The nature of work is changing, and CIOs have a crucial role to play in ensuring that all workers have the skills they need.
For several years, we have been making the case that digital transformation should be an immediate priority. Most companies understood that digital is the future, but many still saw it as a medium-term issue – one that could be put off while they focused on more pressing issues.
COVID-19 made rapid technology adoption a matter of survival. And as is now well documented, the pandemic is driving an astonishing wave of digital transformation which will have a profound impact on the world of work.
CIOs have been the “rock stars” of this story. Many took what were multi-year transformation programs and delivered the critical aspects in a few short months. It was unprecedented change that for many of us has now already become business as usual: distributed working, virtual meetings, digital collaboration and so on.
But with the immediate needs of the business resilience met, CIOs are now looking to the future. As they do so, there are three things weighing on their minds:
- Is the workforce ready for the technology in place today? The rollout of new technology to support distributed working was so rapid, it was only natural that associated reskilling efforts would lag.
- Is the workforce ready for tomorrow’s technology? As digital transformations unfold, and emerging technologies like blockchain and AI are adopted at scale, workers will need to be reskilled time and again to keep up.
- Is the workforce ready for structural change at the industrial level? Transformation results in permanent change in the type of work required within many industries and how it will be performed. Are the technology skills of the workforce adaptable?
We’re entering a world where all workers are to a greater or lesser extent technology workers. This creates a huge opportunity for the CIO and CTO to expand their remit. These leaders will take responsibility for reskilling the entire workforce to ensure they’re ready for continual change and able to extract full value from the tools they use, even as they adjust to new roles and responsibilities.
The digitally fluent workforce
How can CIOs respond? One concept that will prove useful in the years ahead is the idea of “digital fluency.” Think of digital skills like a language. One can be literate in a language and understand tools such as reading and speaking. But one can also be fluent: able to use the building blocks of language to create something new -- like a poem or a story.
Similarly, with digital skills, in the past most businesses have focused on literacy. The opportunity for CIOs now is to teach fluency, giving all workers in the enterprise the skills they need to use technology intuitively and create something new. Digital fluency is the missing piece of the puzzle for many digital transformations.
It is also exactly what’s needed to insulate the workforce from structural change to their industries. If workers have a creative understanding of digital, those skills can be put to use no matter what the requirement of the role. In fact, Accenture research suggests that digital fluency predicts and explains 54% of a worker’s ability to be agile. That agility is great news for the business -- digitally fluent companies are nearly three times more likely than their peers to have experienced high revenue growth (20%+) over the past three years.
There are four things that CIOs can do right away to help build digital fluency across the workforce:
- Build a digital foundation. The CIO can help lead the journey and set the timeline for building the digital foundation of the enterprise by creating a digital workplace rich with opportunities for self-enablement and automation.
- Improve workforce technology quotient. The workforce’s technology quotient -- workers’ enthusiasm, expertise and value seen across technologies -- is important to digital fluency. CIOs can use data analytics to determine the readiness of the workforce to work alongside technologies and tailor skilling programs accordingly.
- Collaborate on the reskilling curriculum. Many organizations have a centralized training or learning organization that can be leveraged to collaborate with IT and CIOs in building a new digital fluency learning curriculum. Leaders and influencers from all parts of the company should be included in the curriculum development and, more importantly, the deployment and execution of the program.
- Shape a culture of digital leadership. CIOs need to help shape the impact of digital transformation on the business. That includes playing a role in helping to build new work structures, role and responsibilities and guiding business leaders in adapting to new remote, hybrid and working models.
Reskilling the workforce is a necessary condition of success for the digital-first world that’s emerging. As the change-makers for their businesses, CIOs can take the lead in helping create digitally fluent workers that are ready to participate in the workforce of tomorrow. That’s good news for all.
Greg Douglass is Accenture’s global lead for Technology Strategy & Advisory. With more than 25 years of consulting experience across telecommunications, media, technology and retail industries, Greg is focused on helping clients worldwide achieve high performance through profitable growth, accelerated innovation, organizational agility and operational excellence.
Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than three decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. She currently serves as the global lead for Accenture’s Talent & Organization / Human Potential practice.