Fast running out of Digital Skills

Single Biggest ChallengeFew would argue that we are now living in a digital world, particularly as more of our lives are spent constantly connected. Businesses while slow to react have now woken to this idea and in a recent survey McKinsey cited Digital Marketing & Social Tools and Big Data & Analytics within the top 10 corporate priorities for CEOs [1].

This shift towards digital requires more than a marketing makeover or a 'bolt on' Facebook or Twitter presence. To be successful in years ahead requires organisations to become 'social organisations'; to begin to engage with customers, employees, suppliers and partners across every area of the business. To process information, to make decisions and to learn in real-time (or as near to it as possible). See some of our recent articles on this subject here.

This will be a challenge for many; questions will be asked around the effectiveness of the current organizational structure and the adequacy of systems and approaches. However, perhaps the single biggest challenge will be in acquiring and building the necessary digital skills needed within our organisations [1].

Riding the Wave takes skill

Big Digital WaveThe Connected Customer 'Tsunami' has arrived and it demands new skills around areas such as big data, cloud computing and social media. According to a study by Oxford Economics, organisations in the Asia-Pacific region have already highlighted digital business skills as being mission critical [5]. To reinforce this point, Energise2-0 will be providing a keynote address in May at Asia's first  Social Business Summit.

Digital Skills can no longer be focused within one department or function. The recent Global Workforce Study by McKinsey suggested that IT was neither driving digital change within the business nor was IT actively engaged or supportive of the changes taking place [1].

Digital business leadership is key if companies are to succeed in this area [1]. McKinsey found that companies that have appropriate leadership in place, capture more value than their competitors [1]. Peter Sondergaard of Gartner believes companies have no option in this area – they will will need a 'chief digital officer' and by 2015, 25% of organisations will have one [6].

Productivity + Engagement

A recent McKinsey productivity study estimated that by effectively implementing 'social tools and technologies' productivity can be increased by 20-25% [2]. When it is considered that most of us use 60% or less of our work time productively [3] and much of this time involves managing e-mails or looking for 'internal information' it's easy to see where the quick wins are.

Arguably, there is a bigger up-side from helping to create and support an 'engaged' workforce. A recent study of 32,000 full-time workers from Towers Watson, suggests that 26% are 'disengaged' (uncommitted, de-motivated and unsupported) [4]. It also found that those that work remotely or flexibly (47%) have “more positive views and perceptions of their jobs and organizations” than those in offices [4]. This suggests that digital has a big part to play in creating a more (rather than less) engaged workforce.

Bridging the Gap

Bridge by zombieiteGartner (and Sondergaard) believe that despite a burgeoning demand for digital business skills (some 4.4 million jobs will be created worldwide by 2015), only around a third of these jobs will be filled [6]. Gartner are not alone in this view, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso,

recently detailed a new programme to fill some of the 900,000 unfilled ICT vacancies soon to be realised across Europe [7].

While technology students question whether university is good value for money – for some it is not providing the digital skills they need [8] and when the European Commission estimates that there will be 700,000 school leavers and graduates without basic IT and digital skills by 2015 [9], the question must be asked – how will we bridge this gap? 

Making sense of Digital Skills

Organisations need to 'get on board' and recognise the importance of 'social' for their organisation. The results from our recent State of Digital Survey 2012 suggest very strongly that whilst companies are getting involved with social media, few are developing a strategy or measuring performance. Fewer still are looking to become 'social organisations'.

Our combined failure to view this area strategically nor fully recognise the long-term importance of 'digital' will put us on a backfoot in the fight for scarce digital skills.

Organisations need to start planning now for the resources they will need in future. As McKinsey highlights, organisations will need to be resourceful in both developing homegrown skills and also in acquiring talent (even making the best use of outsourced services) [1].

An engaged workforce is a productive workforce and the evidence suggests that organisations that 'get it' put in place the required digital leadership, embed their staff  within appropriate organisational structures and fully enable their workforce with the latest social tools and technologies [4].

While there is a very wide range of digital skills required, a key role needs to be played by Digital Business Leaders. A Digital Business Leader is someone that has hibrid skills; he/she understands the business (and business strategy) and has a good handle on the key digital issues (big data and analytics, cloud computing, mobile first, social organisation, and so on).

There is a question about where we will find our next Digital Business Leaders; how many of our business schools are thinking about this particular skills gap?

There is also a mismatch between the business skills available amongst our graduates and the digital skills needed by our organisations. While students are questioning the value of their expensive education is there a way to augment business acumen with practical digital skills and experiences? We think so.

Finally, there is an international context to all of this. Our competitors in the Asia-Pacific region have already been pondering this problem for some time.

As always your views and comments are greatly appreciated

Alan, Jim and Vincent
P.S. we will be exploring these issues at the 'Digital Skills Summit: Glasgow' on the 18th of March.


[1] Minding your Digital Business (article from McKinsey Global Survey Report 2012)

[2] The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies

[3] Microsoft Survey, 2005 accessed within Key Organization

[4] Global Workforce Survey (Towers Watson)

[5] Global Talent 2021 (Oxford Economics)

[6] A presentation by Gartner Senior Vice President Peter Sondergaard

[7] Europes new plan to close digital jobs gap

[8] Technology students question whether university is good value for money

[9] Young Europeans lack basic IT skills, says European Commission


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One Comment

  1. Launch of the Digital Glasgow Strategy | Energise 2-0Energise 2-0
    March 17, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    […] All the evidence points to a growing skills shortage in these areas (see Alan’s recent post entitled Fast Running Out of Digital Skills) […]