commercial promise and prepare for what these opportunities and challenges may be.” Siren Berge, Chief Technical Officer (CTO)
Siren Berge

What camp is your business in?

Is it among those that have flourished during the past two years by pivoting and adapting to the pandemic’s ever-changing landscape? Or is it among those that have floundered, unable to gain traction in such unfamiliar territory?

Regardless of whether your organisation’s star is shining bright or in danger of burning out, in 2022 it is essential that all businesses transform if they are to succeed in this new world. And that change starts with an organisation’s people.

If the past 24 months have taught businesses anything it is that the HR function is about more than hiring, disciplining and firing. HR teams have demonstrated their strength as skilled navigators of people-centric challenges. It’s the department with a systemic viewpoint of the business and has earned a seat at the boardroom table.

HR has always understood that the route to business transformation starts with ensuring an organisation has the skills it needs to get where it wants to go. This year, as we take what we hope are the first tentative steps out of the pandemic, the C-suite needs to hear and act on that message. Efforts to transform are otherwise futile.

The difference in approach is borne out in a report by Gartner outlining the top five priorities for HR leaders in 2022. A survey of more than 500 HR leaders across all major industries highlighted that 59% placed building critical skills and competencies this year as being more important than any other activity.

Perhaps more telling was their response to business priorities. Asked to rank them in importance, 66% opted for improving operational excellence; 65% said executing business transformations; and 64% indicated growing the business.

I suspect that if the same question was asked of any CEO they would have placed business growth as the main aim for 2022 above anything else.

But this demonstrates how HR thinks differently. HR understands that if you want to transform the business and grow the business, the first thing you must do is build operational excellence. The business is only as good as the people it employs, so you must ensure the organisation has people with relevant skills to move forward and to make it run as efficiently as possible. Only then can you see with clarity what other actions and investments are required to drive forward with growth.

Take, for example, the maritime sector. As a long-standing provider of digital learning and human capital management (HCM) software to this industry, we know that it stands at the precipice of a technology revolution.

Autonomous ships with more operations conducted by artificial intelligence (AI) or remotely from the shore are the future - a future that is tangible and within immediate reach. Research by the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST) indicated that near and long-term planning with a focus on people and skills should be at the centre for successful adoption of maritime autonomous vessels.

It stated: “The future of maritime autonomous surface ships is all about people and the needs of the maritime workforce as the industry moves forward. New technologies bring both opportunities and

challenges and we need to separate hype from the real drivers of a technology's commercial promise and prepare for what these opportunities and challenges may be.”

So how can HR influence and manage this complex process? Once an organisation understands its skills base and how it needs to grow its future competencies, it needs to implement a training programme and a process to manage it.

Regardless of the size of an individual organisation, this is not the type of project that can be successfully managed by spreadsheets and manual data inputting. If HR has the power to transform the business, then digital solutions – whether it’s elearning or HCM systems – is the key to unlocking that power.

Training, for example, is a time-consuming process yet the time window in which the workforce can undergo training is limited. Digital learning has been a gamechanger for all industries because it allows learning to take place anytime and anywhere. The growth in digital learning since the start of the pandemic has been well documented, and this has also been borne out in the changes we have seen in Trainingportal, Mintra’s learning management system, where unique annual users have increased from 156,942 in 2019 to 294,688 last year.

That on-demand model is critical in helping HR ensure it has the right skills in the right place. Think about mobile workforces operating on assets such as vessels or rigs. An employee could be called upon at short notice to move to a different asset in a different location: anytime and anywhere learning allows them to undertake any additional certifications that may be necessary for them to work safely and to comply with industry and local regulations.

All of the backend tasks associated with learning management and crew mobilisation have many moving parts. Crew, learning and competence management systems automate those processes, allowing HR professionals to spend more time on transformative business activities. The systems also allow for greater levels of employee engagement: being able to use these systems allows staff to feel more connected and promote a sense of ownership.

The signs very much point to digital HR solutions being the way forward. The most recent Scandinavian HR-IT Report noted that the number of survey respondents indicating they used a complete HR system to manage HR data increased by a little over 6% to 36% last year.

The most significant increase was in Norway, where just under 50% of companies reported they have an HR system compared to just 20% in 2020. Even with this level of growth, the report showed that 64% of the Scandinavian market is still not using an HR system, so there is huge growth potential.

The pandemic and the switch to remote working has, of course, forced the pace of change in automation and digital processes. However, I do not believe that this will slow down or plateau as we see more people return to the office environment. This new world of digital solutions has shown itself to be far more effective and efficient for us to revert backwards.

We’ve been adapting to life with Covid-19 for two years and even now when we might see the light at the end of the tunnel, we find it hard to be hopeful. Our hopes, after all, have been dashed too many times before by this formidable opponent.

Businesses are tired; our energy levels are low and having lived with Covid-19 for so long we know just how difficult 2022 will be. Transformation is a massive challenge for all business but through collaboration and smart solutions – and by recognising the shift in the HR power dynamic - we can change so much for the better.

Siren Berge is the chief technology officer of Mintra – a Norwegian-headquartered specialist in the field of digital learning and human capital management systems. Siren has extensive experience in developing HR software and the maritime industry and has held a number of senior management positions over the past 25 years.