Digitisation and SWP

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Why Strategic Workforce Planning is Critical for Digitisation

A few weeks ago, QHR presented at the Optus Learning Fiesta on digitisation and the workforce. Pretty much every company we talk to at the moment is concerned with the impact of digitisation on their organisation. Whether it is a conscious strategic driver from the inside-out, or a force impacting the organisation from the outside in, companies need to ensure they are placed to ride the wave of digitisation in a proactive and considered way. Strategic workforce planning (SWP) is the platform necessary to surf this wave. SWP translates business strategy and dynamics into workforce implications to ensure companies are able to execute their strategic and operational objectives.


“Workforce implications???” I hear you say. “Isn’t digitisation about technology and not really about the workforce at all??”

And herein lies the problem. It seems that the key premise around digitisation is the view that the workforce will become less important over time as automation and technology replace humans – “the robots are coming!” However, the reality is that the workforce is becoming MORE important. Whilst technology is certainly a key enabler, true disruption is not driven by algorithms but by people, who innovate, collaborate and solve problems – the majority of future value will be driven by people-centric connections rather than machine-centric connections1. The workforce remains a company’s greatest asset and when harnessed correctly, their collective knowledge and skill can drive the next billion dollar idea!


Organisations who embark on the digitisation journey typically focus on transformation through the lens of technology and processes, whilst ignoring the workforce elements. But they are doing so at their own peril. Failing to leverage the workforce appropriately can result in companies missing the value creation that their customers demand. A recent study highlighted that less than 1 in 10 companies had digital business agility in their organisation, however that companies who did were three times more likely to characterise their financial performance as “better than average” over the last five years. And underpinning this digital business agility is the workforce.


The workforce is absolutely the key to success in digitisation, and, certainly whilst some workforce types may diminish or shift, others will emerge and flourish. For example, to deliver dynamic and unique customer interactions, technology can be leveraged up to a point.  Yet consumers will still continue to desire human interactions. Beyond sales, every area of the business must still make complex decisions that go beyond machine learning’s ability.  But technology is no doubt replacing the need for repetitive, standardised tasks. This is where SWP plays a fundamental role in synthesising business strategy, technology and customer demand changes over time to calculate a labour requirement that differs across workforce segments.


Another common pitfall for companies is the assumption that the requisite workforce supply will simply materialise as required. That the right skills and capabilities will just organically develop and appear right as we need them, and we can just focus on doing the stuff immediately in front of us with what we’ve got. This view is fundamentally flawed. Firstly, more than ever the types of work and the capabilities required are changing and evolving and companies must proactively understand what is required and set the stage for this. If you told me you 15 years ago you needed a Cloud Manager, I would have sent you off to see the Care Bears!  Companies need to prepare for digital transformation by PROACTIVELY forecasting workforce needs, addressing digital skills gaps, and investing in resources and technologies to help build and enable the culture and capabilities to support the digital journey.


Secondly, the reality is digitisation impacts everyone. Every business is competing for these digital skills and new, emerging capabilities with you. The lack of digital workforce skills is recognised as the major stumbling block to digital transformation.  Employers need to be very clear on how to not only competitively attract and retain the requisite talent and create the right environments for them to thrive, but also how to stimulate and develop the supply of the talent pipeline itself. Again, this is all enabled through SWP.


Digitisation is here and companies must act.  SWP is critical for the business to ensure it has the requisite workforce to execute strategically and operationally into the future. Then that workforce must be agile, continuously shifting, evolving and riding the waves. . .  otherwise they may find themselves washed up on the shores with pagers and cassettes!

  1. Cisco, 2016
  2. The Digital Business Transformation Center, 2015