According to the Economist, one of the most significant outcomes of the pandemic will be ‘the infusion of data-enabled services into ever more aspects of life.’ We were already expecting a transition to digital transformation thanks to technological advancement, dubbed the ‘fourth industrial revolution’. However, following on from the pandemic which forced countless businesses to switch to remote working virtually overnight, we expect digital transformation to continue to be adopted on a larger and more rapid scale – becoming an even more prominent objective for organisations in the future.
Automation is something that concerns the layperson – the Financial Times reports that anxiety around automation in the workforce could increase because of the pandemic, as businesses push to automate more processes to boost productivity while many are jobless or furloughed. Not all digital transformation is detrimental to the workforce, however, and doesn’t mean that we have to compete with robots for our jobs.
The right talent
Contrary to popular belief, technology isn’t the main concern when it comes to digital transformation. It’s people and talent. Without the right people, technology won’t be used to its full potential. A business’ ability to adapt to a digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills, meeting the talent supply and demand, and protecting its potential from future changes.
Businesses are working to respond to the growing skills gap and are looking for the talent needed to fight on the frontline in terms of driving innovation to meet competitors. Without familiarising workers with new technology, further advances will not be much use. As our digital and physical worlds are united to offer entirely new processes and information, leaders will need to develop new approaches to equip the workforce with the skills they need to both succeed in and facilitate the digital age.
The main challenges are:
- Changing the skills and talent needed in non-tech companies
- Changing how employees do their jobs
- Changing the recruiting landscape
This may seem strange for many people, but we’re seeing the beginnings of a fundamental change in how humans contribute value at work. Though technology is a driver behind digital transformation, technology isn’t the sole solution. Automation isn’t about replacing humans with machines, but about making tasks more efficient.
The best outcome is achieved when humans and robots work side by side to enhance capabilities – robots can perform transactional, data-intense, and repetitive, mundane tasks which allows people to focus on the innovative, creative, and strategic tasks. Forbes reported that recently, as part of an automation education program, they trained over 800 employees to build bots that can do their most mundane tasks. Using these new skills, almost 50 bots have been developed so far which complete a range of functions from finance to marketing to technical support.
Research has estimated that up to 45 per cent of tasks currently carried out by humans could be automated using existing technology, freeing people to work on value-added tasks. Garter reported that automation is the fastest-growing software subsegment, seeing year-over-year growth of over 63 per cent in 2018.
New jobs will be created
Many new, productive, and rewarding roles are being created as part of the digital transformation journey. A century ago, a lot of the jobs today wouldn’t have existed. Digitalisation creates new jobs, for example, digital marketing, data analytics, social media managers, and Internet of Things architects. These roles help raise productivity via technology, lower prices, and help stimulate demand. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), four out of ten new jobs were created in digital-intensive industries and employment increased in these countries by around 30 million jobs. While some jobs will be made redundant, new ones will be created.
The human talents of leadership and management level are important in the digital transformation process as well as integrating a culture with digital intertwined throughout. Research by McKinsey found that 84 per cent of CEOs are committed to transformational change.
Companies with leaders that communicate with employees are eight times more likely to achieve transformation success in comparison to those who don’t and this can be improved by transformational leadership development. What is seen to drive success in terms of communication between management and the workforce is:
- Clear communication on the objectives around transformation
- CEOs and senior leaders visibly engaging with transformation
- Access to information
- Ability for frontline employees to see visible changes in daily roles
Empowering employees with the right knowledge and leadership can help them understand how their contribution and human value can help progress the transformation. This not only keeps them engaged in the process but keeps the technology functioning at optimum performance.