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Panel discussion recap - Digital Transformation: Your Role as a Leader

06 April 2021 by Heidi Marshall

Digital transformation has pushed data analytics into the centre of professional life. As the pandemic continues to reinforce the requirements of digital skills, this creates pressing questions for business leaders into upskilling a digital workforce.  

Hosted by Corndel’s Jina Melnyk in collaboration with The University of Nottingham, we were thrilled to be joined by prestigious experts and academics from the sphere of data and leadership. You can listen to the recording here.

This seminar addressed the key changes, challenges and opportunities created by digital transformation. It provided insights into how mid-senior leaders across different industries can embrace digitalisation Here is a summary of the key points.

From your experience, can you share some examples of what digital transformation means in practice? What are the opportunities presented by digital transformation?

Dr Fran Cardells pinpoints that while digital transformation varies hugely from business to business, there is a common theme – it allows companies to do more. The opportunities that this shift creates includes growing profitability, increasing employee productivity, providing more for customers and a more efficient business.

“Put simply, digital transformation allows companies to do more.”

A top-down shift to digitalisation trickles down to everyone, from executives to the customer buying a product or service.

To see how digital transformation works in action, David Pool uses the example of Rolls-Royce. In the company’s civil aerospace division, it was discovered that for each four thousand sensors that are on an aircraft’s engine, they spin off around one and a half terabytes of data per transatlantic flight. This results in a large data set per flight. The company realised that rather than selling engines to airlines, they could sell their sophisticated data project and offer a data-driven service to clients.

What is a ‘data analytics community’? And what are the opportunities businesses can harness by growing their data analytics community?

Within an organisation, each individual that has access to data is part of the data analytics community. We can view this as a pyramid. At one end, there are a small number of data science experts. The next layer gives us a larger, but still limited, group of people across the organisation who use data frequently. This leaves us with the broadest part of the pyramid which encompasses the “users” – employees who see the data and need to use it in their roles.

David Pool explains that by widening the number of employees who can use data techniques such as clustering, classifying and forecasting, the skillset within an organisation is more diverse and offers staff more unique ways of using and understanding data.

Dr Fran Cardells reveals that growing the data analytics community solves the tension of analysis paralysis. He refers to this as the situation that occurs when there are large quantities of data, but you are unable to utilise it in a consumable way. By having more employees who are data literate, it means that they can easily condense the data and allows management to ask questions which otherwise might have seemed unrealistic.

“In essence, it makes data more actionable based on what you want as a business.”

How does digital transformation impact those who are non-technical leaders/managers?

Dr Theresa Simpkin started this part of the discussion by highlighting that there are no managers or leaders untouched by digital transformation. Despite data being an area that is uncomfortable for many, there is a need to develop these capabilities.

Moreover, David Pool exerted that non-technical leaders need to learn the skills of the future. To illustrate this, David uses the example of Goldman Sachs. In 2006/7, the company employed around 600 traders specialising in foreign equities in New York. By 2017, this number has reduced to 6, where these workers have become replaced with engineers and data scientists. By training middle management and your workforce more generally to have confidence in data it adds a competitive edge to your business.

Why are skills and talent required to achieve digital transformation, and whose responsibility is it?

In discussing whose responsibility it is to drive a modernised workforce, both Dr Fran Cardells and Dr Theresa Simpkin explained that this lies with everyone in the organisation.

From a managerial perspective, if there is a data skills gap within your team, it is a good opportunity to invest in training. This will lead to greater employee productivity and engagement while allowing staff to build a career that is protected by the future.

From an employee perspective, they should be seeking out these opportunities through coaching and mentoring within the organisation. Recent insights from The World Economic Forum indicate that both hard and soft skills related to data are increasing.

Employee should pursue chances to develop a combination of these skills - from manipulating data to being more collaborative with employees.

How can individual managers and leaders develop new and existing talent to expand that community?

Collaboratively, the panel expressed the power of upskilling both new and existing employees through educational courses. When different departments such as HR understand where the skills gap lies, it provides the opportunity to match the skills requirements with the future needs of the business. This can then become intertwined with key skills for advancing one’s career such as communication and leadership.

Thank you to our panelists and all those who attended.

This panel discussion highlighted the importance of data literacy, the benefits of expanding the data analytics community in every organisation and addressed how individual leaders can develop new and existing talent within their teams.

This talk is part of Corndel’s Leading with Data webinar series which is designed for mid-to-senior leaders who have an interest in the rising intersection of leadership and data skills.

Our upcoming panel discussions are ‘Creating a Data-Led Culture in your Team’ on 22 April, followed by ‘Essential Data Skills for Leaders’ on 20 May.


About the Corndel/University of Nottingham partnership

Corndel has partnered with the University of Nottingham to offer UK employers the chance to develop sought-after data analytics and data science skills across the workforce.

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