In the space of barely two decades, digital has become an integral part of our lives, completely transforming the way companies operate irrespective of their size or sector. Dubbed by some as the 4th industrial revolution, digital is changing the way we think about information flow and sharing, management and leadership, as well as learning approaches and skills recognition.
The general implementation of digital in the private sector, customers’ need for autonomy and the proliferation of technology all mean that the digital transformation is inevitable. Individuals’ habits have greatly influenced professional usage and have fast-tracked companies’ adoption of certain technologies.
However, inequality remains high and the risk of leaving some workers behind is real. This reinforces the importance of support and completely transforms management roles in a context where centralised, management-led policies of acculturation and training are increasingly coming under challenge from collaborative approaches (peer support services, personal knowledge sharing, etc.) – a trend that we ought to recognise and exploit. As a result, managers start to become moderators and facilitators.
Nevertheless, over recent years, trends suggest that the use of technology has been overtaken as a priority by the identification and development of new skills built on agility, creativity and innovation. In contrast to early digital technology (email, ERP, etc.) whose implementation was imposed, 3rd generation digital technologies like business networks are presented as an option and, even if the roll-out is not consistent throughout the whole of the business, it is typically adopted much more spontaneously and is designed to evolve pragmatically to suit its surroundings. “I use this particular technology for a specific purpose”. In a world where the use of digital technology has a profound impact on methods of working and collaboration, the role of manager is determined by that person’s ability to strike the right “balance” between technology and human skills in order to accentuate the accountability and autonomy of each employee. This involves encouraging creativity and developing the team’s collective intelligence to the benefit of the company by taking approaches that place greater emphasis on experimentation.
Working environments are becoming increasingly less stable and predictable and career trajectory – less linear. All of this makes continuous learning a necessity, while also creating fear of job losses and dehumanisation. Renewal and acquisition cycles for new skills are becoming shorter and shorter, indicating greater adaptability among the majority of workers. The challenge for companies, then, is identifying and envisaging emerging skills As such, it is more important than ever before for businesses and managers to know how to give meaning to the work they do and rally their employees around shared values and goals in order to make the most of these developments and boost performance.
Finally, as inescapable as it is, this transformation is also the result of significant organisational changes which were not initiated by digital but which have been accelerated and amplified by its arrival. Indeed, individualisation and lean management – which were characterised by the autonomisation of employees and enhanced oversight – preceded digital for the most part, going on later to be aided by it.
As a result, digital remains a means and not a driver of transformation and should be accompanied by wider reflection on corporate operating methods, organisation and processes.
Thus, the erstwhile technology-led digital transformation overseen by Information Systems departments is now becoming an issue of skills and people. For this reason, it is increasingly becoming the remit of Human Resources departments.