Driving growth

WITH DIGITAL SKILLS

By Joe Baguley, CTO, VMware EMEA

We live in a world of digital disruption, where businesses face a constant pressure to compete and innovate, with the success of an organisation today often based on the speed at which it can transform and evolve. One thing I’ve especially noticed over the past year is that organisations aren’t making enough use of the assets they already have at hand – namely their existing employees. It’s near impossible to implement a successful technology strategy without making sure your people are at the heart of it.

Digitisation is fast-changing the way we do business and our people need to be equipped with the right skills to ensure they’re making the most of the technology that’s now available. In a lot of cases, these assets are already driving digital transformation within their organisations as unknown trail blazers go against the general grain. In some cases companies simple aren’t embracing these individuals - equipping the workforce with digital skills should be a necessity, but unfortunately the skills gap still remains. Millennials are often identified as the generation with digital skills, but we should ensure there are digital natives throughout organisations – regardless of age.

We recently took a temperature gauge of today’s business environment, surveying almost 6,000 companies across Europe on digital skills and the knowledge of technology across a range of different devices and software. The findings demonstrated there are potential missed opportunities which are at the very finger tips of organisations and its leaders:

1. Digital skills must be driven across the board
When recruiting young talent, business leaders now look for candidates with digital skills and fresh perspectives on how to do business. However the digital drive isn’t just relevant for new recruits and those already working within an organisation should not be overlooked. Our research found that two thirds (64%) of all employees are willing to use their own time to learn new digital skills and ways of working, while 39% of 45-54 year olds and almost a quarter of over-55s are seeking advice or training on designing and building mobile applications.

When we talk about digital transformation, we often focus on the younger generation who we expect to change the world. However this actively excludes seasoned professionals. Yet we found employees of all ages across the workforce are pursuing technical digital skills to help deliver business growth and competitive advantage for their employer. In fact, re-training the existing workforce, rather than making new hires, can often be more cost-effective and beneficial in the long term. Organisations therefore need to make sure they’re upskilling across the board, regardless of age. Only then will businesses be able to fully utilise their talent and realise the potential.

2. Actively promoting failure is key
Company culture needs to give employees the freedom to try new ideas and ways of working without the fear of failure, we should remember that risk and innovation often go hand in hand. This means promoting a culture of risk taking is often vital for finding the next bright idea. This is a view endorsed by employees across Europe, three quarters of whom believe digital skills can help improve a company’s competitive edge. A further 66% believe that creating such a culture, which celebrates digital skills and allows failure which can be learnt from, will help increase revenue within their business over the next five years.

There is much work to be done here - many business leaders recognise that there is a lack of flexibility in their existing processes which is stifling innovation. 39% of employees feel that company policies are too restrictive to make new ways of working a worthwhile pursuit, while recent research from Hitachi Consulting has also shown that legacy systems are holding staff back from truly embracing digital technologies.

3. The IT department has a duty to lead
Successful business transformation in our digital world is shaped by culture, people and capabilities. That said, 43% of employees believe the existing IT infrastructure in their company is stifling the ability to innovate. Too many organisations are failing to harness digital talent, leaving the IT department to do something about the issue. Yet as our research has shown, this is a challenge which requires a conscious, collective effort from stakeholders across the business to push through to fruition.

With IT in support, an organisation could positively harness its digital skills, helping it evolve to innovate faster, fully engage customers, and empower employees—all while protecting their data, their brands, and their reputation. Companies such as Pearson, for example, are focusing on shifting the mindsets within their organisations from ‘fail safe’ to ‘no fail’ by re-educating their processes and technology.

4. Digital upskilling will drive economic growth
The adoption of technology products and services is not only important for business, but it’s key to driving the UK’s leading position in economic growth and productivity, and this needs to be maintained. This is only possible if people are equipped with digital skills, a point that is backed by 98% of employees saying their productivity at work could be improved by using digital skills, with a third (32%) believing it could be improved by at least 50%.

Businesses have an important role to play in upskilling society in a way that enables innovation and contributes to job creation and wider economic growth. However, in reality, the workforce is still facing a skills gap - many employees find themselves working in organisations with old fashioned rigid structures where they can’t collaborate instantly, they can’t access the applications they want on any device, and they can’t move at the speed they need to.

Investing in digital talent can help overcome this – allowing employees to innovate faster improves a company’s competitive edge, and increases revenue – all of which impacts on the bottom line. Investment has the potential to positively drive the UK’s economic growth and productivity.

In my eyes, successful business transformation in our digital world is being shaped by culture, people and capabilities, and as a result we’ve reached the point where digital skills are required across the board. It’s immeasurably important that we nurture them across an entire workforce to allow organisations to fully exploit their potential. Businesses benefit when their employees are equipped to use everyday tools and technologies that enable us to operate in today’s modern world, and also when they invest in specialist skills.

Ultimately, why does the above matter? How will organisations be affected if they don’t do anything about it? Well right now we’re in a disruptive era, and businesses need to have an agile and proactive mind-set towards new challenges. There’s only so much point in technological innovation if we’re not harnessing our employees to make the most from the latest software and systems – and for the most part, it’s up to business leaders to ensure these skills are being developed and invested in. After all, many of the roles that exist today – even those of you or I - might not be around in 25 years’ time.

About the research
Specialist market research agency Vanson Bourne polled 5,700 knowledge workers in companies with 100+ employees in the UK, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark), Russia & The Middle East (Saudi Arabia and UAE) using a hybrid approach of telephone and online interviewing during August 2015.