From XU Magazine, 
Issue 18

Mind the [skills] gap! – The importance of workforce skills to effect digital transformation in an ever changing world

Paula Byers delves into the confusing world of digital skills as a driver for effecting digital transformation in your business. Is digital just a buzzword, or is truly embracing it at every level in your organisation the answer?

Training forms a large part of what we do on a day to day basis and I regularly have ongoing discussions about digital skills in business in my various roles, especially sitting on one of the two government Digital Skills Partnership pilots.

The age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

It seems the media is full of reports, surveys, studies and opinion on the lack of skills in business, along with a myriad of scare stories about AI taking jobs and robots replacing people. A Deloitte study1 released last year stated:

  • 37% of senior leaders say they are not confident in their own digital skills (up from 28% the previous year)
  • Only 25% of executives believe their talent pool has the capabilities to deliver their digital strategy
  • Only 18% of executives believe UK school leavers and graduates have the right digital skills

This shows confidence in digital skills is low, whilst the same report stated that three quarters of executives believe digital is fundamentally changing their organisation.

The Lloyds UK Business & Charity Digital Index 20182 states that 42% of businesses still need all of the five key digital skills (see figure 1). Furthermore, it says that if all the SME’s with low digital capability could unlock up to an additional £84.5bn in turnover if they were to develop high digital capability and two thirds save a day per week through digital.

Much has also been published by Xero themselves and others who have embraced the Xero platform, around the timesaving achieved in both accountancy practice and Client businesses. These organisations would definitely fall into Segment 5 Advanced, being ‘most digitally capable’, in the Lloyds index referred to above.

So embracing digital has a massive impact on an organisation, but how do you go about implementing such a change if you are much lower down the scale and feel like you have been left behind by the pace of change?

Digital Transformation

What is it? Is it just trendy jargon? Absolutely not – digital transformation is the re-working of products, processes and strategies within an organisation using current technology. This holistic approach cannot be gained by viewing one area of the business alone and only truly works when the business is considered as a whole.

The digital transformation process encompasses:

  • Framework
  • Strategy
  • Roadmap
  • Implementation
  • Pivot
  • Analysis

However, for transformation to be successful, I believe it is all about the people and there are two key drivers here: strategy & skills.

A Strategic approach

To ensure the strategy is effective; has complete buy-in at all levels of the organisation from the top down; and that everyone is aligned to it working for the common aim, are all absolutely key to achieving positive outcome.

We have seen transformative plans fail due to lack of digital leadership; there has not been management commitment to the process, so ensuring they are not just ‘paying lip service to change’ or ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ is important.

Genuine digital leadership is not about to just making the decision and then assuming that digital transformation applies to everyone else in the organisation.

I’ve got skills, they’re multiplying…

Ensuring your staff are given adequate training at the outset of a digital transformation is key.

For example, there is little point in adopting an integrated Xero AppStack for example if no-one has the training to use it. Similarly, it is equally important to keep staff up to date with regular skill updates as technology changes at such a fast pace, with cloud being one of those at the forefront of such change with ongoing development.

Making sure new staff who join your organisation are fully conversant with what your aims and values is becoming the norm, but ‘hire for attitude, train for skill’ only works if you have a robust training plan in place. Get it right though, and staff will reward with loyalty as they continue to feel you are
invested in them and they are continually challenged in their employment with you.

The accounting industry in particular has seen a revolution in working practice with the advent of cloud accounting. We hear from many sources that staff are voting with their feet to work for practices that are embracing technology properly, rather than just leaving it as a forgotten page on a website or peeling sticker in an office window.

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Your training plan, just like your business plan, isn’t something that you prepare once and then file as ‘done’. Rather, it should be a working document with regular reviews as staff join or advance in your organisation. Training should be delivered at all levels:

Entry – when starting at your organisation, a full training plan should be in place to make them most effective.  Young starters are often described as digital natives, so adopting new digital skills may come more naturally to them, but they may require more emphasis understanding the commercial aspect of their work.

Development – regular reviews of training schedules, adding topics that become relevant to your organisation as technology develops, along with making adjustments for the pace of personal development of each team member ensures you have a team who are efficient and consistent.

Experienced – more experienced staff members should not be left behind, they may not be digital natives, but the understanding of your business through their years of loyalty should not be underestimated.

The saying that you never stop learning is very true; every day should be a learning day. If you are struggling to develop an effective training plan, seek support from experts who can help you strategise and even deliver training for you to ensure you get the best out of your software.

Sum of its parts

Working direct with businesses and speaking with accountants as we do, it is clear to us that there are organisations getting left behind as business world becomes ever more digital. By working on a plan to upskill your workforce to ensures you have an engaged, diverse team who are as passionate about your digital transformation as you are. Any organisation is only the sum of its parts and your staff are a large part of your business.

Why leave it there?

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By 
Colin Timmis