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The recently published OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015 finds that countries are making increased efforts to develop their digital economies in a way that will maximise social and economic benefits. However, the report cautions that much more should be done to offer digital skills training to help people transition to new types of digital jobs.

Just as this is a pressing requirement at a national level it must also be addressed by companies as moves towards digital working gain traction in the enterprise. Digitisation will fundamentally alter the way in which organisations commission, manage and utilise technology systems, and in turn will affect the role of the IT professionals who procure them. Equally however, the move to a digital business model will also significantly impact people across the wider business as roles, processes and strategies are transitioned. This is because in a digitised business, digital technologies must not be considered an IT-centric operation, but should instead be embedded at the commercial heart of the organisation. In this context digital knowledge and skills should be present right through the enterprise, not just within the IT team. This approach has the potential to transform business efficiency by improving agility and more closely aligning technology with core organisational objectives. However, it does have the potential to create widespread staff shortages as companies struggle to find the right people with the right skills to drive these digital transformations.

A February 2015 House of Lords report, Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future, warns that there is a shortage of medium and high-level digital skills in the UK which needs “immediate attention” if the UK is to remain competitive globally. This warning is also echoed by Intel, as the reality of the “world data scientist shortage” becomes apparent. Similarly, Ken McGee, Vice President and Gartner Fellow, has voiced concerns, advising IT managers to prepare for major staff skills shortages, particularly in this critical field of digital leadership. What can be done?

The report from the House of Lords states that for the UK to keep ahead of international competition action is required at all levels of the ‘talent pipeline’ – in primary, secondary, further and higher level education. This is very much a long term view but what of the immediate shortages that businesses are facing now?

McGee advises that three types of digital business leader should be created to fill these current leadership gaps: the digital strategist, the digital marketing leader and the digital business unit leader. While these three discrete roles are described as optimal, one member of staff could play multiple roles, and the employees fulfilling these roles could also have other responsibilities.

Sourcing the right staff with the right digital skills will continue to be a headache in the short term as the education system adapts and redesigns courses to equip candidates with the skills that are in short supply. In light of this, successful digitisation programmes will rely on building in-house capabilities. IT managers need to focus hard to ensure that the first group of senior skilled digital leaders they hire can be trusted to make a long-term commitment to the enterprise – both to undertake projects themselves but also to train other staff over time. The creation of these new roles will obviously lead to significant restructuring of existing staff hierarchies both in IT and other business functions, as enterprises move to reach the new digitised Nirvana. To facilitate this transition successfully, IT, the board and senior HR executives need to work closely to ensure that they are prepared to reshape not just their technology systems, but also their staff structures and recruitment strategies to align with needs of the new digital age.

This article is brought to you in association with Intel

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