The people factor: ensuring the right balance of tech and talent

This is a guest post by Ryan Meyer, APAC managing director of General Assembly

Businesses of all kinds and sizes have embraced the notion of digital transformation, especially as the global pandemic has affected every company, regardless of size, location or industry, in some way or another. The necessary shift to digital operations has become increasingly apparent to business leaders, who are quickly making sure they have the technology infrastructure in place to keep ahead of the pace of change.

According to technology consultancy IDC, global spending on technologies and services that enable digital transformation is forecast to reach $2.3tn in 2023. However, a recent Harvard Business School executive survey found that nearly 75% of digital transformation initiatives fail, primarily due to human capital limitations.

Although technology has become increasingly capable, any implementation of a new programme or system into an organisation needs to be overseen and then continuously monitored by someone who knows how it works. There are few, if any, pieces of technology that can run completely unmonitored, especially in the early days of implementation when it’s crucial to make sure the outlook on return on investment is good. Even the first step – the initial buying decision – must be done by people, and that evaluation should look at not just the capabilities of the technology itself and how it might drive business, but also if the right people are on board to optimise it once it arrives.

This is particularly important for larger and older organisations, those founded before the current generation of digital-first brands such as Facebook and Amazon. This is because there is likely to be integration with legacy systems, or perhaps a complete overhaul of the current technology – both of which are likely to come with cultural shifts. It requires people to manage the other people in this situation, to help them understand how these changes will affect their roles and ensure an effective implementation path to avoid being part of the 75% of failed initiatives.

So where are these people? It’s no secret that there’s a global tech talent shortage. In Singapore alone, the Infocomm Media Development Authority estimates that 19,000 tech roles go unfilled every year. Additionally, many countries – particularly small ones like Singapore – that often supplement local talent by welcoming qualified people from overseas are facing challenges accessing them due to global movement restrictions.

What many businesses haven’t done, however, is look at what’s sitting right in front of them, which is often one or both of two things: existing employees with relevant institutional knowledge who could be trained to take on these projects, and new hires who have not taken a traditional technology education path but who have obtained relevant knowledge through shorter programmes and are primed to quickly get up to speed with the technology needs of the business. Some of the latter group are often career-switchers, and their past experience in other roles can also provide valuable perspective when it comes to getting the most out of new technology initiatives.

How can businesses cultivate a mindset of building talent rather than buying it? First of all, it’s key to think about upskilling talent from within the organisation as vital for the company’s overall growth, rather than simply as employee benefits or retention strategies. For example, someone who already works for your business and clearly understands its mission is likely an ideal candidate to be trained on a new system and ensure that it’s being utilised for the best outcomes.

Then, it’s about revising job descriptions. Businesses need to loosen their grip on requirements around the number of years of education or experience from prestigious universities or companies. Rather, there are people emerging from ‘bootcamp’-style courses, accredited online programmes or even self-learning initiatives who bring with them with the most critical pieces of this puzzle – the right attitude and drive. Someone with the motivation to learn new skills can easily be put onto a training path that will allow them to get up to speed as the new technology system takes hold.

Businesses in Asia who widen their perspective when it comes to acquiring talent will likely see greater returns from their digital transformation initiatives. Executives should work closely with their tech leadership to closely understand the needs of the business and inspire a culture of open-mindedness when it comes to finding the right people for the job, rather than the right people on paper.

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