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Digital skills vital for transformation

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Kathy Gibson reports from VMworld in Barcelona – Organisations that fail to change the way they do business, or to leverage the digital skills of their employees, may well fall by the wayside.

This is the word from Matt Crosby, head of expertise: UK and Ireland at the Hay Group, who was one of the panellists in a round-table on digital skills held today at VMworld 2015.

The discussion centred around a recent VMware study that seems to indicate that companies are missing out by not making use of the digital skills already residing in their organisations.

Digital skills, for purposes of the study, were defined as the ability of people to use the technology of their choosing to find, analyse, use or share data to change and improve ways of working.

About 5 700 employees from all sorts of organisations across Europe were interviewed, representing all types and ages as well as all levels of seniority and aimed to determine people’s ability to harness technology to change the way that they work.

The research findings show that it’s not only Millennials who are interested in technology, but that digital skills are meaningful to all employees. In fact, most employees believe that digital skills are linked to competitive advantage or being organisationally efficient and that it is important to the company.

Many of the respondents feel that they are not being enabled enough; or didn’t have the right level of digital skills to be fully empowered – and they believe it is the role of the IT organisation to fix that.

In addition, most employees feel that IT and business leaders need to be more aligned to one another, that there is a perceived gap that they don’t believe is being bridged.

Crosby points out that organisations across the world are trying to figure out how to transform their businesses. “Digitisation is the biggest show in town at the moment, both for traditional companies and new companies.”

The old ways of doing things are not necessarily the right ways in a world where people feel they are able to use technology, he adds.

While individual employees may well have the digital skills to perform their jobs more effectively, organisations themselves are often lacking the skills to make the digital organisation a reality, Crosby says.

“It’s a two-way street,” he says, explaining that companies need to empower their workers while creating a digital organisation. This doesn’t mean that core systems will necessarily change, but technologies that mirror consumer behaviour could be beneficial in the workplace.

“The ways organisations convince their users to make use of technology have changed,” says Crosby. “For instance, social media so a solution like Yammer could be effective. Using things like this gets people enthusiastic.”

Joe Baguley, vice-president and chief technology officer of VMware EMEA, points out that often people and processes are the barriers to success – that it’s seldom the technology.

“As a technologist I get frustrated that people don’t use it,” he says. “But at every level of the workforce, people want to learn how to do these things. There is frustration when people have digital skills that are not being used by their employers.”

He cites the example of UK retailer Sainsbury’s, which held a hackathon that it opened up to all employees in the organisation, and found tremendous positive feedback from staff at all levels.

“Employees throughout the organisation felt they had been empowered to change their organisation; to use their own skills to do it.”

Baguley believes the root of the problem is that many corporate IT systems are stuck in the past in terms of how they deliver services to their users. “The consumer-grade experience is now way in advance of anything that enterprises are offering.

“And there are amazing digital skills within the organisation that can be unlocked.”

To move forward, Baguley believes that companies need to do things differently, looking at ways of taking the digital skills that exist in the organisation and using them to move forward.

“Unless you re-invent the way you do things inside your organisation, you can’t expect to change the way you do external things.”

Crosby adds that, while digital skills are widespread throughout most organisations, a number of other skills sets appear to be lacking. “People are not coming through with some of the soft skills that matter,” he says.

“Close to 60% of graduates with five years’ experience believe their technical ability will serve them to advance their careers. But managers know that it is the ability to engage with people and communicate that will make the difference.”

There is also a credibility issue at stake, Crosby says. The younger employees don’t believe the older managers – who designed the systems and processes in use today – are able to make the move to a digital enterprise and this adds to the interesting dynamics within organisations today.

“This is a very real issue,” he says. “You still have to have control, governance and security while creating processes that are more efficient.”