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The importance of e-leadership in meeting digital challenges

Henley Business School identifies ICT trends that will alter the demand of e-skills, especially those needed by e-leaders

E-leadership is of crucial importance to companies, especially small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), startups and industry, as it allows them to excel at their business operation.

The skills required for effective e-leadership are seen as those that enable talented information and communication technologies (ICT) professionals to lead qualified ICT and other staff towards identifying and designing business models and exploiting key innovation opportunities.

E-leadership success is defined as making best use of developments in ICT and delivering value to the organisation. There is an increasing demand throughout European industry to improve the quality of e-leadership, covering organisation leadership in ICT innovation to deliver business value. Research has confirmed a significant shortage of e-leadership skills across Europe – this represents a call for action.

The European Commission e-Leadership initiative, started in 2013, has focused on the leadership needs of top decision-makers and professional leaders at larger enterprises. These leaders oversee portfolios of both well-defined and emergent innovation opportunities. Successful design and implementation requires developing and engaging highly qualified staff to achieve the target value. With the further initiative on e-leadership skills for SMEs, which was started in 2014, the Commission is now targeting SMEs and startups.

The University of Reading's Henley Business School has identified a number of ICT trends expected to affect the demand of e-skills and, specifically, e-leadership skills in the next decade. The evolution of the mix of skills requested by emerging innovation, including SMEs, has been researched by a team at Henley Business School.

The main focus is on high-tech and high-growth SMEs (gazelles), which particularly need ICT and e-leadership skills to enhance competitiveness and to become or continue to be successful.

New ICT environments drive demand for new specialised skills to design, develop and deploy the latest digital services.

The demand for operational and practical ICT skills is decreasing – particularly in user industries – and stimulating an overarching demand for e-leadership skills to exploit the new technologies for business growth.

The predicted gap between the supply and the demand for e-leadership skills in EU-28 during 2013-2015 is shown below. It is evident the e-leadership skills gap is growing from 262,000 jobs in 2014 to a predicted 825,000 jobs in 2020.

EU28 main forecast scenario

The team found that closing the e-leadership skills gap requires a range of educational ecosystem actions. In particular, it needs strong collaboration of demand and supply stakeholders to create new educational offers. Pilot work shows that this leads to innovative and relevant content for e-leadership programmes, including executive workshops and open online courses.

Main recommendations for business and policy:

  • Strengthen e-leadership in policy agendas at national level and into other policies, such as on digital education, entrepreneurship, innovation and multidisciplinary courses.
  • Monitor labour market trends and disruptions to refine definition and skills requirements.
Support new curricula and training for e-leadership.
  • Mobilise stakeholders to foster governance and co-operation activities on e-leadership in synergy with pan-European awareness campaigns.
  • Inform SMEs and startups about newly developed training and higher and executive education offers on e-leadership, supporting them in exploiting innovation opportunities emerging through developments in ICT and in delivering value to their organisation.
  • Communicate the lessons learned through networking of firms keen to promote innovation through e-leadership.
  • Inform about the European higher and executive education landscape and the further training offers in the areas of e-leadership and digital entrepreneurship.
  • Encourage employers – especially SMEs and startups – to make use of e-leadership programme and course offerings and to team up with education and training institutions to develop these in line with their needs.
  • Collate technologies using systemic approach of mobility, cloud computing, big data analytics, social media technologies and the internet of things.

In summary, e-leadership in firms aims to address structural changes in the workforce in recent years that are expected to continue; the number of potential vacancies in highest skills areas; leverage risk of unemployment of practitioners with outdated skills; the number of potential vacancies (up to 10%) for specialist and advanced skills; reliance on re-training and professional education and attracting foreign talent; and the need for improving highest skills level education, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

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