Now Is the Time to Evaluate Digital Transformation Skills

By May 5, 2020 blog No Comments

Chief information officers should leverage the current business slowdown imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic to assess the digital transformation skills of every individual on their IT staff.  Here’s how to do it. And why it is important.

In 1995, Nicholas Negroponte, the founder of the MIT Media Lab, wrote Being Digital, a book which helped introduce the concept of digital transformation, a “irrevocable and unstoppable” shift in business processes from physical atoms to digital bits. Twenty-five years later, digital transformation languishes as an aspirational strategy for most firms.

A McKinsey & Company 2018 report found that although 80% of enterprises have attempted a digital transformation project, fewer than one-third have succeeded at improving company performance. Another report, the 2019 Chaos Report from The Standish Group, found that 84% of technology projects “partially or completely fail.” Meanwhile, the Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index claimed a mere five percent of firms had attained “digital leader” status.

With that kind of track record, the thought of implementing a digital transformation initiative during the Covid-19 pandemic seems even more daunting. One reason is less fiscal capital. Market researcher International Data Corp. on March 11 said the outlook for annual growth in global IT spending could drop to 1%, or roughly $2.3 trillion, down from a February forecast of more than 4%.

The other reason is muted interest in acquiring human capital. Corporations posted 370,000 core IT jobs in January 2020, according to industry trade association CompTIA. One month later, as the economic repercussions of the pandemic grew exponentially, that plummeted to 40,000 new position postings.

In Being Digital, Mr. Negroponte mused “creativity often comes from unlikely juxtapositions.” Here’s an unorthodox pairing: align the “Great Pause” in business activity caused by Covid-19 to the digital transformation skills of technology workers.

Chief information officers should build a “digital transformation skills matrix” designed to identify IT staff members who possess the essential skills needed to implement digital transformation platforms in the post-Covid-19 era.

Here’s how to do it. Plot the Y-axis of the matrix, on a scale of zero to 10, to represent what Thomas Lynch, the chief information officer for Suffolk University in Boston, calls the “cultural capacity” of an employee to communicate, collaborate, think critically and be creative. Along the X-axis, also on a scale of zero to 10, identify the “technical capacity” of an individual to work competently with discreet technologies needed in digital transformation project.

Staff members with skill set coordinates that place them to the upper right quadrant–strong technical and cultural capacity skills–are vital retention priorities. Workers in the upper left quadrant–strong cultural capacity skills but weaker technical skills–should be deployed in customer and employee-facing roles. Individuals whose skills align them to the lower right quadrant–strong technical capacity but weak cultural skills–should be assigned to review emerging technology and build internal digital transformation platforms. Those who fall to the lower left quadrant–weak technical and cultural capacity skills–are candidates for reduction in force.


Recently Mr. Negroponte commented on the future impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Many firms are trying to think how the world will be different afterward,” he said. “The one common belief is that it will not be the same. The pandemic has brought an appreciation for technology, in general, and the internet in specific.”

And technology will help point the way forward, said Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive officer of Google. “Every American should be asking where we want the nation to be when the Covid-19 pandemic is over,” he said. “How could emerging technologies propel us into a better future?”

To ensure a “better future” for digital transformation projects, chief information officers must also ask, and answer, those questions. Then start now to reconfigure their staff to prioritize digital transformation skills.

The Wall Street Journal

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