CIOs must prioritise digital dexterity and skills to combat staff shortages

COVID-19 requires CIOs to do more with less.

The global pandemic has turned IT departments on its head. They have had to set aside ongoing projects to accelerate digital transformation and allow workers to work from home indefinitely.

Earlier this year, CIO Tech Asia reported research from B2B software search website Capterra (powered by Gartner), which showed 72 percent of businesses have digitised some or all of their offerings so that they can be delivered virtually.

About half of employees surveyed said they believed their company could function at full potential with permanent remote working flexibility.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, 55 per cent of organisational redesigns were focused on streamlining roles, supply chains, and workflows to increase efficiency. Unfortunately, this path has created fragile systems, prompting organisations to prioritise resilience as equally important as efficiency.

In an update of its future of work analysis, Gartner suggests 48 per cent of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 30 per cent pre-pandemic. With 74  per cent of CFOs intending to increase remote work at their organisation after the outbreak.

However RMIT Online — a division of RMIT University said, Australia faces a looming skill shortage with an estimated 18,000 additional cybersecurity professionals required to ensure Australia’s digital security by 2026.

Helen Souness CEO of RMIT said, Australia’s digital security capability was crucial for businesses to pursue accelerated digital transformation plans in a post-COVID environment.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has seen rapid digitisation across the economy. As businesses transform, security will become increasingly important for a larger number of organisations,” she said. “Attacks in recent weeks on private businesses have shown that targets for cyberattacks are not limited to public sector bodies and critical infrastructure organisations.”

To succeed in a world of increased remote work, hiring managers should prioritise digital dexterity and digital collaboration skills.

Vincent Tang regional vice president of Asia at Epicor said, Covid-19 spurred Singapore’s biggest unemployment jump since SARS. According to a survey done by JobStreet, a recruitment company, due to Covid-19, Malaysian job losses hit over two million. Thailand’s job losses may reach 10 million if the coronavirus outbreak continues for a few months.

Thinking of the concept of “less is more”, organisations now need to think of ways to have more efficient use of data and how it is integrated within the entire organisation to help companies generate more productivity, said Tang.

“When companies link up their ERP systems, they can ensure they can handle the highly disruptive digital technologies to compete in higher costs environments within the manufacturing industries – especially so when many are forced to work remotely in fast-paced environments such as now,” he said. “The IT department is very essential in working together with the leaders of the companies to be on the same goals – to enable quick response to manage the operational processes real-time.”

Defining goals

Tang said CIOs need to clearly define goals to better leverage and distribute information both internally and externally via multi-channel execution.

“[This will] enable more interactive communication, and enhancing mobility in performing critical business functions, CIOs need to focus on integration of their infrastructure design to be collaborative,” he said.

“Other than planning organisation’s direction and goals, CIOs are often faced with challenges with regards to effective decision-making, and this needs clarity of data and information across all operational processes within the organisations.”

According to Tang, there is an increased pressure and demand to keep up to date with the latest trends in ensuring customer needs to be met, which often may consist of customisation these days. Research provider eMarketer forecasts that retail e-commerce sales worldwide will reach US$5 trillion by 2021. Not surprising, APAC leads the global e-commerce growth charge, outpacing all other continents with a forecasted growth of 25 per cent or US$2.271 trillion, representing a whopping 64.3 per cent of global e-commerce spending.

“There is a change in how business is done, moving aggressively fast to online commerce businesses, and looking at the product life cycle, it would impact the distribution and manufacturing industries for instance, to react and cope with this on-demand culture,” he said.

Keeping agile

Tang believes having access to a mobile working environment where employees and leaders’ can easily access important data real-time, caters to an agile workforce.

“An important shift of working style with user-friendly interface to empower employees in their meaningful tasks while they can timely update work orders, track materials and inventory, and perform other crucial tasks while receiving real-time data from their phones and in turn increase productivity, and efficiency,” he said.

While keeping systems agile is crucial Gartner believes reskilling staff will help organisations keep systems running.

“Providing more varied, adaptive and flexible careers helped employees gain the cross-functional knowledge and training necessary for more flexible organisations,” states the analyst group. “Additionally, organisations should shift from trying to “predict” (targeting a specific set of future skills) to “responding” (structuring such that you can quickly course correct with change).”

“It is critical for business leaders to understand the large-scale shifts that are changing how people work and how business gets done,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice. “Then, they must apply this knowledge to their specific organisation so they can alter their strategy accordingly.”

Reskilling and upskilling

Gartner also found, during COVID-19 one organisation experienced an imbalance of resources across the company. With underutilised employees in customer service roles and overextended employees in remote service delivery, the executive team created an internal job board to match employees in slow parts of the business with experienced employees in other parts of the business that required more digital skills.

The experienced employee helped guide and train the newer employee, who was also offered a curriculum of on-demand training modules. Facing a similar challenge, another organisation set up “ask an expert” forums to assist employees who were back-filling colleagues.

Both organisations accomplished two goals. They were able to shift employees to where they were most needed in the short term, but more importantly, the employees gained valuable and high-demand digital skills.

“Conditions during the COVID-19 crisis are harsh on learning and render traditional training nearly impossible,” said Graham Waller, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner. “Executive leaders can harness modern just-in-time remote micro learning to enable the upskilling opportunities they identify as supporting their COVID-19 recovery business objectives.”

In a blog by Kasey Panetta senior content marketing manager at Gartner wrote, “executives must focus on seven approaches for both upskilling and reskilling their current talent pool”.

She wrote considering upskilling and reskilling plans include:

  • Give employees explicit permission to learn – executives need to repeatedly and clearly state that it’s okay to take time to learn new skills and that employees have explicit permission (and encouragement) to do so.
  • Take a learner-centric approach – employees have a lot on their plates right now, which means executives must be extremely clear about the goals of each training module and ensure that employees who don’t have time will not be penalised or pressured.
  • Emphasize on-demand consumable micro learning
  • If executives want employees to prioritise learning new skills, they need to make sure it’s easy and convenient to do so.
  • Repurpose existing internal corporate training programs
  • This is a good time to rethink existing training programs for the current employee experience.
  • Blend content, coaching and experiential learning
  • Experiential learning won’t look quite the same in a remote context but find opportunities for pairing experienced employees with those less experienced.
  • Cultivate learning communities of practice
  • Social learning, like chat boards or online interactive learning events, enable employees to share experiences and create a community in which they can support and teach each other.
  • Embed micro learning in the flow of value
  • The goal should be to make reskilling and upskilling so easy the learner can consume it in their regular flow of work and immediately use it to help them achieve an outcome.













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