Digital transformation isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Source: Shutterstock

Digital transformation: Insights from an industry expert

TO keep up with changing customer demands and stay ahead of disruptive innovations by new and existing competitors, businesses need to change – and transform – quickly.

There is no alternative. You can’t continue to be the business you were a few months ago, you need to make the hard choices, accept the chaos, and be willing to disrupt business as usual (BAU) to keep up with the market, adopt new technologies, and become the best version of yourself so you can deliver on customer expectations.

In an exclusive interview with Tech Wire Asia, Jayajyoti Sengupta, Head, Asia Pacific, Cognizant describes the path businesses seeking digital transformation must follow in order to succeed, quickly.

What does successful change management look like, and what are the key areas to look out for?

When organizations consider change management, they usually focus on external outcomes like business results and revenue streams. It is typically easier to measure the impact of digital change across these areas.

However, the need for internal change tends to get neglected. When businesses undergo a digital transformation, they need to consider its impact on the overall fabric of their organization.

They must invest in appropriate talent, create an environment where current employees can build new skills and develop a culture that more naturally infuses change in employees’ day-to-day work lives.

At the end of the day, change is both a science and an art. Organisations need to master not just the technologies that enable digital transformation; they must also effectively communicate the need for change to empower and manage the people who will drive change.

How can business leaders better lead their organizations into the digital age?

There are three strategies that business leaders can adopt.

First, they must create an internal capability for change.

They need to ask: “how am I ensuring that my organization is staying nimble and agile enough to keep up with change?”.

Often, we see that organizations display inertia against change because various stakeholders tend to want to stick to old habits developed over time. This is a barrier that decelerates the pace of transformation. Business leaders need to recognize these speed bumps and encourage people to be open to change.

Second, business leaders need to strengthen employee engagement.

At Cognizant, what we find effective is empowering each and every one of our over 260,000 employees to be the agents of change. To do that, leaders need to narrow the power distance between senior leadership and employees at all levels.

Not only will this improve communication, but will also increase individuals’ belief in the purpose of change. The ‘why’ of driving change will be crucial in ensuring that employees stay excited to work on it over time.

Digital transformation is a long-drawn process that can take months and years to complete, and only a sustained and long-term commitment to the cause will see it through.

Third, business leaders need to adopt the right tools.

The most critical are those that enable leaders to visualize and communicate change more effectively.

Data visualization and visual analytics will come in handy so that internal stakeholders can tell at a glance, how change or transformation projects have progressed.

This will enable businesses to better manage the digital transformation process by investing time and resources into the areas that need them most.

At the same time, visual analytics helps relieve bottlenecks typically occurring at IT departments, by putting data in the hands of every employee.

Some organizations may lack the right talent and skills to move into the digital age. What strategies can business leaders adapt to tackle this challenge?

There is a well-reported talent gap that is occurring not just in Asia but across the globe, as our societies and education systems struggle to keep up with the tremendous pace of change. I think there isn’t a company out there that can claim to have a surplus of talent.

Business leaders need to think about two things when it comes to skills development –reskilling and adopting new methodologies of working.

Organisations should invest in helping employees to continually upgrade their skills and cultivate an environment that is conducive to a continuous cycle of unlearning and relearning. After all, this wave of change will not be the last one, and we are already seeing the next set of new technologies starting to disrupt various industries.

At the end of the day, we must remember that jobs and skills that are required to do them has been changing over time.

In a few years some jobs and skill sets might disappear – just like how elevator and switchboard operators have become obsolete. In the digital age where machines seemingly take over, we still need a man to run these machines. After all, machines are the tools created to be used by humans.

What are the top skills companies need “to move into the digital age”?

There are many different skills that are required to drive the digital agenda. Increased man-machine collaboration, the Internet becoming our new central nervous system — these are just a few trends that are driving the need for new skills.

Skills that will be important in the digital age span general business skills to digital literacy, and advanced subjects such as augmented reality, cybersecurity, big data, and the internet of things.

What is important is for everyone, not just business leaders, to keep an open mind about constantly learning. In future, all jobs will be tech jobs. Our report on the 21 Jobs of the Future highlights that even traditionally low-tech jobs, such as tailoring, will also need new skills to keep pace with the digital age.

The fastest will win the digital race, not the biggest. How can businesses keep their entire ship up to speed?

As World Economic Forum Chairperson Professor Klaus Schwab says, “In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it’s the fast fish which eats the slow fish.” This explains the success of many startups that have turned major industries on their heads – think Grab, Airbnb or Netflix – and rightly so.

Every C-level executive needs to keep watch and prevent their “Uber moment”. It’s not so much about the technological disruption of Uber, but about how business models have been redefined by new business processes.

Organisations need to step up to adopt the latest business models that will address the new needs of their customers, and at the same time, ensure that their internal fabric is geared to drive this change.