In the media

Keeping pace with rapid change

By Jonny Buckley

Rail Professional

21 April 2022

COVID-19 disrupted how people within organisations learn and develop new skills. Teams were having to grapple with how to use MS Teams, ensuring that staff remain compliant through virtual classroom delivery as well as keeping up to date with maturing technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and the Metaverse.

This article was first published on Rail Professional

However, whilst lockdowns, social distancing and remote working have increased the adoption of certain technologies, the fundamentals of learning to improve business performance have not changed. For the rail industry, the concept of a Digital Railway will provide unique challenges and re-skilling as individuals interact with a wider range of new technologies, leverage value from data and work with integrated systems. To meet these challenges, there are three critical things to do to ensure that training teams deliver impactful and innovative solutions: 

  1. Develop a learning partnership with their business colleagues 
  2. Link new and innovative ideas to the strategic outcomes of the business 
  3. Have a framework that ensures training teams deliver continuous innovation.

Training should be seen as an investment and not a cost  

Learning and development departments should be seen as enabling the business objectives rather than the traditional subservient task masters. Before any technology or innovation strategy is put into place, the training teams must work with, challenge and partner with the business to understand their requirements. When business stakeholders come to the training team with the solution, rather than a description of the problem, alarm bells should sound as it is a potential indicator that the need might not be clearly defined which means that it will be a challenge to demonstrate the business impact of the problem. This is not always the case, but it is important to have a discovery conversation with the business to truly support their outcomes in the longer term. 

The training team needs to be brave and challenge the business through insightful and intelligent questioning. So, the next time you are asked to deliver a virtual reality solution, for example, consider the longer-term implications of saying “yes” if the need is not clearly defined. 

In evolving the approach of training to performance consulting, requirements and projects will be objectively clearer. After a period of delivering measurable outcomes and communicating this, the training team will be seen as an asset to the business that enables teams to achieve their goals, rather than an ongoing and hard to justify cost to the organisation.  

Navigating the noise 

Assuming the foundations of the team are in place, and value is being delivered by the training department, they can work with business colleagues to understand and translate what tool or piece of technology is best used to deliver the aspired outcomes. Training teams within the rail sector have witnessed significant digital change and transformation since the start of COVID-19 following the rapid deployment of virtual and technology tools that have become ubiquitous at work. 

Overnight, many organisations changed how they worked. Teams who were used to operating and working in an office had to suddenly use the Microsoft 365 suite and it was the training teams, more often than not, who had to become experts on Microsoft Teams as well as knowing how to use other tools such as Miro and Zoom. Historically, these tools would be viewed as technology that IT departments were responsible for. Today, the training team has a key role in understanding user requirements and working with IT to get the most out of what is currently available. 

Away from online tools, Facebook’s rebrand of its corporate name to Meta reflects the surge in interest around Digital Twins, Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities. Too many organisations want to work with these technologies without considering why or even thinking about the strategy around product selection, maintenance and upgrading or how they intend to scale the technology across a whole organisation in the longer term. Setting up a framework is helpful in deciding what digital tools will be a success in your organisation. 

The rail sector, like many others, will naturally become interested in the positive role data and Artificial Intelligence can play in supporting ongoing business requirements. Yet, many individuals still struggle to decipher the difference between a bot and a chat-bot let alone embark on a journey to strategically deploy deep learning techniques to understand and predict potential safety issues, as one example. 

Structure is needed to navigate these challenges which includes a mixture of exploration, trial and error as well as embedding the learning solution into the everyday flow of work. 

Ensuring ongoing learning innovation 

Once the training team’s purpose is clear, and they have an idea of the “noise”, several key points can be implemented to take the team on a journey to deliver ongoing value in innovative ways. The following approaches are key parts of the journey: 

  • Horizon Scanning - exploring what a product is, its offerings and how it might solve a current or future business problem 
  • Proof of Concepts - piloting at various stages through early adoption and further scaled up pilots to take the business on the journey of how a product evolves. This is where Agile methodologies can help 
  • Business as usual - an area that is either forgotten about, or teams try and do too quickly, is considering how learning technology and products can be transitioned into everyday business for our rail colleagues.

These changes can take concerted time and effort as the rail industry continually evolves into greater digital ways of operating. Some team members could struggle with the move to performance consulting relationships with the business, or a project stakeholder might be insistent on a specific solution. It is important for the leadership team to deliver the vision and be seen to lead the way through this change in order to deliver impactful and innovative solutions that improve business performance.

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