These are exciting times. In less than 50 years, I have witnessed the same computing power that sent men to the moon shrunk into the size of a pocket calculator and made so affordable that 44% of the world has access to it. The impact technological progress has had on society is evident. We can call for a cab, order groceries, and even consult a doctor without leaving the comforts of our homes. In fact, digital is rewiring every aspect of an engineering organization and how it responds to customers by changing how information and technology is consumed by end users.
Ultimately, thriving in the digital economy entails increasing the velocity of innovation, experimentation, and collaboration. In this regard, I have often heard the words “go digital” being thrown around the boardroom. In my opinion, the current trend of focusing on isolated digital deployments, such as robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), yields limited results. While we look toward espousing the ‘digital first’ mantra that seems to underpin enterprises born in this century, we often tend to overlook the engine that drives any organizational transformation – the workforce itself. It is my firm belief that a company is only as digital as it can encourage its workforce to be.
A recent study, however, indicates that trouble might lie just beyond the horizon. As many as 94% of executives surveyed cited a moderate-to-severe skills gap that is preventing them from transitioning to a completely digitalized business model. Despite growing awareness of this shortfall, companies may actually be losing ground in their bid to prepare the workforce for the inevitable digital transformation.
According to survey results published by the Technical University of Munich, the skills gap has widened further with 11% more respondents claiming that their company is still grappling with the problem in 2017. This essentially ties back to my earlier observation – without the skilled workforce necessary for driving technology-dependent operations, the competitive edge that businesses seek will continue to elude them.
People First, Technology Next
Let’s take a closer look at the problem – organizations are usually weighed down by a workforce that is accustomed to legacy technology platforms and aging business models managed by rigid, hierarchical modes of thinking and communicating. This needs to change if we are to drive the innovative, bottom-up, and group-driven approach required for competing in the digital age. Technology will be able to deliver great results only when it is put in the hands of the right people.
While 60% of companies prefer to train entrenched employees and up-skill them for taking on new functions, it is somewhat of a challenge unless you are ready to do away with the rule book and review training policies. Therefore, as the starting point for any transformation initiative, we will need to focus on reimagining the existing personnel training regime by comparing it to those of digital natives and identifying gaps in the program. This will help CXOs map key training needs and generate personalized individual training plans based on team function, line of business, and the overarching organizational goals.
Some organizations have gone a step further to make their digital up-skilling framework inexpensive, interactive, and even more effective. Last year, one of the largest cosmetics companies in the world launched a massive training program to build digital expertise at a fundamental level. The initiative used over 70 modules covering every aspect of the company’s business to prepare as many as 14,000 employees for new roles in a digitally redefined enterprise structure.
Once trained, empowering skilled employees with digital technologies is the next step in the right direction toward fixing slow innovation cycles. The workforce of the future needs a new toolbox to begin with. Analytics, machine learning, big data, and automation will drastically enhance the pace of innovation, productivity, and decision-making by leveraging the free flow of information from across sources, both internal and external.
Collaborate, Innovate, Excel
Here’s where employees can collaborate, innovate, and resolve business challenges through lateral communication and a host of tools readily available at their disposal. Furthermore, fluidity of communication and access to technology will create the scope for subject matter experts to start emerging organically. Although these self-made thought leaders would have been viewed as a threat to traditional hierarchies, the modern digital enterprise will need to embrace them as the next generation of leaders. To further accelerate this process, CXOs should start focusing on digitizing their talent management strategies. Business leaders can look toward utilizing data and analytics for identifying high performers, empowering employees at an individual level—with the ultimate target of synergizing diverse skillsets for sustained organizational growth.
Challenges remain for the industry and there is much more to do. AI, robotics, and machine-to-machine learning, among other digital technologies, are still in an evolutionary state, and it is difficult to find trainers with suitable skillsets. The disruptive marketplace complicates the ROI for skill development plans for futuristic technology training. To put it differently, the full impact of the transformation is yet to reveal itself. But equipped with the adaptability and readiness to take on any such challenges, and a little resilience, I am confident that we will be able to generate the critical momentum necessary not just to bridge the skills gap, but to get ahead of the curve.
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions represented on this page belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional capacity, unless explicitly stated.
Dr. Keshab Panda is the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of L&T Technology Services. Dr. Panda has over 31 years of global industry experience in research, conceptualizing, creating, operationalizing and turning around complex technology and engineering services businesses.
He has obtained a graduate degree of technology in aeronautical engineering from Anna University, Chennai, and a post graduate degree in aerospace engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He obtained his Doctor of Philosophy from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. He also holds an advanced management degree from the Aresty Institute of Executive Education, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. He started his career as a research scientist in Indian Space Research Organization and worked at the Aeronautical Development Agency, Ministry of Defence, Government of India, as a scientist/engineer for over 8 years.