How digital leaders are reinventing skillsets to guarantee success

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Organizations that win at digital become gravity points for the best talent. And the best talent is what organizations need to keep transforming in these times of change. Insufficient development of digital skills and capabilities leads to gaps that can prohibit a organization from actually reaping the benefits of their digital investments.

In our previous article, we presented our perspective on how to scale your digital investments by aligning internal IT and OT organizations, including key characteristics that have traditionally driven organizational priorities and end-user expectations. We outlined three key considerations for organizational alignment to support the new digital future:

  1. Mindset Change—A new way of thinking and organizing to effectively deliver against business objectives.
  2. Skillset Change—Aligned skills and capabilities to support critical business priorities.
  3. Toolset Change—Supporting tools, standards and processes to enable faster delivery and support collaboration across technology and business groups.

We explored mindset change in details with two traditional organizational models heavily leveraged in asset-heavy industries such as discrete manufacturing, energy, process, and mining, and the need for leadership to consider tradeoffs across centralized control for standardization and individual site autonomy for delivering against specific business priorities.

In this article, we explain skillset change required to enable digital@scale. In a recent global executive survey conducted by A.T. Kearney, 33 percent of the executives responded that capability and skill gaps were significant barriers to integrating digital into their corporate strategy. As pointed out earlier, insufficient development of digital skills and capabilities leads to gaps that can prohibit a company from actually reaping the benefits of their digital investments. This is why it is necessary to take a closer look at what skillset change actually means.

We see four key areas for reinventing skillsets to bridge the gap and to support the digital future:

1) The rise of storytellers

Digital has given rise to the storytellers – the business raises the question, the technologist finds the answer and the storyteller conveys the story behind the answer. Roles like product managers and/or product owners in the scrum set-up or like solution owners in a Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) set-up are now expected to be good storytellers to bridge the connect between technologists and business executives.

There is also an uptick in innovative companies such as Narrative Science and Automated Insights that create software to write stories from data, articulating in plain English the insights within data, graphs or charts. As the company website for Narrative Science puts it, they are in the business of ‘humanizing data’.

The importance of storytelling cannot be underestimated. Consider the equipment manufacturing firms partnering with technology start-ups to read and to understand customer data in order to make the equipment more efficient. This process requires four distinct skills – the data engineer to parse and understand the data, the domain expert to make sense of the data (e.g. logistics, supply chain or customer service data), the visual designer to do the analytical displays and reports, and the storyteller who can tell the whole story behind the data/ analysis to the executive team to convince them of investment requirements or actions to be taken.

Traditional technologists are not good storytellers and often fail to convince the executive teams on their ideas. This fuels the undesired growth of islands of innovation within the firm with huge value potential that do not see the light of the day. A good storyteller can help “humanize” ideas and data for the executive team.

Here's an example of the changing narrative. A few years back, any investment request for ‘in-memory analytics’ platform would have read “…the old model of analytics, relying on relational databases and silo-ed architecture will not be enough… we request investments in in-memory analytics platform…the money will be used to enable an architectural shift to move all our data into a centralized source, including structured and unstructured data, and enable a cloud based platform architecture.

Here’s the changed narrative on the same subject from one of our recent clients, a CIO of a leading consumer products firm – “…the industry is facing a dynamic business environment, and in order to remain competitive, [company] is focusing on ‘customer centricity’ with an effort to get closer to the customer. As the needs of the business is continuously changing to cater to dynamic customer requirements, business demand will also evolve… In this journey towards an ‘insights driven enterprise’ the old models no longer work… the need of the hour is ‘in-memory analytics’- an approach that results in vastly shortened response times, allowing our analytics platform to support faster business decisions and real time insights...

2) Skills that go beyond the four walls

Technology skills around data engineering, IT architecture, user experience and project management have always been core to the business but the meaning and expectations have evolved with digital taking a front seat and giving way to ecosystem wide collaboration.

