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Digital imposters: 60% of business leaders lack skills critical for the digital age

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#FutureOfWork – Research reveals that just a third of leaders in multi-national organisations are well prepared for leading in a digital age 

80 percent of employees say leaders with good digital skills are more successful and better at communicating with colleagues and clients.

Biggest barriers to transformation include:

  • Cybersecurity,
  • Reskilling the workforce, and
  • Fear of change

The study, “Leading in a Digital Age” conducted by The Oxford Group, a City & Guilds Group business, has uncovered that companies are struggling to adapt to a digital workplace as leaders lack critical digital skills to transform and staff fear change.

Whilst 96 percent of respondents said the onus is on leaders to drive the adoption of new technologies and 94 percent believe it’s important for leaders to challenge traditional ways of thinking, only a third (33 percent) of leaders feel well prepared to lead their business.

Gaps in leaders’ digital skill-sets are having a major impact on their ability to transform; 41 percent say that a lack of digital expertise makes decision-making more difficult, and 30 percent say it has prevented their team from innovating.

The challenge goes beyond leadership. 60 percent of employees at all levels say that staff at different levels of their organisation lack the skills needed to propel their business into the digital age. Respondents outlined how their organisational infrastructure is also limiting digital transformation, whether that’s the challenge of managing security and the risk of data leaks (45 percent are concerned), tackling the fear of change to roles and routines (42 percent), or reskilling the workforce (31 percent).

Commenting on the findings, John Yates, MD Corporate Learning of City & Guilds Group, said:

“Digital transformation is seeding itself in all aspects of our lives as we continue even further into the fourth revolution. Businesses, C-suites, and employees need to adapt their attitudes and behaviours to meet the changing demands of the workplace. The critical skills of today are much different to those that were needed a decade and even a few years ago, and will differ from those needed tomorrow and into the future. New technologies and learning tools can make it far easier to adapt, but only where there is consistency and buy-in from employees across organisations.”

Whilst lacking confidence in the digital skills of colleagues and senior leaders, both management and the wider workforce realise the benefits of being digitally adept. 80 percent of those surveyed said leaders with good digital skills are able to communicate more effectively with employees and clients, and 71 percent said strong digital skills help staff progress more quickly. Employees show a clear appetite to learn, with half of those surveyed (48 percent) saying their careers would benefit from further training on the technology and systems in their business. Beyond the technical skills, 41 percent said they would value coaching or guidance on how to perform and communicate more effectively in an era of digital transformation.

John Yates continues, “As far as leaders’ responsibilities in the era of digital transformation, the research highlighted that 81 percent of workers think it’s important that senior management recognise and are open about the fact that they do not have to know everything, which can feel counterintuitive when we think about traditional perceptions of leadership.

“It is clear that when it comes to leading effectively in the digital age we are in, attitudes need to shift. Leaders need to set an example by learning new skills – whether that’s about how to empower employees to make changes, or developing their own digital capabilities – and ultimately create a learning culture where everyone recognises that learning is an ongoing, gradual process regardless of where they are on the career ladder.”

Methodology: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Censuswide. Total sample size was 1000 managers, C-suites, and employees in global organisations. Fieldwork was undertaken between in October 2018, with the survey carried out online.


Less than half of executives believe they have the skills and abilities to lead in the digital economy 

30 May 2018: Despite a significant uptick in investment in emerging technologies in the past 12 months, UK executives lack confidence in their own digital skills.

  • Only 16% of executives believe their teams have the capabilities to deliver their digital strategy
  • 41% of organisations have invested in AI, up from 22 per cent in 2017
  • Half of respondents do not believe their organisation’s leadership has a clear understanding of AI

According to the Deloitte survey, “New tech on the block”, less than half (45 per cent) of executives are confident in their own digital skills and ability to lead their organisation in the digital economy, while just 16 per cent believe their talent pool has enough knowledge and expertise to deliver their digital strategy.

The lack of confidence comes as 40 per cent of executives say they do not receive the support they need to develop their own digital skills and 54 per cent do not believe their learning and development curriculum supports their digital strategy. The findings come from the second edition of Deloitte’s Digital Disruption Index, surveying digital leaders from 106 organisations, with a combined market value of £707.8 billion, which equates to 27% of the UK quoted equity market.

