Thursday, 25th April 2019
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Addressing the central digital transformation challenge: people

Digital transformation is the realignment of, or new investment in, technology, business models, and processes to drive new value and experiences for customers and employees. It comprises a variety of technological and logistical forces that are affecting, changing and challenging every sector but that are necessary if organisations are to effectively compete in the ever-changing digital economy. By Steve Wainwright, Managing Director at Skillsoft.

Digital transformation has already had an impact on the way organisations are structured and the way we work. Many businesses now see themselves as technology companies; those that don’t should. In time, the traditional organisational models of the past and legacy mindsets will fade, paving the way for more agile, collaborative, innovative and adaptive methods of doing business.

Responsibility for digital transformation is cross-functional but ultimately, it should be owned by the CEO, just as the overall strategy of the organisation is. This is because digital transformation will play a large part in defining the company’s overall strategy moving forward. But for digital transformation to be successful, stakeholders need to think carefully about the impact that digital transformation will have on company culture and the workforce. Investing in new technology is vital. However, implementation will only ever truly be successful if employees are digitally ready.

The skills gap

We are in the middle of a technology skills drought. There simply aren’t enough people with the skills organisations require to successfully embrace the new technologies they need and this challenge is only set to become harder. A large part of organisations’ digital transformation journeys will, therefore, be internal people development. Traditional talent and learning practices need to change to focus on building digital dexterity at scale.

For this to happen, the CEO needs to work closely with the HR department to create learning and development (L&D) opportunities that give employees the skills they need to navigate the waves of digital change. Every employee’s training will need to be different, depending on their skills sets and interests.

Digital skills

A recent report looking at the skills shortage in the UK found that two thirds of UK businesses expect to struggle to find the candidates they need in 2018. Many say the most prominent challenge they are facing is a lack of sufficient experience in candidates. The figures suggest what many business already know – hiring new candidates with the skills required to be successful in digital transformation is not an winning strategy. They simply don’t exist!

Over the coming years it will be crucial to help employees develop digital skills – things like coding, agile, Internet of Things (IoT) management, moving to cloud-based software and using data science. These will be of lasting use in the future. HR departments should not limit this kind of training to just members of the IT team. They should look elsewhere within their organisation, to employees who may be interested in exploring a new career path or adding other facets to their current role.

In particular, organisations should encourage women to take on these opportunities. Women are an untapped source of digital talent. Just 17% of those working in technology in the UK are female. Organisations should take a good look at the women in their organisations and explore whether they may be interested in taking on a different role or learning a new skill.

Soft skills


While developing digital skills is important, this should not be the sole focus of an organisation’s L&D efforts. Organisations also need to encourage employees to develop new mindsets to cope with the changing world of work. Soft skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, people management and emotional intelligence will prove absolutely critical in future and should be incorporated into training initiatives.

This is, in part, down to the disruptive emergence of AI and automation; both being key tenets of digital transformation in the enterprise. These technologies are changing people’s job functions and in some cases, even displacing them. It is important, therefore, that employees are encouraged to develop and harness their soft skills. These uniquely human skills will become even more important as we move into a new era of automation.

Getting practical

The skills needed for successful digital transformation are becoming increasingly clear, but much more needs to be done to help employees achieve proficiency in them. This will be crucial to long-term success, and will ensure employees have the opportunity to be productive in the workplace of tomorrow.

What success looks like from a training perspective is also clear. Training needs to be specific, engaging and offer ‘just in time’ opportunities to learn while working. L&D tools need to offer curated content, which is delivered in the same intuitive, personalised manner employees enjoy on social media and entertainment platforms like Netflix. We know that forcing training onto employees is ineffective – we need to give them the freedom and opportunity to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want.

Ultimately, successful digital transformation is not just about introducing new technology; it is about how well an organisation can assist its people in adapting to, and embracing, digital change. Digital transformation is not a technology challenge, it’s a people challenge. Success will be driven by employee development, but it’s down to business leaders to point them in the right direction.

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