You can’t just give up on your employees because they don’t possess the necessary IT skills, says Mark O'Donoghue

A recent report on the digital skills shortage in the police force, by think tank Reform, highlighted the crossroads that many organisations stand at – and not just those within the public sector. 

Take the right path and they have the chance to develop new digital business initiatives and revolutionise their operations and processes. But follow another route and companies could find themselves on a perilous journey where they run the risk of failure, and even obsolescence.

Businesses can’t ignore the fact they need to adapt effectively to the impact of new technologies and the changing expectations of society and customers. But understanding the need to create a digital strategy is one thing – executing a plan that works is a lot harder.

Here are a three starting points organisations can use to begin their journey:

1. Change needs to come from the top

True digital transformation requires a cultural shift in the mindset of employees and it’s important that this shift comes from the very top. However, leaders can lack the confidence needed to lead in a digital environment because they feel others are more acclimatised to it than them.

The temptation is to appoint a digital director to provide a single point of focus, but the most impactful results come when change is being led by the senior team and built into everything a business does. For this to happen, senior leaders must upgrade their own digital capability to inspire and guide others.

2. Make sure your staff have the skills they need

The Reform report said police forces should consider getting rid of staff who are not computer literate. This is a short-sighted view and misses the point.  

The most successful companies put people at the heart of their digital strategy. They don’t simply get rid of those who currently lack the skills; instead they understand the role that training can play in upskilling their employees. In doing so, staff will be empowered with digital skills and contribute to a culture that changes the whole mindset of the company.

That being said, specialist knowledge needs to be built within an organisation over time. Whether it’s data analysis skills, digital marketing expertise or experience in a particular type of software. If your business is, or wants to be, utilising a particular digital skillset, then expert knowledge will lead to organisation-wide adoption.

3. A ‘tech lift’ is just cosmetic and doesn’t solve the underlying issues

It is tempting to address the digital challenge simply by bringing in new technology. Although new tech is a vital part of a digital approach, one that centres on the use of technology, rather than what customers’ need, has a much lower chance of success. It’s more important to think about how people can use this technology to make a real difference in line with an overall goal driven by an identified customer need.

For example, data is a priority for many businesses, but simply collecting more data doesn’t add value in itself. However, when you empower people with the skills to more effectively draw conclusions from existing data and use these to make fact-based decisions as well as to establish patterns, the way you use data becomes interesting.

Police forces, like many organisations, are facing up to the real threat and opportunity of digital disruption. Those that survive and thrive in the future digital ecosystem will be those that understand how they need to transform their organisation, and equip their people with the necessary skills to harness new technologies, taking the whole business on a learning journey.

Mark O'Donoghue is global managing director at AVADO Digital