4 vital skills CIOs need to survive digital transformation

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The implications of any digital transformation project are far-reaching for both your current and future workforce. As an IT leader and the driving force behind innovation in your business, it should be your top priority to ensure your teams have the right mix of skills across the project lifecycle, especially if you intend to maintain resources beyond the initial stages of digital transformation. This is no easy task.

For starters, IT leaders need to be attuned to, aware of and responsive to the changes digital transformation brings to the workforce by recruiting the right people with the right skill set at the right time. Integrating the right mix of skills will also be achieved by upskilling your existing staff members, hiring new permanent employees, or bringing in contractors to temporarily plug a skills gap as you develop new technologies. However, these two things can’t happen in isolation. They must go hand in hand to help your business continually adapt to the shifting requirements of digital transformation now, and in the years ahead.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, research from the World Economic Forum reveals that by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial or relevant to the job today. And, while these skills are diverse, technology sits at the heart of the matter.

According to the OECD Skills for a Digital World report, the IT skills your workforce needs include specialist skills to program, develop applications and manage networks, generic skills to use such technologies for professional purposes, and complementary skills to perform new tasks associated with the use of technology at work, such as information-processing, self-direction, problem-solving and communication.

So, let’s look at each skill sets in a little more detail: 

1. Data analytics, software development and cyber security skills

The exact skills your organization will require depends on its nature. However, any digital transformation project is likely to incur a high volume of data, so data analytics, market research analytics and database administration skills are likely to be top of your priority list.

For example, let’s say you work in the banking industry and want to implement a Robotic Process Automation (RPA) solution that uses intelligent software (aka “robots”) to automate the repetitive and mundane data collection and entry tasks between your websites, banking systems, internal applications and other portals. 

Such a project will require an overhaul of your database infrastructure. You’ll need database administrators (DBAs), whose responsibilities fall into one of three broad categories: operations DBAs (to work on the ongoing maintenance of your production databases); development DBAs (to plan, design, and develop new database applications or make any changes to your existing applications) and data administrators (to manage your data and metadata). You may decide to employ one person to undertake all of these roles, but each one does involve a diverse range of skill sets.

You’ll also need data analysts to help you make better business decisions in the long term. For example, a data analyst can optimize your RPA system to further increase efficiencies by identifying and eliminating costly, recurring errors. They can also identify areas and trends where manual tasks could be further automated. 

Software and web application development skills will also be vital across the lifecycle of your digital transformation project. You could consider bringing in specialist talent in the form of a third parties or contractors hiring permanent staff or upskilling your current workforce (or a mixture of all three) to achieve this.

Information security experts are also a necessity to ensure recently introduced technologies and their corresponding business processes comply with the correct legislation and keep your customers, systems and your business safe. What would happen, going back to our previous example, if your customer’s financial information was compromised by a data breach?

89 per cent of UK CIOs also regard DevOps as a core competency for all developers and infrastructure professionals over the next five years, research reveals. A staggering 94 per cent of CIOs believe that DevOps will need to incorporate further security measures. More than one-third of CIOs said DevSecOps skills are needed for a successful digital transformation project, where security is built into a continuous service and application delivery.

2. Change management skills

While we may live in an increasingly digital world, we must never underestimate the importance of human interaction. Effective communication and analytics skills will be fundamental during a digital transformation project to provide insights and share information across the organization as such changes take place.

Let’s go back to our RPA example. External websites and portals will eliminate certain manual tasks and, as a result, your staff can focus on value-added work to deliver a superior customer experience. For example, you could boost your staffing levels at your customer service center, or provide more in-branch staff.

Alternatively, you may close down smaller branches as automation reduces your footfall and it is no longer cost effective to retain these branches. You will need to better manage these disperse teams and this requires a specific skill set from a remote manager. Intercultural communication skills are required where the remote manager can effectively communicate to teams located in different branches. They must be able to analyze and plan the best solution if an issue does crop up. And a dispersed workforce also means you need to keep the team spirit alive with regular and personalized communications, such as face-to-face meetings, where possible. 

Also, as your headcount is predicted to increase in the short-term during digital transformation, an initial increase in your human resources capability will help to steer your company through this period of adjustment.

3. Creativity, adaptability and learnability

As technology replaces repetitive manual and cognitive tasks, try to find employees with the aptitude to take on non-routine tasks. These individuals must be able to think creatively, show cognitive flexibility and emotional intelligence as these skills tap into the USP of our human intelligence, compared to the skill set of an artificial intelligence.

Research from Mckinsey reveals that automation could replace only 5 per cent of complete job roles (where all the roles and responsibilities of a particular job can be automated), but 45 per cent of specific activities within jobs. So, you should also recruit employees willing to upskill and diversify into new areas to retain the best staff and keep pace with the changing skill sets digital transformation continues to introduce. This is a relatively new concept known as “learnability” – the desire and ability to learn new skills to remain employable in the long term. In other words, it soon will not be a case of “it’s who you know, not what you know” but, rather “it’s what you will know”.

For example, your in-branch staff could learn how to install your RPA system and/or train other staff to use them as your business grows. Or they could take things one step further and learn an entirely new skill set, such as basic coding skills, to work with and further develop the RPA system.

4. Broad digital literacy across your workforce

As digital transformation becomes established, every member of staff will need to have a basic level of computer literacy to be able to use technology in their work. However, on average, more than 40 per cent of workers using office software every day do not possess the adequate digital skills to use them effectively, research from the OECD reveals.

You must offer adequate training for existing staff and ensure future employees possess these generic skills to ensure your digital transformation strategy is future proofed across your organization. Going back to the RPA example one last time, your staff will need to understand how to use this system for a wide range of tasks including deposit, mortgage and loan processing, account management and collections services.

Don’t forget your own skill set

Only 21 per cent of businesses have implemented a firm-wide digital transformation strategy, according to a survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit and SAP. This is a huge oversight and CIOs need to take ownership to truly drive digital transformation through cross-departmental collaboration.

CIOs must be able to explain why something needs to change, not just how it will change. They must be able to demonstrate how coupling emerging digital technologies with business goals can deliver value for the organization.

This will involve working with other leaders in the business. Two-thirds of digital-ready CIOs devote time to discussing how IT can research and develop new products and services for the business, compared with only 50 per cent of typical CIOs, according to the Born to be digital: how leading CIOs are preparing for a digital transformation, EY report.

The CIO may also need to take on additional tasks such as, for example, running a vendor management process or other such functional tasks. Learnability is, therefore, required as well as the ability to communicate the benefits of digital transformation across the organization. And, as digital transformation requires a recruitment drive, CIOs must have solid team building skills to build a balanced workforce with required technical and collaborative skills.

Digital transformation presents a huge opportunity for IT leaders to re-imagine their workforce by bringing in new roles and skills to the digital transformation. By bringing in these skills to the workforce and investing in their own abilities, CIOs will realize true transformation change across the organization. Such transformative change through the integration of the skills your organization needs now and in the years ahead, will help your business to not just survive, but thrive, now and in the future.

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