Digital upskilling: Ways to prepare yourself for a tech-driven workplace this year

Digital laggards will be severely disadvantaged due to lack of digital literacy and planning.

Tech giant Apple not only mastered the digital know-hows but also bolstered its business by adapting to what consumers really need (Photo: Apple)

By now, the majority of C-suite executives would have assisted their companies in digitising parts of their businesses to adapt to an online environment that no one could have foreseen. It is a surprise how “pivot” did not make it to 2020’s Word of the Year when every organisation was urged to innovate and reimagine its strategies as the pandemic rewired the economy. 

But no matter how much we hated the buzzword, “pivoting” was the lifeline for business owners who — with an instinct for change — tapped their creativity to meet the moment. And helping them adapt and rewrite the rule book during a challenging time was the art of digital upskilling.

First of all, what does it mean to go digital? A decade or so ago, it probably meant getting on the web and using fancy gadgets to ease our working process. Today, companies that prosper and profit from “being digital” embrace a slightly more forward-looking definition. Financial superstars take an approach to digital that integrates business strategy, which constantly embraces innovation and takes on less bureaucratic decision-making. It is not enough for a company to master the digital know-hows; it should be savvy enough to leverage them to their full extent, even if it means collaborating with an industry outsider.


Former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts left the fashion company to join Apple in 2014 (Photo: Angela Ahrendt/Twitter)

For example, tech pioneer Apple, which struggled to enhance its customer experiences in-store, enlisted the expertise of former Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts to transform its flagship stores into inviting Town Squares where you can spend hours listening to music and reading an iBook under an actual tree. With this, Apple cleverly mapped out a new vision for retail and filled a huge niche by bridging tech and human connection.

More recently, financial institutions shored up their operations and implemented new digital approaches to safeguard their employees and customers during the pandemic. Asian banks, which capitalised on existing digital channels to enable contactless customer engagement, have become role models for their Western counterparts as “US bleeds in economic divergence”, as reported in Asia Times on Dec 2, 2020. In the wake of a global crisis, an organisation’s ability to adapt quickly becomes a matter of survival.

Although digital transformation will vary widely based on an organisation’s specific challenges and demands, there are still a few constant and fundamental skills that all businesses — big or small — can adopt as they embark on a fast-moving online future.

The uninitiated should nail the basics. Digital marketing skills are considered some of the most sought-after assets for companies, especially in a post-pandemic reality that thrives on accelerated e-commerce transactions. If your brand is not searchable on the web, chances are you will have a hard time getting in front of the modern consumer. Google Digital Garage has crafted a free 40-hour course on curating content, setting up an e-commerce site and promoting your brand via social media. By the end of it, you will be able to differentiate Search Engine Marketing (SEM) from Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) easily.


Google Digital Garage offers free digital marketing courses for everyone, regardless of your level of proficiency (Photo: Google)

To better appeal to end-users and win consumer confidence, more companies are realising the need for UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) designers. In fact, global professional services recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley revealed that the number of UX design jobs in the market has surged by 320% in the last five years. A deft hand at UX designing is crucial because it improves the quality of interaction between users and all facets of a company, whether you are running a website, coffee shop or even a local supermarket. For instance, how fuss-free is the checkout process when your customer shops online? Does your banking app make it easy for people to manage their cash?

With more people working from home, a remote workforce has caused physical offices to shift their operations to cloud-based solutions, which can be accessed anywhere that has an internet connection. Cloud computing may sound like an intimidating term but it is a concept that applies to the average person as well. Think of it this way: it enables us to run software without installing it on our computers, or access multimedia content such as photos and videos via the internet without having the actual servers. You do not necessarily need to be a cloud architect to create a navigable online experience. Instead, you just need to understand how it aids your business, as cloud computing offers scalable computing resources (thus saving costs), top security standards that protect your clients’ data, and disaster recovery, (helping restore data and applications in a fast and reliable way.) 

Economists have warned for years that a coming wave of automation will upend the way we work and destroy some jobs along the way. However, automating tasks that can be delegated means maximising your time and workflow efficiency. Make technology work for you, either by scheduling your social media updates via Buffer or connecting workflows across web apps using Zapier. The latter, for example, allows you to create a task in project management app Asana by saving a message in business communication platform Slack. You can also tally new input between Google Sheets and another spreadsheet seamlessly.


Business communication platform Slack makes remote working and planning easier (Photo: Slack)

If knowledge is power, data is the new currency as evidenced by its rising importance, from the frontiers of artificial intelligence to mainstream business software. But it would be pointless to hold on to a reservoir of data without understanding it. Although Google Analytics, which gives companies rich insights into their websites, is arguably the best analytics tool online, there are many others that cater for specific needs: For newsrooms, Chartbeat improves audience engagement and increases readership; Leadfeeder shows you the companies that are visiting your site; while TrackMaven — which powers more than 400 of the world’s leading brands — helps companies grow, innovate faster and make sense of the world’s marketing data. 

It is a common misconception that digital upskilling or reskilling (changing the skill sets of your team) is a hefty investment for a company trying to stay afloat in current market conditions. But we have already seen the major changes that the pandemic has forced upon the economic landscape. Digital laggards will be severely disadvantaged due to lack of digital literacy and planning. Digital transformation does not mean diving headfirst into the latest trends but creating a future-fit workplace where employees can grow in tandem with the organisation.


This article first appeared on Jan 11, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.


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