Skilling the future of fast, agile infrastructure

Three trends have combined to determine an organisation’s success in this time of global digitisation. The first trend is the customer experience. It’s more critical than ever. Accenture recently polled 13,000 customers in 33 countries. The firm found that two out of every three switched companies due to bad customer service.   

Faster innovation is the second trend. The more rapid pace is causing major business disruption. Gartner’s 2016 CEO Survey found that half of 396 leaders in 30 countries expect that digitisation will soon make their industries fully or mostly unrecognisable. 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.   

But the vast potential of digitisation far outweighs its challenges. Digitisation is the merging of people, business and things in the Internet of Things (IoT). It opens up new ways of doing business. It 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. They also yield more profits, competitive advantages and higher efficiencies.   

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

Technology, teamwork and talent must move in tandem to achieve the best digital outcomes. 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. Organisations must move forward with all three at once and keep them at the same pace. 

Digital IT roles, skills are different

Ultimately, digital transformation is based on IT. As a result, 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 organisation. 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.   

Digital-era IT professionals will take on non-technology oriented roles to drive better business outcomes. 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.   

The huge shift in the scope of IT’s role means IT professionals no longer can focus only on making the technology work. 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 articulate communicators. Business consultants. Cloud specialists. 

Data scientists. Design leads. Enterprise architects. Expert collaborators. Program managers. Software programmers. Security practitioners. Systems analysts. Systems integrators. Technology futurists.    

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

Talent is a key to digital success

On top of that, every tech metric is speeding up. Security threats are expanding. User and connected device numbers are exploding. So are traffic and transaction volumes. Digital business applications are more demanding. Direct customer interactions are rising. Demand for data collection and distribution and networked resources is off the charts. Team collaboration is happening more and more. These rapid shifts in technology, a hallmark of the digital era, create the need for continuous learning.   

The upshot? Talent is now a critical barrier to going digital. 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. Seventy-three per cent of them cite this as 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.   

The workforce is aware that professional skills need a digital update. In its Being Digital report in 2015, Accenture found that 64 per cent of employees surveyed are proactively learning new skills to prepare for digital changes. Eighty-one per cent saw digitisation transforming the way they work in three years. And 40 per cent said that shift would be significant.   

Part of the way in which organisations will manage talent precisely is by 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 standardised and, most important, continuous.   

Organisations and IT professionals also 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.   

And, with a workforce more and more diverse, 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.    

Digitisation is a question only of timing, not choice. Organisations that offer their employees the right kind of training to keep their skills abreast of digital changes will have a far better chance of thriving in the digital age.

Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible
Tejas Vashi, Senior Director, Product Strategy & Marketing,
Learning@Cisco