OK, we're going full digital: Anyone out there to help us?

Survey shows a huge drive to digital, but stymied by talent shortages.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
Double exposure image of virtual human on world map 3D illustration
iStockphoto/Getty Images

We have big plans, oh, such humongous plans, to turn our company into a digital powerhouse. The only catch is we are leaning heavily on our overworked, understaffed, and underbudgeted IT department to transform the whole thing.

Sound familiar? 

The problem with everyone's ambitions is talent shortages, which are the No. 1 challenge complicating the adoption of digital technologies. 

That's the key takeaway of a recent survey, published by KPMG, based on data from more than 1,000 cross-industry enterprise technology leaders. 

"Enterprises have ambitious plans to invest across a wide array of specialized technology, but many lack the people resources to make investment plans real," the KPMG report's co-authors, led by Danielle Beringer, observe.

They even predict the year 2024 will be an "inflection point," in which 7 in 10 companies will have invested in artificial intelligence, metaverse-y things, quantum computing, virtual or augmented reality, 5G, and edge computing. "After five years, it will be the rare company that has not invested in every one of these tools that -- while are still in the early days -- look poised to reshape the business world."

Also: Small business tech outlook: Here are the challenges and opportunities ahead 

Thus, the calls for talent are getting louder. When asked about the challenges their organizations face in adopting new digital technologies, the top three responses all related to talent disparities, the survey finds:

  • Lack of capable talent to carry out key roles (data scientists, engineers, etc.): 44%
  • High cost of purchasing and implementing new systems: 30%
  • Lack of skills within our organization to either implement or fully take advantage of new systems: 30% 

It's uncertain what effect a softer economy would have on the talent situation -- perhaps tilt things a bit in favor of employers. Yet, getting the right skills for the jobs at hand -- artificial intelligence, data science, integration, and cybersecurity, to name a few -- will remain a challenge, regardless of economic conditions, especially if organizations seek to power through the ups and downs. "Highly valued talent is empowered to ask for larger salaries, plus other job perks such as flexibility," Beringer and her colleagues state. "Enterprises will need to overcome budget constraints to attract in-demand talent, meet additional candidate demands, and fill key roles." 

"It's great having this big tech strategy, but employers are struggling to find the people to execute their plan," says Andrew Whytock, head of digitalization at the pharmaceutical division at Siemens, quoted in the report. He adds that his company "is paying a lot of attention to making ourselves an attractive employer, to retain people, and to attract new staff. Even at Siemens, it has become hard to find new recruits with the appropriate skillsets. It must be very hard for small and medium-sized companies to attract young talent."

Also: What is digital transformation? Everything you need to know about how technology is changing business

Beringer and her co-authors offer the following suggestions for creating a more attractive workplace for tech talent:

  • Instill a culture of education, training, and personal development in IT. "Businesses should recalibrate their approach to hiring, training, and 'buying' specialist talent from the ecosystem. We think reskilling traditional IT professionals is due to play a more prominent role in companies' talent strategies. For example, a KPMG client recently paired up its internal cloud service professionals with KPMG cloud implementors to gain practical, hands-on experience they could not get from training and certification alone. This enabled the internal team to execute the company's cloud initiatives."
  • Give the workforce a boost with intelligent automation. "The next rising star in the technology function could be a bot," the KPMG authors suggest. "By using automation to shoulder the burden of repetitive tasks, existing staff can be upskilled to deliver other knowledge-based skills that are in high demand but short supply. Tapping into this high-potential space is a prime opportunity for businesses to overcome the talent gap and ease the workloads of the human team."

The emerging digital enterprise of the 2020s may have all the latest and greatest technology installed, but it takes skilled and passionate people to design, build and, very importantly, maintain such capabilities. Yes, much of it can be turned over to cloud service providers, but people still need to understand what services are needed, and how to fit them into the business. 

Also: Highly skilled tech workers are becoming a rarity, and companies have tough decisions to make

As the KPMG team puts it: "To retain customers and market share, companies must continuously improve digital capabilities and think differently about how to use technologies to better deliver to target audience expectations. Additionally, companies must carry out future scoping to ensure technology selection and workflow design to align with customer needs and expectations." 

Editorial standards