Digital Competency Will Determine Winners, Losers in 2019

As the imaging channel closes out one more frenetic year and enters what will probably be another, it seems like a good time to talk about one of the most daunting internal challenges the sector faces in 2019 and beyond: acquiring and retaining employees with competitive digital skill sets.

From automation and artificial intelligence to RPA and BPM, just about every significant player in this industry will be making substantial investments in new technology to keep pace with competitors and meet their customers’ expectations.

The numbers speak for themselves.

Gartner predicts that robotic process automation software alone is expected to surge from just north of $680 million this year to more than $2.4 billion by 2022. Total spending on technologies and services that enable the digital transformation of business processes, products and organizations is set to eclipse $1.9 trillion in 2022, a compound annual growth rate of 16.7 percent per year over this period.

But investing in the technology itself is only a small piece of the puzzle. You need people – of the highly skilled and often specialized variety – to make the technology work in unison with your business processes to deliver value to customers and drive sales growth.

These workers don’t grow on trees, know their worth and are continuously courted by companies within and outside this industry. There’s no getting out of it or around it. You either have the talent or you don’t.

OpsRamp, a service-centric AIOps platform, recently announced the results of its cloud skills survey, finding that 94 percent of respondents found it at least “somewhat difficult” to find candidates with the right combination of business and IT skills to drive digital innovation.

Ninety percent of hiring managers said that the digital skills gap is either “somewhat big,” “quite big,” or “huge” – a reality that plagues organizations of all sizes. The survey found that nearly a third of all respondents said the demand for these skill sets is outpacing the existing talent pool.

“We knew that a skills gap existed, but we didn’t truly understand its severity until now,” Darren Cunningham, OpsRamp’s vice president of marketing, said in the report. “Enterprise IT leaders would like to make the leap to cloud-native technologies but are struggling to adjust their workforce to transform their digital DNA.”

Recruiting and hiring workers with these in-demand skills is expensive and often short-lived, leaving companies with the difficult choice of either outsourcing these business-critical positions to a third-party provider, acquiring a company that has these core competencies or “upskilling” their existing staffs. However, OpsRamp said the majority of respondents cited employees’ “unwillingness to change pre-existing attitudes toward technology” as the biggest roadblock to embracing new business models.

To break down this initial resistance – particularly among older, less tech-enamored employees – the tone really needs to be set from the top level of management. That can be easier said than done, especially when the C-level executives themselves might lack the technological expertise they’re asking of their teams.

A recent PwC study found that 90 percent of executives believe their organization pays attention to employees’ needs when implementing new technology, but only 53 percent of rank-and-file staffers concur. This disconnect can doom a project before it gets started.

“When you don’t have a clear and accurate understanding of how your people use technology in their jobs, and what they need and want from those tools, the overall experience people have at work can suffer,” the study’s authors said in the report. “A subpar employee experience can have a ripple effect across the organization, shaping everything from how engaged people are to their enthusiasm for delivering a superior customer experience.”

To make it work, companies need to accept that the employee experience and the technology they use are now one in the same. Whether you call it upskilling, retraining or career development, it’s important to get a wide range of input from employees at various levels of responsibility and from multiple departments before committing to any implementation.

“Look to the promise of new technology and consider what motivates people to adopt new ways of working with tech,” the report advises. “It can’t be one or the other.”

It’s unrealistic to expect everyone in any organization to learn, love and master new technology at the same pace and with as much enthusiasm as the project champion projects. It doesn’t work and sows seeds of discontent that can derail a new implementation before it even gets started.

Larry Barrett

Larry Barrett

is an editor and analyst at BPO Media.