by Sunil Prashara, president and CEO of the Project Management Institute
The acceleration of disruptive technologies has put organisations on a continuous transformational journey, one where both the pace and breadth of change are unprecedented.
There has always been change, but until now it has been evolutionary, allowing organisations and workers time to adapt to new conditions so that the status quo was not materially threatened. Today, the rate of change and scope of innovation are fuelling disruption in a revolutionary way. For example, 25 years ago, it took time for organisations to adopt the offshoring of IT, even though it was recognised as a highly cost-effective strategy. Eventually the draw of operational savings, a readily available, low-cost/educated workforce, and increasing quality standards meant offshoring couldn’t be ignored. Companies such as Infosys, Wipro, and TechMahindra grew rapidly to become formidable offshore providers of various services.
Today, such “lift-and-shift” companies are offering a new form of service that generates even greater value for their customers: digital transformation. By leveraging the rapid growth and advances in such critical areas as telecommunications, RPA, AI, big data, design thinking and no-code/low-code apps development, these companies are offering operational savings at another level while offering top-line competitive edge.
Through a contemporary lens, the idea that outsourcing was once viewed as such an existential change now seems quaint. Global spending on the technologies and services that enable digital transformation is expected to hit $1.97trillion by 2022, according to IT market intelligence firm International Data Corp. But at the same time, data from PMI and Forbes Insights’ The C-Suite Outlook show that, while nearly 80 per cent of organisations have undergone a significant transformation using disruptive technology, only about 25 per cent of those initiatives are yielding the tangible benefits against their original goals.
This figure around benefits is too low. Yet no leader can allow him or herself to be oblivious to digital disruption. To achieve digital sustainability – the capacity to adapt to and benefit from the change brought by advances in technology – leaders must continuously future-proof their organisations.
Gartner predicts that by 2020, at least 50 per cent of all new business applications will be created with high-productivity toolsets, such as low-code and no-code application development platforms. This is just one example of disruption. Indeed, leaders are realising that even disruptors themselves are being disrupted – either they adopt and adapt, or they will be marginalised.
One way to get ahead of disruption is to encourage it. A CEO at a major telecoms company carved out and funded “innovation cells” with the goal of “inventing propositions to disrupt core services.” While funding such initiatives seemed counterintuitive, the CEO viewed it as one way to future-proof his company. If the innovators came up with a viable proposition, he could morph the company accordingly. If not, he could proceed with some degree of confidence that the current business model was sustainable.
For all the anxiety generated by talk of digital disruption and what it means for the workforce, there is no question jobs will be created. But the types of jobs will be different, as will the required skill-sets. And those skills aren’t as technology oriented as one might think. The people who will come to the forefront are creative. They understand business processes, are technically savvy but also understand customers’ needs, are strong in relationship building while being analytical and challenging – in other words, they are pragmatic problem-solvers.
Companies will continue to value the ability to execute. But technological skill is now table stakes. Indeed, this shift is reflected in the PMI Talent Triangle®. The new professional reality demands a combination of technical and project management skills, leadership skills and strategic and business management skills, as well as the ability to learn and keep pace with technology.
To inspire stakeholders and motivate teams, leaders will not only need intellectual and technical prowess, but they must also tap into emotional intelligence qualities, such as empathy, self-awareness, and motivation. Data from PMI’s The Project Manager of the Future revealed the top six digital-age skills, which included expected entries such as data science, security and privacy knowledge, legal and regulatory compliance, and the ability to make data-driven decisions. But that list is rounded out by an innovative mindset and collaborative leadership.
As PMI noted in its recent report Pulse of the Profession: The Future of Work: Leading the Way with PMTQ, the essentials of project success remain the same: engaged executive sponsors, projects aligned to organisational strategy, and control over scope-creep. What will continue to evolve are the skillsets that enable these project and execution essentials.
To increase their chance of achieving digital sustainability, organisations are changing their decision-making bodies to be more technology focused. That does not contradict the notion that the skills needed are not technology oriented; rather, it recognises that the appropriate technological knowledge and insight are critical. As a result, organisations are increasingly creating and hiring for chief digital transformation officers and data scientists, for example, to boost the skills of the legacy employee base that may not have the knowledge and context necessary to navigate digital transformation.
Accenture found that while 60 per cent of business leaders had increased AI investments in 2017, only 3 per cent said they would invest significantly in training and reskilling programmes through 2020. Frankly, this number doesn’t surprise me. Companies essentially have three choices: invest in their current workforce – with no guarantee of a return on that investment; acquire the talent needed to get to the next level; or engage outsiders who have the expertise and insight to help employees and organisations achieve excellence. Forward-thinking companies are doing a combination of all three, as well as investing in the next generation of talent.
As digitisation, automation, AI and other technologies put organisations on the inexorable journey of transformation, companies must not lose sight of the fact that they must transform in a way that will be sustainable. They must not be swept away by the force of transformation, but instead harness it.
For more information, please visit www.pmi.org/uk