Piecing together digital

Ali Merifield offers some insight into L&D’s role in digital transformation

If you put ‘digital transformation’ into Google, it returns about 707,000 results. Rather too much reading at any time of year, let alone in January when your email inbox is starting to build up as business kicks in again after the Christmas break.

It is a term that intimidates and even scares many people in large and small organisations alike. Most companies have arrived at the conclusion that digital is important to their business and future strategy, but there is a slight paralysis in tackling what is felt to be an enormous issue. The hardest part is figuring out where to start.

It’s like one of those jumbo jigsaw puzzles you might have lying on your dining room table after Christmas; such an enormous task with so many pieces and moving parts. At least with a puzzle you know what the end picture is going to look like, but it is still a bit of a mission to get going – do you group pieces of similar colour together, gather the edges in one pile, look for faces or distinct images, or simply start randomly trying to see what fits?

There are many pieces in the puzzle of how digital can impact your business as well, from customer relationship management, supply chain, sales and marketing, understanding data, business intelligence and analytics, making more of your website, social media and other online assets, for example.

A quick look at some of the facts and statistics that are driving the need to consider digital transformation for a brand or business:

  • 60 per cent of consumers conduct the majority of their research online before making a purchase
  • Nearly three-quarters of adults bought goods and services online in 2014
  • 66 per cent of consumers watched online video content in 2014
  • Over half of all adults access social media sites
  • 71 per cent of online consumers expect to be able to access help within five minutes
  • 48 per cent will take business elsewhere if they do not get help in that time
  • 84 per cent of households have some kind of internet connection
  • 68 per cent of adults access the internet using a mobile device.

So what does ‘digital transformation’ mean to a business? The short answer is it will mean something different to everyone, but consider that on average, digital leaders – or ‘Digerati’ – are 26 per cent more profitable than their industry competitors1. It does depend on the industry, your business strategy and objectives, your customer profile, your product or service, markets and competitor landscape. More than anything, however, it depends where your business is currently on its digital journey.

The world of digital is fun, exciting and innovative. Investing in digital opens up new possibilities for companies and careers, and offers ways to create efficiencies and save money. It can boost online engagement and brand reputation, adding value to customers, products and services. An understanding of digital creates new ways to view and use your data, which can reveal new opportunities for the business.

Digital is not meant to be daunting, challenging, expensive or painful; it’s what you make of it. However, because the digital transformation process doesn’t come with a picture on the box, it can get put off and stalled, at the risk of damaging reputation, staff retention and competitor advantage. But there is a way to start mapping your digital transformation journey…a bit like having a set of instructions.

In order to know where to start, you need to know where you are. Only then can you work out where you are meant to be going and set off in the right direction. A starting point also gives you something to measure against, to mark milestones and success, as well as metrics to report against to the board or shareholders, for example.

Creating a baseline for mapping the changing of your organisation is crucial.

A full audit to establish your current position would include the following areas:

  • People: Organisational structure, roles and responsibilities, supplier partners, skills requirements, hiring plans and budgets
  • Infrastructure: The stock, tools, programmes, as well as systems and processes
  • Data: Sources and correlation, quality, quantity, ownership and optimisation
  • Assets: Websites, social media, internal assets, compliance
  • Third parties: Agencies, suppliers, supply chain
  • Audience: Digital profile of current customer base and new targets.

[pullquote]One way to address the latent fear factor or reluctance to invest in digital transformation is to start at the centre – your people[/pullquote]. This is an exciting opportunity for learning and development experts to lead the way in ensuring the organisation is digitally literate for the future. The concept of transformation is all encompassing, involving people, process, culture, systems, operations and finance – true organisational change. And eventually it will. But “culture eats strategy for breakfast” as Peter Drucker said, which nicely sums up that people and capability need to be at the heart of a digital transformation.

There is a simple process for building a digital capability programme:


  • Exploration of requirements and current skills level
  • Confirm brief, what needs to be covered
  • Online survey to assess key audience needs/skills level
  • Conduct the audit for information collection


  • Articulation of programme and definition of success
  • Proposed approach and format, including audience segmentation, resourcing, indicative costing and phasing


  • Logistics and creation
  • Align on full team inputs, roles and responsibilities
  • Creation of training components (agendas, outlines, guides, training material, group work etc. as relevant/required)


  • Programme delivery and component parts


  • Feedback collection and reporting
  • Assessment to measure programme value against initial success definition, immediately after delivery
  • Review impact on an ongoing basis


  • Evolve and improve
  • Ongoing development of teams and businesses
  • Could include best practice guides, toolkits, business and asset analysis, brand workshops etc.

Discovery is essential. Assessing where your people are currently and where they need to get to in a digital transformation journey is about far more than skills and training. An initial capability audit can be done through a combination of interviews across the organisation, online surveys, internal reports and available data. Results can then be used to identify opportunities and areas of risk, to put forward recommendations, including quick wins, as part of a roadmap for the future.

Here’s an example outline of what to cover in an initial capability audit:

Organisational structure

  • Where does the digital vision for the company rest and how is that being aligned with overall business and strategic imperatives?
  • Who represents the digital vision for the company at board level, and how is this transferred to L&D teams?
  • How are departments working together to formulate a single digital vision?
  • How are teams and individuals speaking to each other about digital?
  • How are the current systems connected – CRM, e-commerce, analytics?

