The Business Value Exchange posed the question over social channels: “In order to drive innovation in your industry, what are the digital skills most sought after and how do you acquire them?” Here we present an edited selection of the responses received, with respondents’ concerns for their particular sector.
Numerical skills are mandatory – as is staying connected
In the aero engineering sector, Guillaume Schmelzer, Engineering Intern, Airbus put the case for mandatory numerical skills, but urged colleagues to stay connected, too. “We should be aware of actuality and what is done elsewhere; we have to be open-minded. Being connected on the social media is also a good way to stay tuned. I am involved inside a wonderful and intelligent team and get those skills naturally and communicate those skills with the others easily,” he revealed.
In the auto manufacturing arena, data scientist at Audi AG, Lars Heppert, warned of the problem of ‘concept drift’ – a change in the underlying concept or process that generates the data. This drift creates huge problems when trying to make predictions – whether using in machine learning and data mining – about that concept or process.
“One of the most interesting future challenges for data scientists is the detection of ‘concept drifts’. Drifts can occur in data as well as transformation of business concepts over time – for example, as hotels morph to Airbnb,” explained Lars.
Innovation labs or incubators provide fintech differentiation
Within the financial services industry, the shift to data-centric business models means that data and analytics skills are highly sought after and organisations have to apply lateral thinking to acquire talent. Many of the bigger players are using innovation labs or incubators to provide startup/ fintech differentiation and to acquire valuable new skills, as Craig Milroy (@CraigMilroy), Director Global Data Architecture – Insurance Industry commented:
“These labs operate outside the typical corporate environment and constraints. The freedom allows for the creation of innovative data/analytics projects, data-centric business model creation, hackathons, data/analytics, social and industry events. This allows the organisation to showcase current and potential future data/analytics opportunities, and in turn potentially attract top data/analytics talent.”
Reimagine the business in a fully digital future
Agriculture may be perceived by the public as one of the most traditional professions, but data is revolutionising its practices and its outcomes: using Big Data in real-time is boosting crop yields and other driving innovation in precision architecture. The change is so profound that agridigital protagonist, Tobias Menne, Global Head Digital Farming, Bayer, argued that imagination plays a big part. “The digital skill most valued by us is imagination: the ability to reimagine our business in a fully digitalised world. It is about a conceptual, logical and strategically derived imagination, based on customer and technology insight.”
Given the mass disintermediation that digital business models have ushered in, some people might think the B2B salesperson’s job is dead and buried. However, in the telecoms sector at least, as Sophie Ben Sadia, Former VP Enterprise Business-Sale, Alcatel-Lucent explained, salespeople are “Darwinian” and will adapt to survive in the digital era. They will become business partners whose reward/sales incentive is proportional to the customer success.
“From leveraging the massive data nurtured by their marketing colleagues, through to landing in the customer account (equivalent to the former ‘closing’ stage), and more specifically in its core business process, the extent to which the salesperson expands the usage is proportional to the business outcome. The more active the customer is in the business, the higher the consumption will be and therefore the revenue for the salesperson.”
Security only as good as the communication
“In software development – in whichever sector – the most sought-after skills are related to security, and how to communicate with different stakeholders – from boardroom to developer.” Dimitri Vanheghe, Senior Architect with European Commission, explained how he needs to operate within public services: “To be successful, you need to adapt your communication, talking about risks to senior management, requirements to business, threats and vulnerabilities to quality assurance and technical solution to the developers.”
Perspective counts over experience
Whichever sector senior executives come from, their employees are the most digitally connected workforce in history. And no one understands better how to harness this than marketing. It’s something brands really should and can embrace, Ulrik Bo Larsen (@silentcrooner), CEO and Founder, Falcon.io explained: “At Falcon, we’ve designed the Inspire app to harness employees’ social reach. Inspire makes it simple for them to swipe through a pool of approved company content and share it on their private networks with just a tap. It’s a powerful employee advocacy tool, and encourages people to get involved in their company image and branding.”
Karl Smith (@UserExperienceU), CEO and Director of Transformation and Change, Digital Strategist, Paradigm Interactions Inc. agreed that experience has limited value in the digital economy. “Neither experience nor education are what is required; what we need is people with understanding of other people’s lives. We need people who do not have preconceptions of what other people want to do and how, but to really find out about people and how they can acquire products and services.”
Curiosity and the willingness to learn constantly
Similarly, attitude counts for a lot in the new learning culture and this has been embraced by our social commentator from transportation. “It is all about the right attitude. Digital leadership, curiosity and the willingness of constant learning are most important, next to social communication and collaboration,” argued Harald Schirmer, Manager of Digital Transformation and Change, Continental AG. “It’s the things that take more than a short training course to learn: respect, transparency (openness), courage and a #ForOneAnother spirit. We build them by our culture development and role modeling and focusing on a culture fit in applicants.”
Revolutionary innovations are the new norm
In healthcare, technology is set to radically change the industry in such a transformational way that it is hard to keep up with the pace. Revolutionary innovations are now normal – wearables, also known as ‘hearables’, ‘ingestibles’ or even ‘implantable’. João Bocas (@SelfCareGuru), Digital Health Influencer and Thought Leader, Salutem said: “If you are not applying digital skills in your daily life, then you are not moving alongside the business world. The three most practical and necessary digital skills to succeed in healthcare and digital health industries are: using digital tools for health management, SaaS (Solution as a Service) and social media. Experimenting with health apps is a good start.”
Connected enthusiasts drive innovation
Understanding your customer is an essential skill in the digitally-enabled market – and this is true of education. “To drive innovation in education, one must understand educators,” said Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers) Founder and CEO, Choose2Matter Inc. “Educators have a limited amount of time to learn and implement innovative tools and practices. They are under intense pressure to raise student test scores, while facing little external pressure to innovate,” she pointed out. “The best way to promote any new practice or tool is to launch with a group of eager, social media savvy educators and engage them to promote it to other educators”.
Innovation happens at the edges
A thread of entrepreneurism runs through all successful digital organisations, the BVEX straw poll revealed. “The best and most decisive digital skill for me is ‘it works’ ahead of ‘the new’,” said Isra García (@Israel_Garcia), Digital Advisor, Blogger. Innovation happens at the edges, but it always doesn’t mean it has to be the ‘next big thing’, he observed, and sometimes, the best innovation, the best digital skill is learning how to master what you already have that is producing positive results.
We’ve given the final word on the new digital skills to Theo Priestly (@ITredux), Technology and Digital Evangelist, ITredux. “In order to innovate, regardless of industry, you have to understand what defines and drives innovation. For many, wrangling with the data they already possess to make more informed and insightful decisions at the right time is key to becoming a more agile enterprise, able to cope with increasing competition. To do this, we look to the data scientists, and those who understand both the API and algorithm economy; those who understand the data, can connect the data and ultimately create solutions that produce actionable results from the data.”
These are the highlights of a social response to the BVEX team’s questioning of the skills needed for our digital future. And while it’s clear that there’s a vocal shout-out for data scientists and mathematics and numbers skills, it’s also apparent that openness, connection and attitude count for as much in organisations undergoing transformation.
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Helen Beckett is the Community Manager of the Business Value Exchange. She has been a writer and editor for over 20 years and takes a particular interest in the challenges facing the CIO in today’s business climate.