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Thinking

Upskill, automate and anticipate to thrive in the digital future

Aurecon’s Our Digital Futures research answers the most pressing questions relating to digital and highlights where organisations should focus and what it means to be properly prepared now.

In this article, Aurecon’s Chief Digital Officer, Andrew Maher, highlights some of the key insights from our second wave report – The Digital Horizon – and the importance of upskilling and automation in thriving into the future.

Digitisation is shaking up life as we know it, changing industries and transforming business models. As it moves towards integration into our ‘everyday’, the rate of impact is increasing and it becomes more evident that the digital future isn’t years away, it is here now.

This realisation has created a sense of panic. There is a nervousness in the market about the future and how to keep up with the unprecedented rate of change. People are pleading for help to deal with expectations that have already changed. They are asking: what is the company of the future? What are business models of the future? They are worried that if they aren’t anywhere near being able to respond, they will be in crisis pretty quickly.

So, what is the antidote to this panic? What can organisations do to thrive into the digital future? The answer is clear – prepare. Prepare your business and prepare your workforce. And start now.

Aurecon’s latest Our Digital Futures research ‘The Digital Horizon’ reveals that to prepare your organisation to thrive, it is critical to build capacity across four critical areas: structure research to determine digital investments; embrace and embed critical emerging technologies; upskill your workforce and prepare for your workforce of the future; and transform business models to stay competitive. Those realising the full potential of what ‘digital’ can bring have also embraced an outward facing strategy connecting people, processes, systems and assets.

Apply futures research to determine digital investments

A common struggle for organisations is thinking in a future space when they are doing a day job that is rooted in the present. While they know that change is needed, many lack a systematic way of anticipating and assessing how digital technologies and trends impact them.

Organisations don’t need to risk acting on a hunch. Structured futures research and scenario testing helps organisations monitor the ever-shifting landscape and put them in a better position to anticipate change, extract insights and make strategic decisions – anticipate, adapt and capitalise, rather than react and be disrupted.

Embrace and embed critical technologies

Automating processes is also a fundamental component of building capacity to thrive into the digital future. For several years we have seen automation move in to occupations such as accounting and law where radical shifts from automating internal processes to providing new types of data-driven advice have taken place, and now, automation is rapidly rippling into laggard industries including the construction and engineering sector.

When combined with domain expertise, applying this technology on projects such as the West Gate Tunnel is achieving major benefits from faster generation of designs and reduced communication barriers, to provision of digital data to inform asset management program and investment decisions.

It also presents new opportunities to build capacity of people, which hits at the heart of a major fear surrounding automation – job loss. Our research showed that in forward thinking organisations automation isn’t about productivity alone, but also to free up people to engage in learning and enable investment of saved resources into other ventures.

A common challenge for organisations contemplating new technologies is being aware of knowledge that has been created and being effective at knowledge sharing. Having custodians of information, such as librarians to stitch together knowledge created inside organisations, is an important consideration. This enables businesses that have repeatable processes to re-purpose them, and for project-based organisations with different processes each time around, it enables clarity around knowing what to use and what has already been automated elsewhere.

Upskill to prepare your workforce of the future

The skills people need are changing and most organisations have good staff they don’t want to lose – people with talent, skills and commitment to their employer, their industries, markets and professions. Retaining them should be a priority, but to do this, organisations must take responsibility to develop their skills around automation, data, and general digital awareness and be able to explain why – clearly articulating the path to their digital horizon.

Creating pathways for learning and upskilling will get people from where they are now, to where they need to be. But this takes more than simply attending a conference or reading the latest technology blogs. It needs periods of intense training, doing more and doing it faster. Aurecon’s new data and analytics team embodies this, with over 30 people from across the business all now upskilled to cater for increased client demand for structured data.

When upskilling people into more technical roles it is essential to think through in detail the training methodology and types of training that need to be put in place. Decisions must be made:

  • Are we doing this internally?
  • Will we partner with training organisations?
  • Do they have the right material?
  • Do we need to co-author material?
  • Is it a mix?
  • If a mix how do we integrate that?
  • How do we monitor how people are learning and upskilling?

You cannot simply bring in an outside organisation, or hand it to one person or group within your business. Organisations need to take control and produce a whole curriculum around this.

Developing a digital leadership cohort who work together across the business also plays a pivotal role in building a workforce of the future, ensuring upskilling happens at the same pace. But leaders must accept that upskilling will be messy – there is no off the shelf solution for this.

They must also be prepared to make the commitment and investment to put people in roles who actively think about the future, prepare their organisation for the future, find partnerships and create opportunities. The workforce needs to have dedicated people in each horizon; without different people working in H1, H2 and H3, the organisation will just be spinning its wheels.

Transform business models to stay competitive

Neobanks, dark kitchens, and big business investing at arms-length in new ideas and technologies that may challenge their own business model, demonstrate how this ability to anticipate change and adapt is a must-have for future survival. These organisations have realised the traditional way of scaling business with mergers and acquisitions is not necessarily going to deliver the best ROI in the future, and that new models no longer sit solely with start-ups.

With structured data these organisations gain instant insight into what different purposes could be, which then influences decisions that immediately can start generating value. If organisations aren’t thinking about this, or actively participating, then they are wasting opportunities.

Prepare and thrive!

The future is not theoretical anymore. There is demand for new things, a greater availability of data and organisations realise that their current set up, processes and skills may not effectively deal with these increasing demands. Those who have already made changes are accelerating and those that haven’t are feeling the pinch.

While there is no one path organisations should take for embracing their ‘digital future’, starting your journey by upskilling your workforce, automating processes, anticipating change and taking an outward view to strategy, will ensure you set out in the right direction to thrive beyond this turbulent and often overwhelming time of transformation.

The second wave of Our Digital Futures – The Digital Horizon – was released in March 2020. To learn more about the research, visit ‘Our Digital Futures’ at Aurecon.


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About the Author

Dr Andrew Maher is Aurecon's Chief Digital Officer. He leads the development and delivery of Aurecon's global digital strategy and road map, and is a member of the Aurecon Executive Committee. He works with Aurecon's people and clients to explore current and future requirements of the digital economy.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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