Meeting the Challenge of Digitization: Upskilling Employees is Critical

TejasVashi, Senior Director, Product Strategy & Marketing for Learning, Cisco
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TejasVashi, Senior Director, Product Strategy & Marketing for Learning, Cisco

During this era of global digital transformation, three trends have arisen that will determine whether organizations succeed or fail. The first of these is customer experience. Recently, Accenture polled 13,000 customers in 33 countries and found that two out of every three switched companies due to poor customer service.

The second trend is quicker innovation. Gartner’s 2016 CEO Survey found that half of 396 leaders in 30 countries expect that digitization will soon make their industries fully or mostly unrecognizable. A survey from The Global Center for Digital Transformation found certain companies are at a higher risk of going out of business due to digital disruption. These companies are in industries like travel, media, manufacturing, technology and healthcare.

Though there are challenges to digital transformation, its promise propels organizations forward. Digitization is the merging of people, business and things in the Internet of Things (IoT). It opens up new ways of doing business and creates new and better customer experiences that are so critical to digital success. It stimulates and supports new business models; internally, it drives workforce innovation. These advances lead to new products and services and also yield more profits, competitive advantages and higher efficiencies.

  ​Though there are challenges to digital transformation, its promise propels organizations forward. Digitization is the merging of people, business and things in the Internet of Things (IoT) 

Workforce experience is the third major trend. It is now just as important as the customer experience and keeping up with the rapid technology evolution. Businesses that get it wrong lose productivity. A Gallup report found that 87 percent of employees in 142 countries are disengaged. And one disengaged employee costs an organization $3,400 for every $10,000 spent in salary. Yet the same study found that just a 10 percent hike in worker satisfaction boosts earnings per share by 50 percent.

To achieve the best digital outcomes, technology, teamwork and talent must move in tandem. If talent falls behind, technology and teamwork will fail to deliver. If teamwork falls behind, then technology and talent will not deliver, either. The same applies if technology does not keep pace. Organizations must move forward with all three at once and keep them at the same pace.

New Skills Needed in the Digitized World

IT is the seat of digitization. Consequently, IT cannot function in isolation anymore, based on different platforms that do not work well together. As the IoT evolves, IT will reach into all aspects of the digital organization. Like current and emerging business models. Or customer engagement and insight, products and services, end user processes, the supply chain and partners. It must blend in well everywhere.

To drive better business outcomes, today’s IT pros will take on non-technology oriented roles. And non-technical business people will interact more with IoT-based IT. Network control engineers, for example, will be part of operations. Software programmers will collaborate with the business development team. Business analysts will drive software requirements.

IT professionals can no longer solely focus on making the technology work—the huge shift in the scope of IT’s role prevents that. Nor can they limit their skills to one area. Evolving IT job roles must include cross-functional skills with the understanding to drive business outcomes. These expanded IT job roles cover a lot of ground, like business consultants, cloud specialists, data scientists, design leads, enterprise architects, program managers, software programmers, security practitioners, systems analysts, systems integrators and technology futurists, for example.

IT professionals will have new job roles and responsibilities in addition to their double-deep skill sets. They will form new teams with new interactions. All of this calls for new approaches to learning and development and new hiring approaches.

Talent: The Linchpin of Digitization

In addition, the number of users and connected devices is exploding. So are traffic and transaction volumes. Every tech metric is speeding up. Security threats are expanding. Digital business applications are more demanding. Direct customer interactions are rising. Demand for data collection and distribution and networked resources are off the charts. Team collaboration is happening more often. These rapid shifts in technology, a hallmark of the digital era, create the need for continuous learning.

As a result, digital transformation is being hindered by a talent shortfall. It’s not easy to find IT professionals with enough digital-ready skill sets. According to the 18th annual Global CEO Survey from PwC in 2015, the lack of key digital skills is one of business leaders’ biggest concerns; 73 percent of them say this is a problem. McKinsey’s Cracking the Digital Code report in 2015 found that a lack of talent was respondents’ top challenge in meeting priorities for digital projects. The same report concluded that managing talent precisely is one of the keys to digital success.

Workers know they need a digital update. In its Being Digital report in 2015, Accenture found that 64 percent of employees surveyed are proactively learning new skills to prepare for digital changes. Eighty-one percent saw digitization transforming the way they work in three years. And 40 percent said that shift would be significant.

One method of precise talent management involves providing the right training for employees to acquire the right digital skills quickly. The best learning experiences are current and relevant. They are convenient and practical. Their focus is collaborative. They are also standardized and, most important, continuous.

In addition, IT professionals and organizations need a credentialing system to validate new job-related skills and training that focuses on specific skills because, in the digital era, skills will keep diverging across vertical industries, geographic location and systems.

As the workforce expands across the world and shifts demographically, instruction formats are quickly evolving. They are moving toward video-based, gaming-like formats that offer flexible learning options. Instruction can be accessed as needed using any smart device.

Organizations don’t get to choose whether they will participate in digitization; it is here, and it’s moving fast. Those that prepare for the future now by equipping their employees with the training needed to gain critical skills dramatically improve their chances of survival and the likelihood of market advantage.

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