Now well past its buzzword beginnings, digital transformation is a key enabler of the dynamic business development leading the charge into 2020. With 97 percent of IT decision-makers involved in digital transformation strategy and 40 percent of all technology spending going toward such projects, it’s safe to say the digital sea change has come ashore.
Still, digital growth is outpacing the majority of transformation efforts. Rather than keeping up, companies are catching up — a position that often means making reactive decisions, like pushing to quickly hire people or buy software, rather than laying the groundwork for smart, sustainable growth.
The rapidly progressing digital age demands a new approach, one that answers immediate need with long-term strategy. The twist is that it’s a return to business basics: a brick-and-mortar shop can’t expand hours or grow sales without adequate staff and inventory in place. The same applies to the digital landscape, where ongoing growth is possible only with the workforce and infrastructure in place to enable it.
Taking the long view, this means building a growth-ready workforce and the capabilities to support it. To remain competitive, companies don’t need more employees and tools, they need the right ones, and putting them in place requires three key actions.
Invest in talent
In recent years, the global workforce has evolved into a mobile, interconnected mix of skill and experience in which workers are increasingly defining what a “job” means to them. Beyond merely adapting to this new normal, strategic employers are seizing upon its advantages by designing roles that attract professionals who seek to stay ahead and competitive.
While experience will always count, future-thinking hiring managers must gauge an individual’s learning capacity and ability to develop skills. Additionally, as cited by Deloitte as a key capability for digital maturity, companies must be open to flexible work arrangements that let them tap into important skill sets on-demand and stretch their workforce according to their needs.
Achieving a capable and flexible team means striking a balance of in-house and contingent workers — and recognising and harnessing the benefits of that structure. Therefore, leadership is a key area of investment when it comes to hiring, with the objective being to bring in-house the people who can both drive initiatives and source the talent needed to deliver results.
Acquiring top talent is essential to building the internal capabilities needed to power growth. Given the rate of change and innovation in today’s economy, the ability to adapt alongside technology is more valuable than user know-how of any one software or platform.
Growth-ready teams regularly assess performance and actively challenge their own ideas of successful operation. They track the right metrics and analyse the data to identify areas in need of improvement, rather than to prove progress.
But analytics is just the beginning. To adapt and grow operations, teams need skill, technology and opportunity — assets that companies must provide.
According to MuleSoft’s Connectivity Benchmark survey, only 36 percent of IT leaders complete all projects requested of them. Fully 69 percent reported that their time is spent just keeping the lights on rather than innovating. To move from maintenance to progress, teams must be able to implement and move quickly to the next initiative.
While digital transformation strategy comes from the top down, the capabilities to execute are built from the bottom up. The goal is to nourish a future-thinking mindset and encourage development of systems and processes that can scale, in order to position the company for both planned and unexpected changes.
Fig1. NearForm Digital Transformation Strategy Framework
The reality is innovation will happen whether or not companies pursue it. The very impetus of digital is our capacity to evolve. And while it’s often external demands that motivate action within companies, growth-minded leaders seek to create change from the inside out.
With the right talent acquired and capabilities built, teams are in a position to explore new ideas while maintaining existing operations. Companies can then empower workers to develop those ideas and implement projects using the proven, scalable processes they’ve honed over time.
This approach encourages engineers to learn by doing, which plays a crucial role in innovation. Compared to being trained and then put to work, learning alongside development makes individuals and teams inherently more agile. They develop the ability to think in the moment, take action, assess results and adapt tactics.
The result is a responsive culture that is primed for progress. Rather than reacting to external demands, organisations can read the signs and work ahead of industry developments. This also creates space for reskilling and upskilling as needed, such as to expand analytical abilities or programming proficiency.
Key to perpetuating growth is welcoming change, something business leaders can do only when the resources needed to respond to change are in place. Just a few years ago, prioritising capability building was itself an innovative act. Today, it’s essential to remaining relevant and central to creating a workforce, and company, that is ready for this decade and beyond.