Digital transformation: people first, technology second

Digital transformation: people first, technology second

Amit Lal Singh, CEO at ADI Group

Digital transformation is a hot topic — it has been widely discussed for a number of years now. People correctly say that digital transformation was already vital for businesses to survive in the ever-changing economy even before the pandemic, but the changes to the environment which have been driven by COVID-19 made business transformation more relevant than ever. The increasing customer expectations coupled with tough competition force companies to spend millions on developing and implementing digital products, infrastructures, and brand push.

And it is not only big businesses that find themselves under the pressure to undergo digital transformation.  SMEs in the food and beverage, fast-moving consumer goods, construction, logistics, retail, wholesale and travel industries are also in the same circumstances, they need to adopt new technology in order to survive. SMEs face a range of multiple challenges related to customer expectations, to which they need to learn quickly. For them digital transformation through technology adoption is both an urgent need and an untapped opportunity.

But what is digital transformation? As more and more people talk about digital transformation, acknowledging its importance, the term is increasingly used for different purposes and even misinterpreted. There are many ways to define it, but generally digital transformation refers to the adoption of digital processes and tools to achieve strategic business goals. In most cases it is used to improve, modify or create new products, processes or customer experiences. It's a complex, multifaceted process that represents a massive cultural shift in the workplace and changes that affect every part of an organisation. 

The main reason why the term digital transformation creates some confusion is because technology is such an important part to the process. We often hear about companies undergoing digital transformation, but what they actually do can be more accurately called digitisation. Digitisation refers to more modest initiatives, such as putting services online or plugging a new technology into a legacy business model. But a real digital transformation is much more than just using digital technology — it is a change which happens not on the IT level, it involves major shifts on the organisational level, change that generates breakthrough value.

This is the part which many people get wrong. They think that customer-focused digital transformation is about technology, whereas in reality it is about people. Ultimately people in the company create the customer experience, and people are responsible for driving transformation in companies, not technology. Failure to acknowledge this fact is what leads to so many failures in digital transformation attempts. 

The inability to get the people component right is the cause of many fails. Not because of innovation or technological problems — it is that companies cannot get the right talent onboard.  Success in digital transformation depends on the perfect balance of skills, experience and personal traits. People are the key to successful digital transformation — people with right digital skills, but more importantly, the mindset. These include digital leaders, tech architects and data scientists: people who can amplify a company’s assets, leverage the full breadth of skills available to them and mobilise teams through leadership or subject matter expertise. Hiring the right people makes a huge difference to digital transformation success.

But these professionals are not always easy to come by. As more and more companies are digitising their workforce and processes both internally and externally, the total market for hiring tech talent is growing at a much faster pace than during pre-pandemic times. There is a growing need for experts in digital technology: from security experts to software developers. Digital transformation creates unprecedented opportunities for IT professionals, meaning competition for that talent is high. However, many of these opportunities remain untapped due to the lack of market awareness about them. In the current climate of skill shortages, organisations need an effective talent acquisition strategy. 

This strategy should involve several key components. The first one is internal development — what the company can offer, both in terms of job and corporate culture as well as an attractive package of benefits. Professionals need to be enumerated competitively and the salary is still important, but other elements are too, for example, career development opportunities, work flexibility, interesting tasks, etc. The second component is external — compelling job offers not only need to be developed, but also effectively communicated to potential applicants. Otherwise, how would they know? This external component involves building relationships with outside stakeholders which are crucial for the recruitment process. They include HR business partners, consultants, vendors, trainers etc. The role of these external stakeholders cannot be overestimated, they will be the ones responsible for engaging with applicants and making sure that the process of digital transformation is effectively equipped with the right manpower.

I can tell from my own experience — and our company has been providing passionate professionals to a large number of organisations in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam — that getting the people part right is the most important aspect of digital transformation. From placing the advertisement, screening, testing and reference checking to the final selection, each stage is vital and cannot be left to chance. This is the principle on which we run our company, and we know that it works. By relying on tested recruitment processes, professional expertise and talented people, we not only support companies in their digital transformation by providing them with access to the people they need, but we also help people who are looking to improve their lives — looking for better jobs, better earnings, better career opportunities, better skills matrix and training provided, etc. In the end, the results of getting the right people for digital transformation benefits everyone: employees get better jobs, companies get better staff, clients get better customer experience and our economy grows.

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