Roles and responsibilities

  • How many people currently have digital as a primary or secondary part of their role?
  • Who is in charge of researching digital opportunities – e.g. for product development, customer profiling/segmentation?
  • How are reporting lines structured for staff with digital responsibilities if they are not part of a dedicated digital team?
  • What tools are available for people to learn new skills and develop current areas of expertise?

Skills requirements

  • What departments would benefit most from a better understanding and use of digital (e.g. marketing, HR, editorial, sales)?
  • Is there at least one champion for key areas of digital as it relates to your business – data analytics, CRM, social media, digital marketing, audience profiling etc.?
  • Are training budgets for digital aligned with an overall digital strategy?

Hiring plans and budgets

  • Has each department or division outlined its needs for digital resource or skills in future?
  • Is there a budget for dedicated digital staff or upskilling existing staff?
  • Have you started to identify talent in the industry with a view to approaching them as and when skills and expertise is needed?


  • How many staff have digital literacy or specific digital responsibilities as part of their KPIs?
  • How are staff rewarded for bringing new ideas to the table that could help the company accelerate its digital transformation?
  • How could digital be incorporated into KPIs across the entire organisation, up to board level?

This is not an exercise that sits within a single department so it needs to be planned and co-ordinated centrally and the results need to be analysed within an overall digital vision. Only then can you create measures to develop a digital strategy.

Building capability is clearly an essential element in maximising what your current workforce can offer in a digital ecosystem. As that ecosystem grows, so do the number of topics and trends to follow.

Skills will always be a large part of a digital transformation programme that starts with people and capability within an organisation. It is also where we know there are huge gaps, given that IDC predicts that by 2015, 90 per cent of all jobs will require ICT (Information and Communication Technology) skills.2

Capgemini’s ‘Digital Talent Gap’ research with MIT3 discovered that 77 per cent of companies consider missing digital skills as a key hurdle to digital transformation. Moreover, from a business growth perspective, 87 per cent feel digital transformation is a competitive opportunity; but only 46 per cent are investing in skills and only four per cent align training efforts with overall digital strategy.

The initial audit and assessment will inform focus areas for a capability programme and desired benefits, but it is also worth considering the most appropriate channel or format for delivery to maximise measurable results.

Here are potential formats across five key areas of focus:

Skills development – to grow knowledge and embed best practice in teams and individuals. This can be through face to face training, online courses, workshops, webinars and topic deep-dive days.

Inspiration – to challenge teams through thinking and innovation. This can be by immersions, industry talks, international visits, workshops, case studies and events.

Efficiency and alignment – to embed methodologies and behaviours within a team and/or organisation. This can be achieved through compliance tools, development standards, frameworks, processes, best practice guides, toolkits and internal knowledge sharing.

Performance – to improve brand and businesses efforts and effectiveness delivered by audits, surveys and competitor analysis.

And last, but not least – in fact this comes first if you can get the time at the top you need.

Leadership culture and confidence – to develop management approaches, drive culture and foster confidence.  This can be through vision articulation, roadmaps, executive training, forums and summits, business cases, partner selection and recruitment advice.

Companies across all industries have had to go through this process, many finding that digital impacts areas of their business they had not even considered before. For some companies that are more process or product-driven, data and IS may drive more results. However, where businesses rely on people to provide services, support business functions, interact with customers and so on, digital literacy and a digital culture will be key.

When the 162-year-old New York Times conducted a company-wide review into how to become ‘Digital First’ key recommendations included:

De-emphasise print

  • New measurements of success for the newsroom, build digital into personal KPIs
  • List ways people and processes are optimised for print rather than digital
  • Rethink the competition (including new competitors).

Assess digital needs

  • Create new positions (strategy, audience development, CRM, analytics, reporting)
  • Empower current staff, encourage experimentation, recognise and reward digital stars
  • Foster a flexible structure (build newsroom from Lego, not bricks and mortar)
  • Identify best digital talent in the industry and start courting (and budgeting for) them now.

Explore more serious steps

  • Task force to explore steps to become a digital first newsroom
  • Digital fellowship programme and partnerships with academic institutions to foster collaboration and grow talent.

It is noteworthy that many of these recommendations come down to the human factor. Recognising, motivating, rewarding, encouraging and upskilling staff is an enormous opportunity and a big step in the digital transformation.

Any delivery of a digital literacy or capability building programme should tick the following boxes:

  1. Be principled and use best practice knowledge
  2. Be practical, action-orientated and clear to apply
  3. Be strategic and customised
  4. Use a format bespoke to a business structure and need
  5. Be evaluated with feedback and results gathered

So rather than tackling the entire ‘digital transformation’ piece, take some steps to start a digital capability process within the HR and L&D environment. [pullquote]Digital technologies offer new ways to connect, collaborate, conduct business and build bridges between people[/pullquote], so those same people need to be at the heart of being a digital organisation.

There is no end-to-end process, no one-size-fits-all fast-fix to do once and then move on. A single training intervention won’t be the answer, nor will a plan delivered by a third party that offers no constructive help in how to deliver it. Transformation has to come from the inside, but partnering with a specialist digital organisation can give you the perspective and expertise required to get results.

Partnership is the keyword – embedding digital in the organisation needs a partner that works with you, leads you on the journey, but helps you map out the future for yourself. In the end, you need to put in the last piece of the jigsaw to complete the picture, nobody else can do that for you.

Building capability equips businesses and organisations to realise new opportunities and manage the challenges presented by a shifting landscape. A considered approach to capability building is critical to ensure the right teams are equipped with the right skills and tools that they need to drive business performance in a digitally enabled world.

A fully-referenced version of this article is available on request.


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