Is your organisation ready for digital transformation?

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Part of an organisation’s planning for digital transformation should include an evaluation of the employee skills that will be needed to support digital initiatives. Without human resource planning the organisation may find itself with a skills gap which can delay or undermine the gains the digital initiative would provide. 

For example, many digital initiatives, such as incorporating artificial intelligence into existing systems, require cognitive thinking skills, non-routine tasks and the ability to work with a tremendous amount of digital data. An evaluation of the organisation’s current skillset against the digital initiative will likely reveal skill areas that are lacking. The company can then decide if current employees have the capabilities to learn new skills and the time it takes for training, or whether a new set of skills need to be sourced. 

In evaluating a company’s human resource capabilities, there are four areas to consider. 

1. Create “future-state” scenarios to help plan a roadmap for skills and the shape of the workforce 

With the end state in mind, what are the skills needed at various stages of the initiative and for its long-term support? Will new roles need to be created? Is the work best suited for in-house, outsourced or a combination of both? Will the structure of the organisation change?   

HR can be instrumental in advising different workforce scenarios and providing recommendations on the availability of necessary talent. While it should not be assumed that only millennials are suited for digital work, many millennials entering the workforce are indeed more digitally minded and have different work style expectations than the traditional worker. This can be seen in the fact that 63 per cent of UK employees now work flexibly in some capacity.   

An increasing part of the workforce also prefers to have multiple jobs where they can “microtask” on several different projects for different companies who source them through job marketplaces. This gig style of employment has many benefits for organisations. For example, there are fewer full time employees, and organisations gain the advantage of a workforce that is constantly upgrading their skills. However, this may have other impacts on the company’s structure and culture that may need to be addressed. A more mobile culture may need to pervade the entire organisation. 

2. Identify the skill gap areas 

Based on the previous two steps, the company will be equipped with the information needed to identify which skillsets are currently lacking, skills that will be needed throughout the initiative’s implementation, and those needed for ongoing support. While staff sourcing usually falls on HR, hiring managers need to understand which soft skillsets are required, and be able to evaluate existing employees and potential employees for these types of skills. As previously mentioned, digital transformation-related jobs may require cognitive thinking and non-routine tasks. Desirable attributes may include individuals who are comfortable working with online and real-time collaboration tools and mobile tools. They may need to be at ease with working with unstructured data, data analysis and augmented/virtual reality or smart machines.   

If training existing employees is required, there are many resources available. An industry has been created around providing training resources that an entire enterprise can access. Examples include Udemy, CareerFoundry and General Assembly. Shorter term, more intensive boot-camp approaches may be appropriate for certain topics. “Microlearning”, where short duration instruction is given through podcasts, quizzes and games is also becoming popular. These in-context sessions can be part of a guided set of courses that provide training in shorter spurts over longer periods of time when education must be done in parallel with existing work.

Regardless of the approach, training for existing employees and new hires should be an ongoing process as the company moves through different digital initiatives. 

3. Develop plans to close the skills gap and prepare the workforce for change 

Whether the company needs to find these skillsets outside the organisation or has identified a subset of employees that can be trained, a concerted effort between the executive team, IT and HR should be made to plan for the organisation’s acceptance of the changes that digital initiatives will bring to the company as a whole and to individual employees. 

It is not unusual for employees to feel some anxiety about digital change and to mitigate resistance, the company can plan to educate and engage employees in a proactive manner. Activities and programmes that show that digital transformation represents empowerment rather than a threat can help ease employees through the transition. Often referred to as consumerising the work experience, bringing consumer-like experiences into the workplace has been shown to shorten the transition period and increase the acceptance of using digital tools and smart machines.   

Examples of consumerising might include a digital service desk or café, rethinking the internal portals to use more consumer-friendly tools, prioritising use of apps rather than applications, redefining hiring and cultivation programmes that allow for remote or part-time workers and encouraging the use of trialling or playing with new types of digital tools. Embracing the use of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications which tend to evolve faster and tend to be more innovative than their on-premises application counterparts is another example. 

IT leaders face a broad range of challenges – from a lack of executive support to budget limitations – but it’s arguably skills shortages, both in the IT department and the wider business, that are the most crippling. Skills and staffing are essential if the IT department is to shed its cost centre image and drive the business forward. 

With these steps, an organisation has a higher probability of a successful digital initiative. Learnings from the experience should be shared with all stakeholders as the subsequent initiatives in the overall digital transformation plan are undertaken.

Martin De Martini, Co-founder and CIO at Y Soft 

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