sign on the sidewalk "passion led us here"
PHOTO: Ian Schneider

A respected leader in the digital space spoke at a recent conference about the number one thing keeping them awake at night: not being able to deliver all of the innovative digital-first projects they’d like to.

It wasn’t lack of funding that was the bottleneck, but lack of resourcing: a lack of people to do the actual work.

We hear a lot of commentary about the current skills shortage in technology-led domains. Much of that commentary centers on the salaries that people with in-demand digital skills can command, and how companies need to open their checkbooks and raise their offers in order to secure said talent.

That works to an extent, but the reality of the situation is we’re not going to be able to beat this digital skills crunch with big salaries alone.

We also need to get smarter at how we — as organizations and team leaders — source talent, and how we administratively support that talent, in order to position ourselves to deliver the next batch of digital workplace projects this year.

I predict this will manifest as two distinct but related trends.

First, organizations will increasingly cast a wider net in their search for talent, with additional focus placed on identifying people internally who have skills that are highly applicable and transferable to a digital context.

Analytical thinkers, finance personnel with database nous: these people and the teams they belong to are going to be approached by digital business leaders who are thinking ‘outside the box’ to find new ways to identify staff and keep their project delivery targets on-track.

Second, organizations will use more low-code templated solutions that require little customization to be useful and realize value. We already see organizations leapfrogging the skills shortage by getting a ready-built solution in place that delivers up to 70% of the desired digital experience off-the-shelf. The remaining 30% of the experience can then be augmented over time, utilizing existing resources without overburdening them.

The State of Play in the Digital Workplace

Our approach to securing digital skills needs to evolve in part to keep pace with the evolution of thinking around digital itself.

As we continue into 2022, it’s fair to say that many organizations have turned a corner in the way they think about the digital workplace and the approach they are taking to enable it.

In 2020, organizations started to lay down basic but stopgap foundations for a digital workplace. It was a sprint to find all the low hanging fruit and to execute quick wins. There wasn’t a whole lot of method behind the madness, but there also wasn’t time to overthink or overcomplicate digital delivery.

In 2021, digital delivery was characterized by a lot more thought leadership and process redefinition. By this time, it had become clear that the workplace had permanently changed. People wanted to build on what they now had, but they also wanted to revisit some of their earlier decisions around processes and tools, and apply a more careful and methodical approach to reworking them. And so most digital delivery teams really used 2021 to set a new baseline for the digital workplace and for digital project delivery.

Things started to shift again in the last three months of 2021. Digital workplace leaders started to talk more about automation. It was a case of now that processes were laid out and well-defined, how could they be improved? That led to the identification of opportunities to introduce more automation, which promised to speed up the delivery of repetitive or computationally-intensive parts of processes, while freeing humans up to handle exceptions and focus much more on customer service.

Now, as we enter the early part of 2022, it is clear that this is a year for action. We’ve collectively reached a comfortable consensus that digital is the way forward. People and organizations are starting now to pick off digital projects and really execute them with purpose.

Related Article: The Pandemic Popped These Closely Held Digital Workplace Beliefs

The Secrets to Digital Success in 2022

There are risks to the progress of digital workplace initiatives in 2022. As I alluded to earlier, these risks relate to resourcing and the challenge of overcoming a big unforeseen skills gap. No one ever anticipated every organization in the world doing digital transformations at the same time, and so there’s an extremely finite resource pool with which to execute these projects.

Unless, that is, we think differently about the way we execute. I would argue that’s exactly what we need to do.

We need to look more broadly for digital talent. For those of us in mid- to larger-sized organizations, this will mean looking within the company for existing skill sets that are super transferable to digital technology — but which we may not presently recognize as such.

Reporting and Excel wizards in all parts of the business, for example, have skills that are highly transferable to robotic process automation domains. These people do not have to start from scratch. They may be able to pick up additional skills quickly and move into digital teams, alleviating immediate pressures on delivery.

We also need to simplify our approach to developing the digital workplace. Within the context of a skills crunch, custom-intensive projects are out. It doesn’t make sense to start with a blank canvas, but instead with ready-made solutions. Take a 70-30 approach — 70% out-of-the-box, with the remainder in small changes, rather than starting with nothing and building from scratch.

The past three years have been about adapting to change. This year is all about taking action and executing on critical digital initiatives. A couple of quick adaptations now can offer much-needed assurance for digital project delivery and digital workplace success in the weeks and months ahead.

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