Following the impact of the pandemic, many – if not all – organizations have turned towards digital solutions and initiatives to keep ahead of innovation and productivity. It is expected that digital transformation will be an even bigger imperative in the short-term future.
However, the challenge is now to find people with the right skills and mindset to help enterprises bridge the digital transformation gap and make digitalization happen.
Hence, experts in the industry have shared their knowledge with us about the skills that are needed to drive digital transformation within IT.
What is digital transformation?
According to Samir Patki, Head of QA at European Central Counterparty N.V., digital transformation is introducing a new process or making changes to an existing process, mindset, or culture within an organization. This transformation is brought about by optimal utilization of the latest technologies to enhance the customer experience to meet the changing business demands and to keep an edge over the competition.
Jenish Khunt, Site Reliability Engineer at eBay, adds that digital transformation is the journey for the organizations to be on the route of “Fail fast and learn fast”. In a collaboration of the agile methodology and DevOps, it really helps to reduce time to market through end-to-end automation and continuous feedback.
The companies adopting such a strategy will be nimbler, be able to deliver faster, and could, in turn, generate more revenues and have a strong competitive advantage over the ones without a vision to digitize, Samir continues.
These organisations would move from a ‘process oriented’ to ‘data oriented’ model where the decisions are driven by data, user/customer experience. Ultimately, they will be able to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape more effectively. Digital transformation introduces changes to operations and infrastructure but it is also about changes within the organisation’s culture.
The main areas of digital transformation
Digital transformation will impact the entire organisation in some form or the other unless the focus is specifically on transforming a niche aspect of the organisation, Samir states. Assuming that we are considering a total organisational transformation here, the key areas impacted will be as follows:
- Target Operating Model (involving people & processes):
The way a business operates from a people, process, and technology perspective will change. This is one of the essential areas for transformation. The traditional way of working may not yield the desired result in the ever-growing competitive world, hence a strategy and operating model change are needed to drive the change. This area is the hardest to transform as a massive cultural shift is needed to move away from the traditional way of working.
The key considerations for Target Operating Model are:
- Move away from siloes, focus on customer journeys – This means focusing on cross-department, cross-functional teams keeping customer journeys central.
- Focus on application of efforts across the organisation than applying them in a piecemeal manner within silos – just enhancing a silo won’t yield the desired result, the effort has gone across the department for desired results
- Customer Experience:
In a way, customers are indirectly driving the transformation within organisations. Organisation which is quick to recognise and service customer demands and expectations are rewarded with growth in revenue and profits.
One of the reasons organisations need to embark on this transformation journey is so they can survive in the competitive world and an enhanced digitised customer experience could be the key to their survival. Technology can lead in delivering this customer experience. Today’s customer is digitally savvy and their habits are influenced by digital technology. Considering how connected customer is digital, they obviously rate organisations that can provide them such an experience.
- Business Model Changes (More Digitization):
This relates to the first point – Target Operating Model. While the Target Operating Models focuses on revised processes, technology, and culture, the business model is the key driver behind changes to Target Operating Model. Business models need to focus on digitisation capabilities and adopt what works for them. To protect the business, you need to go to the next level of business model change which is nothing but digitization. There are lots of examples where this has been done successfully – Netflix, Starbucks, Under Armour, etc…
For Jenish, the main areas of digital transformation are Agile, DevOps, Automation, Cloud technologies, and the Mindset.
The digital transformation skills gap
There used to be siloed on operations and development, Jenish underlines. In digital transformation, we need the mindsets and skills which reduce this gap and need to have a robust team that could work self-sufficiently with very few / no dependencies. He believes that this has improved a lot but there is still this gap of skills/mindset to adopt and learn new technologies.
Moreover, Samir continues, people have been working traditionally. This means, there is a process, current operating model, and specific way of working for delivering services or products to clients.
A shift from such an environment to a nimble, agile, technology and data-driven, cross-functional environment, with changes to the operating model, is a huge change for organisations. To drive such a transformation, the kind of people an organisation needs are cross-functional, collaborative, change agents, people who can work with data, and are skilled in using the new technology. Such skills aren’t readily available.
Organisations cannot focus on technology alone. Buying new tech doesn’t help if the relevant people skills to use the technology are unavailable. Digital transformation also requires culture change and this doesn’t happen overnight. Organisation culture is made up of people and to shift that is definitely a marathon and not a sprint!
Another possible reason for the shortage is that digital skills are now required for non-IT companies too. The skills such as data analytics, AI are not just IT-specific anymore and are used more broadly by non-IT organisations as part of their transformation.
