People, not technology, are the long pole in the tent

For digitally transform Fujitsu’s HR function across 37 different countries we implemented Oracle Cloud HCM platform

The technology world is rife with peculiar phrases. Not so long ago, a colleague asked me, “Do we really know what the longest pole in the tent is?” At first, I didn’t know what he meant. But then I worked it out: the longest pole is the one that goes up first, and holds the tent up. It gives it height and structure. So, it’s the most important element at the heart of the tent. When the phrase is attached to a transformation program, you know it’s mission critical.

I wondered where the phrase came from: a zealous scout-leader maybe, or happy campers in Dorset somewhere. If you Google it, you get a story about George W. Bush! No, really. It seems that he used it back in 2006. Suddenly, a lot of people around him did too. The New York Times did a whole article about what it meant, and where it came from. Then it faded back into obscurity.

Anyway, the point is that it’s a useful image when you’re thinking about what’s critical to digital transformation: the technology or the people. I’d been working on a big project to digitally transform Fujitsu’s HR function across 37 different countries. We implemented Oracle Cloud HCM platform as the technological cornerstone of a radical project. Those 37 countries had to each go on a unique journey.

We set out to make tasks easier and more transparent, and give power back to our managers. It was a way of freeing HR specialists to focus more on people and the strategy of our people, while also focusing on delivering higher value to the business.

We started with a very human vision. Previous blogs have detailed how we streamlined processes and achieved efficiencies, but I want to emphasize what the original vision was really about.

Here’s where that long pole comes in again (and I promise it’s the last time!) – the critical part was not the technology, it was our people. In fact, I could claim that the technology was the least important aspect. That’s not to demean its contribution – brilliant as ever – but it’s not the focus of the vision. And nor should it be. The technical rollout is just a stage on the journey. In fact, nowadays, moving from traditional implementations of an on-premise solution to a cloud one, takes much less time. But, the real focus should be the people who implement the vision, deliver its benefits and, in turn, benefit from it.

The critical path, then, extends beyond the technological rollout, and encompasses all the human aspects of the new HR function, especially our people managers and all employees. And the same should be true of any other project. For me, the same imperative applies to every other function of the enterprise. Start with the people and work backwards. How do you want to make life better for them? Then apply the best technologies to achieve improvements.

Delivering the technology is just part of the process. You need to plan for a much longer period to allow people to get used to it. Start a dialogue. Help them understand its benefits and enable access to training and support. It’s also vital to ensure that hearts and minds are won from the start, and that everyone buys into the vision of how the project benefits them as individuals as well as how it improves the business.

It’s people who support the enterprise. They’re the long pole – I couldn’t avoid using it again, sorry! Interestingly, the phrase is also used in the movie business. A tentpole movie is one that’s a huge hit and delivers revenue and profit for the studio. At Fujitsu, we work hard to make every project a success – and it’s our people who do it. We put them first.

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    August 15, 2017

    Great article, thanks for sharing!

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