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BP upskills its workforce for a digital-led business transformation

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels December 23, 2020
BP has created a Digital Skills Academy to develop new technical capabilities and support innovative ways of working.

oil rig
(BP )

BP has undertaken a corporate re-skilling programme to help prepare its global workforce for a major business transformation programme that will rely on the development of internal digital talent.

Diana Kennedy, Vice-President for Strategy, Architecture and Planning, says BP is currently going through a transformation process that involves a shift from being an organisation that generates and delivers energy to one that creates and develops integrated and renewable energy solutions:

That is an enormous transformation and requires, not just a complete set of new skills for this company, but also a mindset that pivots this entire organisation towards a new magnetic north of net-zero. This is really changing everything about this company, with a big shift away from hydrocarbons towards renewable energy, and a focus on customer propositions through electrification, and growing those businesses in a way that is sustainable for our planet.

Digitisation plays a key role in this process. Kennedy says there was a broad recognition across BP for the first time that digital technology would help enable a business transformation:

Digital skills plays an enormous part in any transformation programme and for BP, where the urgency for delivery has been incredibly stark, there has been a need to re-skill the existing workforce rather than looking to attract and hire new talent.

Recognising the role of digital

Kennedy explains that her role at BP is to develop strong digital foundations that help the organisation unlock the value of its enterprise data assets. The aim is to help shift the operating model of IT at BP as a precursor to a broader change across the 70,000-strong business over time. She says you can only make the most of data and emerging technology if you focus on developing the right digital skills across the organisation:

And those skills are only valuable if they are delivered as part of a complete shift in mindset and culture towards innovation and collaboration. To begin with, we very much thought about the skills we needed in the IT organisation and set about creating an operating model based on service delivered through a DevOps delivery model.

As part of this process, Kennedy says her team defined a set of technical domains, from data science to platform engineering and onto application development, and also softer skills around design-led thinking and agility. She says they quickly realised two key things:

One, the skills that we had in our organisation today were a very long way from where they needed to be in order to deliver on this ambition. But second, our ability to hire and attract talent on the kind of scale and volume that was required was not possible within the timelines.

So her team started a re-skilling journey for the IT department and created a digital skills curriculum. The aim was to develop a career track that best-suited each individual and to use that focus to help support the long-term development of digital solutions that would meet the key challenges that the business faces:

We want to pivot the organisation away from delivering individual unique products and solutions to those that are developed in a collaborative manner. That approach really enables the best ideas to come forward and be accelerated.

Putting skills development into practice

Kennedy and her team have created a Digital Skills Academy that allows employees to think about which technical skills they need and how they can re-skill as part of BP’s broader business transformation programme. While many of these skills are focused on technology capability, the programme has also developed aptitudes around new ways of working, such as design-led thinking and Agile methodologies.

BP has also populated digital content hubs to help employees learn new digital skills as well as hiring coaches to support this development process and encourage employees to share their best-practice lessons. C-Suite support has been critical to this re-skilling effort, says Kennedy:

It goes without saying that the shadow of the leader is incredibly strong. Our executive team, our group CIO and others are reinforcing the importance of learning to every single employee, and enabling people to free up their time to learn has been incredibly important on this journey.

As key tactic that the IT organisation has used is ‘Learn Fridays’, where every employee is given the opportunity to spend half a day, every week, on their individual learning journey. Organisational performance measurement, meanwhile, now considers three elements: meeting personal commitments, sharing knowledge with others, and taking knowledge and augmenting it to create greater value for the company:

Getting that digital-learning mindset and culture right has really been critical to the success so far. We’ve focused on lots of different skills and created lots of different opportunities to really re-skill the organisation.

Creating this new kind of culture is not always straightforward. Kennedy admits she has met  with scepticism within BP, with some individuals suggesting that they’re too busy on the day job to re-skill. However, those challenges have been overcome and there are now 2,000 digital practitioners across the organisation. These practitioners are people who have completed the digital curriculum and are certified in a key area, such as data science, platform engineering or application development:

Promoting digital skills has not just allowed us to re-skill our organisation, but it has also created a really attractive proposition for new hires, and has really energised and motivated our organisation towards the future. And that's certainly something that I'm very proud of.

Kennedy acknowledges the journey is far from complete. The focus now is on democratising learning and encouraging technologists in the organisation to share their knowledge. BP has already created communities of like-minded interest, known as guilds, which help employees to share best practice in key areas, such as data science. Kennedy says the end result is a workforce that is ready for ongoing business transformation:

It genuinely is possible to re-skill an organisation from the bottom up by getting the foundations right, by creating that mindset and cultural shift, and by putting in place the structures and frameworks that enables everyone across the entire organisation to continue their lifelong learning journey.

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