Why you should invest in people and technology

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a harrowing test for many businesses across all industries around the world. Digitalization, which had slowly been gaining momentum pre-pandemic as more of a trend than a necessity, ended up becoming the saving grace for many.

Nowadays, as the world endeavors to move onward and leave the pandemic behind, the value of digitalization remains. In fact, according to professional services firm KPMG’s 2021 CEO Outlook survey, digital investment has become a boardroom priority, with nearly three-quarters of UK CEOs say they have an aggressive digital investment strategy designed to secure first-mover or fast-follower status.

The same survey found that 58% of chief executive officers (CEOs) are prioritizing investing in technology over developing their workforce’s skills (42%).

“Over the past 18 months, digital transformation has accelerated hugely. Organizations have needed to fix foundational things like moving to the cloud, implementing base security requirements and integrating collaboration tools,” Lisa Heneghan, partner at KPMG, wrote on the KPMG UK Blog.

“But to do this properly, and really enable the workforce to be effective, more of these tools and technologies are needed than many businesses initially realized. New software, new hardware and more sophisticated collaboration platforms may all be needed. So, the job is not done yet and significant investment is still required.”

Accompanying this upgrade is a need to upskill existing workers to maximize the value of these digital tools. At least half of CEOs from the survey say that investing in digital training and skills will be a key success factor in a hybrid world.

“Digital narrowly ‘wins out’ over people in terms of driving growth, but of course it’s only a qualified victory. It’s people who use the technology and unleash the benefits for the organization. That makes training and upskilling essential. New approaches are needed here – moving away from formal training sessions to an approach of continuous learning and development,” Ms. Heneghan said.

Even workers who are not employed in information technology also require sufficient training, particularly with how central data collection and management is handled across every organization. According to professional services firm Deloitte, almost every organization today is experiencing an acceleration of data flows as a result of increased digitalization.

All of this activity, Deloitte says, requires new skills and a broader understanding of how to unlock the value of increased access to data, as well as the creative space necessary to uncover new insights buried in the flows.

“Embracing the new data-rich environment will involve both discrete skills and larger cultural shifts. Large parts of the workforce, including those not traditionally tied to IT, will need more data literacy and proficiency in the tools that handle it. But entire organizations will also need to develop data-first cultures that are comfortable with data aggregation, mining, and analysis — most of it automated — as the foundations of decision-making,” Deloitte wrote in its 2022 Tech Trends report.

Deloitte recommends automation as a good focal point for lower-level decisions that require less human judgment and which may otherwise feature as distractions in a person’s workday.

“That can provide a double benefit, as the technology is put to work in reliable, repeatable ways and the human workforce can run with the output by making higher level, value-added decisions,” it added.

Furthermore, there is a danger of having too much data and insights causing an organizations to become paralyzed when it comes to making tangible decisions. In this regard, Deloitte suggests that organizations that want to take advantage of freer-flowing data focus on action, such as making micro-decisions, or embedding data-driven confidence into the organization’s culture, while being conscious about pairing data with human experience and judgment.

KPMG’s Ms. Heneghan also had additional tips for staying ahead of the game while undergoing the lengthy process of upgrading and developing your organization’s technology and workforce.

“You’re investing in digital, and you’re upskilling and supporting your people – but how do you keep at the forefront of innovation when business models get disrupted so quickly? It’s a critical question that’s preoccupying CEOs. There’s a realization that you have to be constantly looking around the corner, horizon-scanning for what’s coming next. Many are grappling with how to actually go about it,” she said.

Three-quarters of CEOs from KPMG’s survey said that they intend to increase investment in disruption detection and innovation processes to achieve growth.

“There are lots of components needed for successful innovation – but a really critical element is diversity of thinking. This means reaching out beyond your own business – you can’t innovate just by thinking from within. You need to access the wider ecosystem. That means working with tech businesses, start-ups, and other organisations. Almost three-fifths of CEOs are joining industry consortia and nearly half are collaborating or partnering with start-ups or third-party data providers.” — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran