Riding the digital workforce wave

|June 4, 2015 0

Mark Barrenechea

There’s a proverb in Spanish that extols the value of hard work and warns us that, if we fail to stay alert and act on opportunities, we will miss them: Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente.

Translated, it means “the current carries away the shrimp that sleeps.” The phrase is similar to the English expression, “you snooze, you lose.” Both sayings are more relevant today than ever before, as we speed toward a Digital-First World full of opportunities and technology waves. We can either ride on those waves, or be swept away by them.



One of my first passions out of high school was language. I loved my Spanish and Latin courses so much that while an undergrad at Saint Michael’s College, I combined them with my newfound skill of coding software. One of the first programs I coded translated Spanish phrases into English. It was painstaking work but it gave people an easy way to access language, without having to flip through piles of phrasebooks. It was very fulfilling.

In the process, I embraced the new technology at my disposal and used it to connect with people. That is one of the many lessons I instill in my employees to this day. Key enablers such as enterprise information management (EIM), analytics, mobility, cloud, and security all contribute to what I call a Digital-First approach. It’s not hard to understand that the shift to Digital-First is fully underway. There are no more startups for on-premises software. None. That Digital-First mandate also becomes easier as the demographic that uses digital tools transforms over the years.

Our workforces are fortunate to be infused with technically savvy men and women who grew up with easy access to the Internet and other digital channels across many devices. Empowered by mobile and social technologies, these highly agile employees are expected to comprise at least half of the workforce by the end of this year. They are both a force to learn from and to build on. I expect these digital natives to be catalysts for the next significant labor displacement.

This displacement is being driven by digital technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), wearable technologies, and mobile and smart devices that force organizations to change the way they engage with customers and develop and deliver new products and services. Analytics are ubiquitous, bringing intelligence to every process. Robotics, smart machines, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are infiltrating organizations to automate positions that are repetitive and transactional in nature. In time, we could see 20 to 30 million jobs migrate or disappear worldwide.

It’s not all doom and gloom, but simply a shift from transactional jobs to tacit knowledge jobs. Tacit knowledge jobs require data analysis, judgement, and problem solving skills, as well as the ability to think creatively, communicate effectively, and collaborate in teams. Tacit jobs are predicted to grow two-and-a-half times faster than the transactional segment, according to social theorist and The Zero Marginal Cost Society” author Jeremy Rifkin. CEOs will soon recognize the skills gap around tacit jobs for technology.

Executives are planning to spend more to hire the right resources for the right jobs. Smart businesses will cater to people in their 20s, often called Millenials. By 2020, they will dominate your workforce. They expect to work in ways that are open, social, mobile, and flexible. They will want to use the same tools in the workplace that they use at home to communicate, collaborate, and share information. Since they are key implementers of your digital strategy, you need to recruit them and build a Digital Enterprise to empower them.

As the business world emerges from a period of economic uncertainty, today’s executives need to be able to attract and retain top talent to achieve their goals and objectives. Disruptive forces, such as digital technologies, globalization and shifting demographics, have the current employment landscape in flux. Thankfully, there are key steps enterprises can take to embrace these issues and transform the employee experience:

Adopt a digital workplace – To be successful, businesses need to provide rapid access to emerging technologies that facilitate collaboration, knowledge sharing and communication among their employees. Enabling mobile access, social internal engagement and digital recruiting and retention are just some of the tactics a company can use to achieve this.

Create new rules of global engagement – Digital technologies created a world that is increasingly interconnected and interdependent. Successful companies recognize the importance of integrating diverse communities by expanding beyond their local ecosystems. New rules of engagement need to accommodate a growing, complex set of employee needs and expectations.

Accommodate multiple generations – From Traditionalists to Generation Z, today’s organizations are tasked with managing the divergent needs and expectations of a variety of age groups. Each generation plays a key role in shaping the digital workplace. Businesses need to adapt their work environments now to support that shift.

Much like the waves of the ocean, digital transformation is a powerful force. Transformational leaders must keep their eyes open and organizations must be agile enough to accept the changes in the tide. Beyond structural adjustments, a change of attitude is already underway. Many organizations are adopting entrepreneurial, innovative approaches to communicating and collaborating and taking steps to digitize their operations.

The good news is the technology is available, and many enterprises have already taken their first steps toward implementing a digital strategy.

You can read more about building a digital workplace in my book, Digital: Disrupt or Die, available as a download.

The author is the CEO, OpenText

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