Digital Transformation – What we can learn from the UK’s COVID-19 Response
The Nightingale Hospitals in the UK were rapidly built to help the UK’s creaking NHS handle the severe impact of Covid, at the cost of £532m to the taxpayer. They were announced to much fanfare and not without a touch of jingoistic national pride, that was meant to send the message that the cavalry had arrived and the NHS’s and by extension the country’s salvation was here.
Digital Transformation as a ‘Message of Hope’
However, despite sending a “message of hope” as Prince Charles said when he opened the first Nightingale Hospital in London, they are now seen as a costly mistake. Sitting idle in the majority of cases, they now stand as a beacon of what happens when you prioritise the technology and infrastructure over the people it is supposed to serve. Although the defence of mitigating circumstances can be used to partly explain the rush to build the hospitals in the face of a pandemic on a scale that had not been witnessed in living memory, the warning signs were clear for the UK government.
What happens when there is a focus on the technology and not the people behind it
The government failed to recognise that to work a hospital on that scale would require a huge increase in manpower and expertise that the NHS did not have to spare. This meant that for London’s Nightingale Hospital, only 54 patients were ever treated, despite having 3,500 beds and with the hospitals in the surrounding areas being beyond full capacity.
The need for digital transformation was there, but the people were not
Although this example isn’t directly about digital transformation, it offers a stark warning to leaders of the pitfalls from investing in technology with little regard for the talent that will have to use it. The Nightingale Hospitals stand as testament to that. The government did not take enough account of stretched staff numbers or the needs of doctors for specific technology required (e.g. the need to give COVID patients a tracheostomy, something that could not be performed at the Nightingale Hospitals).
The hospitals didn’t work, not because there wasn’t the need for them, but because the employees of the NHS weren’t able to staff them or operate them viably. As is the case with a failed digital transformation, the need is always there, and often so is the technology and infrastructure, but without the people any digital transformation is doomed to fail.
The most brilliant digital transformation on paper is completely redundant if it doesn’t answer your employees’ needs or if they do not have the requisite skills to use it. Empowering and upskilling your employees to work with tech is part and parcel of any successful digital transformation. Focus on investing in the people who can make your expensive tech useful.
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