The future of work isn't digital - it's data

The Future of Work Isn’t Digital – It’s Data

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James Bell

General Manager, Robinson Ryan

Five core themes have emerged in the conversation about ‘new ways of working’. To some degree, these changes can be viewed as an acceleration of existing macro patterns and trends. The never-ending stream of content about digital transformation, e-commerce, globally mobile talent, ever-increasing knowledge and skill requirements, online learning– every one of these existed before the pandemic.

But fundamental truths, and established ways of work, were completely up ended through extended lockdowns. The five common themes to emerge consistently across organisations include:

  1. Enforced organisational change and transformation
  2. Digitisation of work
  3. Technology investment scale up
  4. New ways of work, such as flexible work arrangements, and the erosion of the primacy of physical co-location
  5. The rise to prominence of mental health and wellbeing at work and evolution of leadership skillsets

Organisations find themselves in a position where the competition for skilled people in the job market has resulted in companies advertising culture, team and benefits as much as the job. Wellbeing benefits and flexible work policies are now greater attractors of in-demand skilled talent than ever before. Professional development investment has risen as an attractor for skilled people, or a strong people retention mechanism.

All paths lead to data

How then, can leaders rethink their organisational approach to data skills and data-driven ways of work? The Information Revolution is well and truly underway. Computer technology has in many ways fundamentally transformed human capacity. Technology is a tool, a tool we’re accustomed to using on a daily basis. This in turn has lifted the technological skills of many in society. We feel confident that we’ve got this computer thing down pat, due in part to the ubiquitous nature of mobile phones and smart devices. That leads us to, over-confidently, jump straight into data-driven decision making, big data, IoT, AI and the promise of a better future.

Technology and tools aside, how solid are your data foundations? Given many organisations have doubled down on tech investment and digital work, does your leadership team have a clear understanding of the data eco-system your organisation operates in? One of the greatest misconceptions about data skills is a common conflation that data skills are just data analysis. These skills are definitely important, but miss the breadth and depth of data capabilities organisations need to cultivate and equip their people with. Data skills are a critical driver in the creation or enhancement of competitive advantage – and can make or break digital transformation projects.

The knowledge areas in the Data Management Body of Knowledge (DMBoK) provide a useful overview of the breadth of data skillsets needed today. Image courtesy of DAMA International
Where digital transformations come unstuck

It’s no secret that digital transformations fail to deliver on their promise – often. Having a shiny new tool in a fresh tech stack/infrastructure, with more features, widgets and dashboards, offers unlimited promise of future capability, efficiency and productivity. Yet the way of working remains the same, and people and teams see nothing has really changed.

Often this is due to the technology-skill-data capability nexus being under baked. While your team may smash through the project implementation milestone, if there haven’t been sufficient up-front conversations about ‘WHY’ the output of work needs to change, or how people will use the tool to create more data that can and will critically impact success. How does your leadership team view data driven ways of work? Have your people leaders adequately lifted your team’s data skill capability for the new ways of working? At the strategic level, can you as a leader quantify the real value of your data assets?

As data management consultants, we often come in after a disappointing tech deployment to help shift the focus from physical to conceptual, which is where the value of data comes into its own.

Looking at an organisational transformation through a tech-first lens means you’ll get the tech hero you need, not the data hero you deserve.

The data value tipping point

Data creates more data. More data is just more data. It’s not intrinsically valuable. It has no value until it’s realised as an asset with an economic value. Just because there’s a report, dashboard or analytics tool doesn’t make data valuable. It’s the age-old (or new age-old) conundrum – does an analytics platform provide any insights in the forest if there’s no-one to see, interpret and act on it? Does your leadership team have the requisite data skillset to support the data culture future state being aimed for? Or perhaps even more pertinently – can your leaders articulate how and why the data is trustworthy, reliable and valid (and secure!)? Artificial intelligence technology has little value if it’s fed junk data – in fact, poor data quality has been labelled the number one enemy of successful machine learning.

A common leadership maxim is you can’t manage what you can’t measure. This can too often develop a leadership bias towards dashboards, but we need to be mindful of not falling into the trap of mistaking dashboards and analytics for data skills or being a ‘data-driven culture’. Recognise that data management is a core capability which is absolutely critical to your strategy. And get ahead of the data skills required to move your organisation into the future.

Robinson Ryan’s data literacy training includes both public courses for individuals, and contextualised training for organisations designed to fill the data skills gap.

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