Data engineering principles have expanded to managing data across premises – on-premise, private cloud, public cloud and data across ecosystem partners. Digital has given way to greater integration with ecosystem/ partner data sets and sharing insights thereof, which in turn, requires greater control on privacy and cyber security.

Enterprise architecture discipline has also expanded to form the new ecosystem architect role. Just as data sharing across the team/ organization’s four wall is critical, so is the need to enable your architecture to allow for greater external/ ecosystem collaboration. Traditional EDI connections are giving way to open API frameworks, enterprise integration has evolved into integration platform as a service (iPaaS) offering, and software domains have transformed into the platform concept.

User experience design is now living up to its original intent – the whole end-to-end customer journey – leaving behind its limitations of being only around User Interface (UI) design. The ability to understand what the user needs and wants through the entire journey, and to orchestrate the business and technology capabilities around the same, is critical to get the most value out of digital investments. This has given rise to the experience designers and design thinkers, that goes beyond traditional interface design concepts.

Traditional project management roles give way to value chain-focused product management capabilities and more enterprise wide collaborations centered more on value over traditional time and budget tracking. The governance role goes beyond project governance to focus on greater inclusion and adoption of all stakeholders.

Often underestimated, inclusion and adoption is critical for the success of digital transformation programs, more so with the increasing importance of new agile ways of working as “the business” is now part of the solution team. It starts with identifying the stakeholders for the digital program and including them in the upfront user experience and journey mapping workshops.

Their involvement in architecture design discussions with the technology teams helps to sharpen the design and to ensure traceability to business capabilities. Inclusion of business stakeholders is also critical in defining scenario based testing approaches to help them understand what the digital investments can deliver for them, and ensure their adoption of the new tools and technologies brought in through the digital investments.

3) The “New Age” digital leaders

The New Age digital leaders have different attributes and ways of working to foster a cultural shift in the organization.

The New Age leaders have transformed from a command-and-control mode to removing barriers for teams to work, leveraging “communities of practices,” and being inspirational – guiding teams by vision, removing hierarchies, rewarding risk-taking, and learning from mistakes. Connectional intelligence both internal and within the external ecosystem through social media and “working out load”, more direct communications like video sessions and creation of informal networks to listen more and learn is evolving as critical skills for digital leaders.

The onus is on the digital leaders to drive the culture adjustment for greater organization-wide collaboration, with efficient decision making and openness both internally and externally. The new ways of working requires open communication and transparency from the digital leaders, embedding digital as a mindset change across teams, and sharpening the organization's priorities to enable teams to test and learn, fail and recover.

4) Changing expectations from traditional technology leaders

Digital taking a fore-front in board discussions has manifested itself in the expectations from the traditional technology leaders in the firm. Priorities for the technology leaders has now shifted from delivering technology solutions to broader technology-business relationship development, faster delivery/ time-to market, and the ability to fail fast, adapt and recover.

The traditional CIO/ IT organization needs to drive classic IT efficiencies with landscape simplification, legacy elimination and standardization, and IT operational process streamlining. While earlier, this was under the pressure of reducing costs, now the focus for these tasks is on improving speed, agility and flexibility and, only in a second thought, reduce cost. At the same time, there is an expectation to support the transition to Digital with focus on interdisciplinary agile teams and resources to support digital initiatives.

This also requires a shift in the way the technology organization’s performance is measured. Overall technology/ IT organizations are today typically measured on their operating costs bypercentage points of total costs or as percentage of revenue, while in the future, this will give way to performance measured by value that the organization generates. This requires a thorough understanding of the value-add of digital investments and the [potential] impacts on traditional technology teams and expectations.

To respond to these trends, technology organizations should develop the capability to handle demand variability, and cultivate a culture of responsiveness and outcome/ value-driven metrics.

A properly digital workforce enables digital scale at the speed required for transformative impact. So, before an organization finalizes its investment plans in digital, it is critical to invest time in identifying the new-age skillset requirements and investing in nurturing and caring for the digital talent.

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