In a recent survey by SAP SE and the Technical University of Munich, 64 percent of respondents in 18 countries believe their companies’ workforce do not have the skills required for successful digital transformation. Surprisingly, this number is higher than the response in the organizations’ 2015 survey. Researchers speculate that “over time, executives may have developed a better sense for what skills their company needs and what skills are available internally.”

Still, the fact remains that many companies are not prepared for the digital transformation that 90 percent of respondents believe to be important for business strategy. “The hard reality is that a lack of digital skills is among the top barriers to thrive in the digital economy,” says Dr. Bernd Welz, executive vice president and chief knowledge officer, products and innovation, at SAP.

To help, SAP and the European Research Center for Information Systems (ERCIS) developed a maturity model they believe companies can use to successfully assess, develop and track critical digital skills in their workforces. Based on a survey of 116 business and IT leaders in 18 countries and interviews with 24 international companies, the model outlines maturity levels across seven dimensions along with best practices to become more mature.

SAP’s research with the Technical University of Munich identified several important technical skills for the digital transformation, including digital security, analytics, cloud computing and mobile technology. However, notes Welz, “technology skills alone will not enable a company to successfully leverage digital technologies for business innovation,” and 84 percent of survey respondents agreed that change management skills are “important or highly important” as well.

In fact, Morne Swart, vice president of global product strategy at SumTotal Systems, writes that “the least digital part of your organization will lead digital transformation.” Tom Puthiyamadam, global digital services leader at PwC, says that while “digital” previously meant “IT,” now, “a company’s digital strategy practically drives the roadmap and goals of many departments, from marketing to sales to HR.” Human resources and L&D departments have key roles to play in leading the digital transformation at their organizations.

Transforming the Workplace with Skills Development

But what is digital transformation, and what can L&D organizations do to support it? Bill Schmarzo, chief technology officer of Dell EMC Services, defines digital transformation as the pairing of real-time data with modern technology “to enhance products, processes, and business decision-making with customer, product and operational insights.” Welz says that to develop the skills to accomplish such a transformation, organizations should take three steps:

  1. Nurture a culture of learning and development. “Learning for the digital economy,” according to Welz, “should not be an afterthought, but one of the first steps in your digital transformation journey.”
  2. Support continuous learning. The digital knowledge economy means that “knowledge has a shorter shelf life.” All employees – not just IT staff – must own their own skill development and learn throughout their careers.
  3. Develop a skill transformation program that systematically identifies and closes skills gaps. A systematic approach to development helps to maximize business impact and supports “meaningful learning experiences.” Perform a cross-functional needs analysis, identify the maturity level your organization needs in the future and plan training accordingly.

“The future of corporate learning will be based on blended learning,” Welz says. Blended learning, which uses technology to incorporate classroom training and e-learning, can make learning more engaging, combining the benefits of both in-person and online training. LEO Learning reports that blended learning can help resist the forgetting curve and improve learning transfer – both important benefits when it comes to the skills required for digital transformation.

A 2015 survey concluded, “While it is in the company’s best interests for a variety of reasons, L&D can play a pivotal role in helping to direct efforts to strengthen digital skills of a workforce.” Regardless of industry, identifying and addressing digital skills gaps “will be a driver of corporate sustainability and competitive advantage.” Developing a strategic, systematic approach using blended learning can help.

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