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The ‘70%’ in successful digital transformation

Sagar Goel
Sagar Goel • 5 min read
The ‘70%’ in successful digital transformation
Singapore can be proud of its progress so far, with analysis by The Economist Intelligence Unit positioning the republic top in its Asian Digital Transformation Index in 2018, far ahead of second place Japan.
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(Mar 27): There is no doubt that “data and digital” acted as catalysts for disruption in the decade that just ended. The 2010s saw remarkable transformation of organisations both large and small, private and public, as data-driven insight and digital technology transformed the way we work.

These two Ds driving the decade past will continue to be the foundations of organisational evolution in the decade ahead. Key to success in this environment will be the role of organisational change.

Boston Consulting Group’s (BCG) experience shows that change enablement on the human side is the most important element of delivering successful digital transformation. Unlocking the full value of data and digital solutions requires 70% focus on organisational change, just 10% on strategy and algorithms, and 20% on technology.

The experiences of the previous decade demonstrate how important this balance can be. BCG analysis from 2017 reveals 70% of publicly announced digital transformations failed to achieve a company’s stated ambitions, timelines, or both. It seems when it comes to digital transformation, 70% is an important figure to recognise.

Crossroads of digital transformation

Singapore stands at a pivotal moment as we enter the next decade. We are not talking about the looming question of impending elections, but the ongoing need to deliver equitable economic growth in the face of escalating trade wars, significant global tension, and the emerging economic uncertainty of pandemics. Digital transformation will play an important part in enabling that growth.

Singapore can be proud of its progress so far, with analysis by The Economist Intelligence Unit positioning the republic top in its Asian Digital Transformation Index in 2018, far ahead of second place Japan. That is a platform for continued success, but one which we must not take for granted.

The right talent will of course play a massive role in steering this digital future. BCG’s Decoding Global Talent, one of the largest ever global surveys on workforce talent, reveals the unprecedented impact changing technology will have on jobs and skills. In Singapore, around 70% of respondents believe their jobs will be greatly affected by the dual megatrends of technology changes or globalisation. Organisations seeking to succeed in this environment will need to enhance their ability to compete — not simply on knowledge, but on the rate of learning itself. That means enabling your workforce to learn and relearn faster than the competition.

Singapore’s continued excellence in education recognised by the global Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings shows the right educational foundations on which our learning is built. Singapore should also be encouraged by the findings of tech-giant Cisco’s Global Digital Readiness Index 2019 — placing it first overall globally, and joint-first with Iceland for the digital-readiness of our human capital.

In the workplace of the future, it is not just about what workers know, but how quickly talent can adapt to learn new skills. Individuals must accept their own responsibility as part of this transformation. If you are not ready to disrupt yourself, the changing workforce of tomorrow is likely to disrupt you instead. The appetite for learning is clearly present in the workforce, with 70% of individuals surveyed in the Asia-Pacific region noting a willingness to retrain for a new job.

Organisations should work in partnership with the workforce to enable and empower this new era of continual learning. Learning must be embedded into organisational processes, routines, and meetings, not just left to one side and picked up through oneoff workshops or mandatory online courses.

Senior management must motivate and lead the way in bridging this digital skills gap by undertaking and promoting the upskilling journey themselves first. It is the responsibility of business leaders to signal clearly, and robustly, the vital importance of upskilling and reskilling within an organisation. A role-reversal approach that enables business units to take the lead on skilling offers a powerful opportunity. Managers can then act as skills coaches, while traditional HR departments step into a consulting role to steer this transformation.

Organisations should also champion and adopt digitally-enabled learning and support structures. Consider embedding digital workflows that provide real-time feedback, digital technology that prompts and nudges new behaviours, and even AI-based learning platforms that can enhance overall learning outcomes.

Policy makers also have a vital role to play in this environment. Any national strategy should be founded on an industry-wide skills forecast that identifies key talent gaps and areas of required development. That includes a future-ready workforce alongside an evolving existing talent pool. It is crucial that policy makers continue to support ongoing reskilling and retraining of the existing workforce as a catalyst for further social and economic benefit.

The Singapore governments’ SkillsFuture initiative, an educational movement designed to fund and promote lifelong learning, represents a positive example of support in this era of continuing digital transformation. The National University of Singapore’s Lifelong Learners programme also shows how government policy can help nurture wider change. This initiative provides alumni with access to modular courses for lifelong learning, while at the same time expanding the validity of student enrolment to 20 years, providing career support and learning pathways that stretch over two decades.

A platform for continued success

We have talked about the power of 70%, so here is one final iteration which highlights the importance of this figure — the World Bank estimates that over 70% of new value created in the global economy in the next decade will be based on digitally-enabled platforms.

Framed by this backdrop, the importance of digital transformation over the next decade is clear. What is also clear from BCG’s own experience is the vital role that organisational change, and hence people skilling, will play in that process.

Sagar Goel is an associate director with Boston Consulting Group and leads BCG’s People Strategy practice in Southeast Asia

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