Business Today

Firms need digital talent to curb disruption

Businesses today are operating in a world where everything is digitised. They realise that going the digital way to engage with their clients and maintain relevance in the industry is the key to success.

Prakash Menon   New Delhi     Last Updated: July 31, 2017  | 16:32 IST
Firms need digital talent to curb disruption

Businesses today are operating in a world where everything is digitised. They realise that going the digital way to engage with their clients and maintain relevance in the industry is the key to success. Acknowledging this change is one part of the process, but another, and equally important part is becoming a part of this transformation at the required pace.

According to research, automation will take over many jobs, including professional jobs, shortly. A survey, conducted to check the probability of accounting and auditing jobs becoming automated in the next 20 years, pegged the score at almost 94 per cent. For some tax preparation roles, this likelihood climbs to almost 99 per cent. Many other (and non-related) industries saw similarly high estimates. Another study done by the Oxford University estimated that mobile robots and smart computers - those who learn on the job - make it likely that occupations employing about half of today's US workers could be possibly automated in the next decade or so.

Respond to change

The first step towards accepting the digital disruption is an assessment of the company's digital maturity. It includes understanding the way technology is being integrated into the business now and the larger picture of how the digital movement will affect the company. For this, the companies will need to rethink the entire business plan and method of operation. The digital strategy that the company develops must be comprehensive beyond marketing. Keeping the profit motive in mind will not be wrong, but this should be done in conjunction with meeting the demands of customers, suppliers and employees as well as investors. The focus needs to be on innovation.

Hertz, the car rental company, started self-service kiosks in 2007. In 2011, it added the digital innovation factor to these kiosks by moving to dual-screen kiosks - one screen to select rental options via touchscreen and a second screen at eye level to communicate with a customer agent using real-time video.

Take employment game to the next level

The workplace itself is undergoing a significant change in these times of digital transformation. In the UK alone, 4.64 million people are self-employed while in the US, 34 per cent of the workforce is freelancing. These numbers are growing by the day. It is expected that by 2025, 72 per cent millennials will be a part of the workforce. Now, these are the people who are technologically comfortable and can accept change with ease. The perception of an employee being physically present at the workplace is also changing as is the concept of a working day. These fundamental transformations affect the way businesses work, and the sooner the companies accept this fact, the better it is for their growth.

Companies must learn how to attract and retain the right talent in a market that is constantly changing. The skills that an employer looks for should be relevant for today as well as for tomorrow.

Get new tech talent

The key lies in hiring the right technology talent. Over the next five years, enterprises will invest about hundreds of millions of dollars - and some of them more than a billion dollar - to fuel digital transformation. Acquiring top engineering talent can yield double-digit investment savings by accelerating the transformation process by even 20 to 30 per cent. However, finding such talent can be a challenge. Before starting the hiring spree, digital businesses must identify the key capabilities they need. It will determine the skills and strengths that new talent must possess.

While this may vary depending on geography, market and target audience, there are some skills that should be part of every digital business's talent pool. These include:

Machine learning engineers: Companies are quickly adapting machine learning. P&G collaborated with the Los Alamos National Laboratory to create statistical methods to streamline processes and increase uptime in its factories, saving more than $1 billion a year. Thus, businesses need new-age engineers who can read and interpret data and program in scalable computing environments.

Experience creators: Customer experience remains a key focus area in the digital age. Thus, companies will need talent who can deliver this experience. These roles will often include UX designers, who will deliver human-centred designs, and front-end engineers, who will translate these designs into exceptional experiences.

Agility coaches: Agile development lies at the heart of the digital technology engine. Thus, organisations will need scrum masters and agile coaches to scale the agile culture across different teams. These coaches have good convincing skills and can communicate effectively. Their key responsibility is to put in place measurable key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics to track progress.

Full stack developers: The rapidly changing technology landscape needs developers who are fluent across all technology components, including web/mobile user interface, middleware micro services and backend databases, and have expertise in more than one area. These people have at least eight to ten years of software engineering experience and deep expertise with one or two core programming languages (Java, .NET, Node.js and so on).

What it takes to succeed

Companies that are willing to transform themselves and embrace new technology have been successful. The UK grocery retailer Tesco acquired video-streaming service Blinkbox, digital music store We7 and e-book platform Mobcast. All these enabled the company to quickly acquire skills to keep up to date with the digital media.

Another example is Walmart that missed the bus on the digital wave initially and fared poorly compared to Amazon. But in 2011, it established WalmartLabs, an idea incubator, as part of its growing e-commerce division in Silicon Valley. The unified, company-wide e-commerce platform that was built, thus, helped Walmart increase online revenues by 30 per cent in 2013, outpacing Amazon's rate of growth.

The ball now is in the court of business houses to rise to the challenge or bear the brunt of the digital change. They should pursue innovation and make changes in their business models (to the extent of completely disrupting it) before the competition gets the better of them. Without a digital plan in place, companies will only end up losing their business. The threat of digital disruption is more serious than it might appear. It is because technology changes at an exponential rate, giving rise to new platforms that the companies need to incorporate into their scheme of growth.

Prakash Menon is President, Global Retail Business, NIIT Ltd

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