The skills to drive digital transformation
According to Jenish, the key skills that IT teams need to drive digital transformation are:
- CI / CD Pipelines creations
- Infrastructure automation
- Automated Testing
- Cloud adoptions
He also emphasizes that IT leaders are looking for people who are flexible in terms of technologies, creative, adaptive, passionate, keen on learning, and courageous to unlearn and relearn.
Samir adds that a blend of technical and soft skills is needed to drive a digital transformation. It essentially needs people who can operate in a start-up mindset and can have a say in how products or services are built. It is evident from the points mentioned above that the skillset required is substantially different from the traditional skillset. There is already a gap in finding the right technology skillsets and when the need is for people with a blend of tech and soft skills, it is a shallow pool.
Here are some of the key skills required for digital transformation:
- Digital project and product management
- Programming, machine learning
- Data analyst, data security
- Leadership qualities
- Uniqueness – some distinguishing quality or attribute which can single out a qualified professional’s CV from among the rest.
Moreover, Jenish points out that these skills are best put to use within an organisation through:
- Peer learnings
- Demos within the team/org
- Showcasing new learning
- Attending events
- Video lectures
- Technological blogs
What are the best ways to drive digital transformation within the IT industry?
Jenish notes that the best way is through the top-down approach where leaders should ideologies the transformation suitable for the organisation. He suggests doing this from top to bottom and the team would be happy to adopt. You need to make the team independent in terms of choosing the technologies and letting them fail fast and learn. You can also provide the resources and make them available for everyone to utilize and be the path of the digital transformation
Besides, he adds that leaders should be Agile, provide training, and provide concrete goals.
For Samir, digital transformation can come in all shapes and sizes. For some organisations, this could be about streamlining operations for greater control and flexibility for others it could be a combination of both technology and operations including streamlining of legacy systems, breaking down silos, implementing new technology for data-driven decision making, driving efficiency and processes, and future-proofing themselves.
But whatever it looks like, there are some key principles to consider.
Change leadership is absolutely crucial for digital transformation. Along with the leaders appointing dedicated change agents for different initiatives is the key to ensuring appropriate focus. This isn’t a ‘part-time’ activity and needs proper attention. Also, these leaders will be the drivers of changing organisation culture which is essential to move away from the traditional way of working. Cross-functional, customer-focused agile teams are required to drive the transformation as well as to continue to operate in that manner as a ‘new norm’. This requires experienced leaders to drive.
2. Developing Talent in the Organisation
Brand new technology can be bought in the organisation relatively easily however talent and skills required to use that cannot be secured that easily. More important than getting some personnel to help in driving the transformation, is having a strong team of people who can help and be part of the process of transformation.
Businesses are not made of systems or processes. They’re made of people. So it is vital that all parties – customers, suppliers, and colleagues alike – understand the changes that are being implemented. At the end of the day, people are the most important pillars of any organization. People need to be part of the journey and should be involved right from the beginning. Communication is absolutely key.
Agile manifesto states ‘individuals and interactions over processes and tools and ‘customer collaboration’. These are people themes and key in changing the way organisations want to work so it is essential to put in place, plans to develop internal talent.
Another important element is building cross-functional, self-driven teams, this requires empowering people, giving them the right set of tools, technology, and support.
Employees are particularly important because they naturally become accustomed to working in a certain way. But technology can help to manage the change, by allowing an organisation to engage with employees in a better way.
3. Start Small, Fail Fast
Once the people and teams are arranged, there is always a possibility that a new way of working may not be immediately successful. So it is always a good idea to start small, fail fast, learn and iterate incorporating new learnings. It is not essential to always start with a big bang. In fact, starting small means less risk!
By the drip-feeding transformation into a business, it will be possible to make a ‘change’ happen. Organisations can avoid developing things that customers don’t want and it will be easier to respond to market changes as they arise.
4. Carry People Along
The importance of people working in an organisation cannot be emphasised enough as the organisation cannot run, enhance or scale the business without its people. Whatever change needs to be made, it is important to communicate to the people in the organisation and ensure they are aware of the direction of travel. The traditional management style where decisions are taken and are not effectively communicated to the team actually working on making the transformation work does not sync with today’s agile principles.
- Ensure on key things which achieve the highest value
- Breakdown siloes and improve communication
- Provide honest feedback at regular intervals
- Encourage staff – explain ‘why’
5. Start Sooner Rather Than Later
With commercial pressures increasing, all businesses should look at how to become more competitive. The more time an organisation takes to embark on the digital journey, the more challenging it becomes including the possibility of losing market share. Whether it’s an opportunity to engage customers more directly or to manage operations and workflows more efficiently, every small step taken at the right time towards digital transformation will be beneficial for an organisation.
Special thanks to Samir Patki and Jenish Khunt for their insights on the topic!