Confidence in digital skills is currently low, almost half (49 per cent) of executives plan to invest more than £10 million in digital technologies and ways of working by 2020. 35 per cent plan to invest more than £10 million in the 2018 alone. 38 per cent of executives who say their organisation will invest in three or more emerging technologies over the next two years say that they do not have a coherent strategy in place.

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Oliver Vernon-Harcourt, partner at Deloitte and author of this year’s Digital Disruption Index, explains:

“The pace of technological change is accelerating, however in the rush to keep up many organisations are yet to develop a coherent strategy for investing in digital technologies. More efforts need to be made to align learning and development alongside strategy and investment. End-to-end digital transformation is not just about advances in technology, but about changing the ways of doing business.”

Leap of faith in AI

The lack of confidence in digital leadership has not stopped organisations from embracing new technologies. Two in five (41 per cent) businesses have invested in AI technology, up from one in five (22 per cent) who said they had in 2017. Overall, 10 per cent have already invested more than £5 million in AI technology, with 15 per cent planning to invest more than £5 million in the coming year.

Despite significant investments having already been made in AI, less than one in four (23 per cent) say that their leadership team has a clear understanding of the technology and how it will impact their business.

Overall by 2020, 82 per cent of executives plan to invest in AI, while 70 per cent plan to invest in robotic and cognitive automation and 57 per cent in blockchain.

Vernon-Harcourt adds: “Investment into AI has seen significant growth since 2017, with some organisations now moving into large-scale adoption. However, many leadership teams currently lack awareness of the technology and this could act as a significant barrier to the adoption and development of the technology. It also suggests a lack of preparedness among senior leadership for how AI will impact their workforce.”

Digital skills gap to be addressed ‘urgently’

Only 12 per cent of leaders believe UK school leavers and graduates have the right digital skills, down from 20 per cent who said the same in 2017. Over three-quarters are experiencing challenges in recruiting employees with the relevant digital skills. Data scientists and analysts remain the most difficult roles to recruit and retain.

While executives continue to worry that not enough school-leavers and graduates have the right mix of digital skills, only 17 per cent believe that UK companies lead the way with digital.

Vernon-Harcourt concludes: “There is a digital skills gap that needs to be addressed urgently. Digital is not just about technology. It is about what technology enables. It can fundamentally change how work gets done, how organisations interact with their customers and how decisions are made. To realise the potential of digital technologies and benefit from these, it is vital for businesses to join together in addressing the digital skills gap.”

Planning for blockchain in the Retail and Consumer Packaged Goods industries 

Our new insight report explores the potential for blockchain technology to underpin a transformation in the retail and consumer packaged goods value chain. While we fully expect blockchain technology to achieve widespread, mainstream adoption in these sectors sooner rather than later, we firmly believe that long-term, sustainable success is only possible through careful planning and prioritisation of work programmes.

The ability of blockchain to track, trace, and authenticate products, record contracts, guarantee the movement of information and record transactions means it can be put to use across the entire value chain, with the benefits consequently being passed on to the consumer in the form of savings, increased trust and transparency, and safer and higher quality products.

In this report, we examine the implications and assess the value of specific blockchain use-cases, analysing how they could be used to resolve key business issues.

Practical applications of blockchain

We propose three use-case groups that distinguish between the reasons for the blockchain application. These include:

  • Consumer – Improving and protecting the consumer experience
  • Supply-chain – Improving process efficiencies across the supply chain
  • Payments and contracts – Improving transaction processes and ensuring the validity and implementation of contracts

Assessing opportunities and responding to blockchain

It is important for businesses to understand how much blockchain can generate additional commercial value and how it aligns with the overall business strategy. Depending on the strategic objectives of the business, there are four segments of impact:

  1. Trial projects – Opportunities that have a lower immediate value relative to others due to a narrower blockchain application
  2. Explore – Opportunities relative to trial projects in terms of value but similar complexity (and cost), offering greater value relative to investment in the short-term
  3. Wait and see – Opportunities that currently offer a lower value relative to other blockchain opportunities and are more complex (and costly) to implement
  4. Plan – These offer the most attractive opportunities in terms of potential value

Using blockchain as a tool to achieve your strategic goals is key to seeing a tangible value‑add from this emerging technology. Consumer focused businesses that have the resources and capabilities should be considering how they can harness the power of it.

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