Digital skills for leaders: a gap that must be bridged

Written by
Chris Underwood

29 Sep 2015

29 Sep 2015 • by Chris Underwood

Can you keep up with digital transformations?

It’s no great secret or revelation that all things digital such as e-commerce, mobile, cloud and social have revolutionised the way businesses operate and will continue to do so. No business can, nor indeed should, avoid the implications, challenges and opportunities that come with embracing digital transformation.

Customers and employees alike have the web at their fingertips 24/7. Mobile technology means that people can make purchasing decisions anytime, anywhere. In addition – using social media in particular – people are telling businesses what they want, like and don’t like, constantly.

This not only offers organisations the potential to enhance interactions with key stakeholders, and transform customer experience but it also gives them access to an enormous amount of data, which in turn holds vital business intelligence.

Cementing your digital strategy

However, to really reap the benefits that digital transformation can bring, organisations need to have the right tools in place to do so. Encouragingly, many have already woken up to this fact, as is demonstrated in research from Forrester, which found that 74% of business executives questioned had a digital strategy in place. Yet implementing a digital strategy is just one element. What is absolutely vital is having the skills in place across an entire organisation to carry out and ultimately benefit from such a strategy.

This is where I believe businesses are really missing a trick. Indeed, the same research from Forrester found that of those 74% of business executives that had a digital strategy in place, only 16% believed their organisation had the necessary capabilities and skills to execute it. To me this speaks volumes.

Part of the problem is that many organisations have been unsure where digital sits within a business. Due to its nature, it is something which can as easily fall under a marketing director’s remit as a CIO’s. Of course, some have gone down the route of appointing a ‘Chief Digital Officer’ or similar. Yet to merely find a ‘home’ for digital and consign it there is to underestimate its pervasive nature. 

Smart businesses appreciate that digital now affects nearly every aspect of an organisation, at all levels, and that it is not something that can be seen solely as a technology issue or solved by merely creating an app. Digital isn’t a box to be ticked and then ignored, nor is it a ‘nice to have’. It is a way to transform business operations for the better – and if you’re not treating it as such you can bet your life your competitors are. 

Challenges afoot

The real challenge for many businesses is adopting and embracing the new ways of working and the non-traditional business models that a digital approach brings. To really benefit from digital, businesses need to learn to work in new ways and need senior members who not only understand how digital can transform a business, but also communicate that and affect change across an entire organisation.

Organisations of all types will need to look into different, non-obvious sectors to source the appropriate digital talent and knowledge. I foresee an increasing number turning to industries that have either been through a digital transformation such as media or industries that are digitally native such as the high tech and internet sector, to find people with the skills they need.

As the year progresses, I believe the digital skills gap at a senior level will become more apparent and given the speed and pace of change of organisations that are digitally enabled, I would urge businesses to address this issue sooner rather than later.