While acknowledging a digital skills gap, business leaders stress that “soft skills” have a large role in the technology revolution.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Sberbank held its annual business breakfast, discussing in depth the impact of rapidly advancing technology on business and government.
Hosted by Sberbank CEO Herman Gref, the vibrant conversation included speakers from MasterCard, Severstal, Dell and EBRD and attendees across the public and private sectors.
Referring to the abrupt rise in data and emerging technologies as the new core of business, Gref asked delegates how companies should adapt to the changes.
“It’s important we understand that the future of our business is digital,” he said, “but 90 percent of our income comes from legacy. It’s a big challenge.”
“(Technology) is completely strategic to the evolution of the firm,” Michael S. Dell, the CEO of Dell agreed, calling on corporations to change the focus of their business to be more outward looking.
“The real emergent challenge is how you use that data to be able to improve your product or service. There is a real opportunity for more customer intimacy.”
Speaking about his own company’s challenges, Ralph Hamers, CEO of the ING Group revealed: “We took the time to look into the future. We went back to our DNA, our purpose, because the world of innovation should not be a world of gadgets for your company. It should add to what you want to deliver to your clients.
Alexei Mordashov, CEO of Severstal, urged the need for all businesses to adapt, warning: “There will be some business models that will be demolished in five years.”
Attendees were asked to identify the skill set gaps that were missing in current leadership from three main areas: professional (marketing, finance and human resources), soft skills (problem solving, empathy and collaboration) and digital skills (data analysis, AI, programming and cyber security).
When asked which one represented the greatest problem for corporate leaders today, the majority cited “soft skills” as hugely important, but “digital skills” as having the biggest gap – indicating that leaders lack awareness in areas such as big data analytics, machine learning, AI and cyber security.
“Digital skills are very dynamic. When I started university, the computing skills I learnt had nothing to do with today’s technology,” said Guo Ping, deputy chairman of the board and a rotating CEO at Huawei. “The important thing about digital skills is that they require lifelong learning – therefore a digital company must also be a learning company.”
Ralph Hamers CEO of ING group, cited the financial crisis as partial motivation for doing banking in a different way. “How do you make sure that digital skills find fertile ground within the bank? It’s about soft skills, cultural change, convincing people to adopt digital practices and being agile,” he said.
But Ngaire Woods of the Blavatnik School of Government warned that, at a state level, the problems are not with big data or digital, but with a lack of trust in leadership.
“Real leadership is about trust, because governments cannot govern without the consent of the governed. In politics and in government we’ve been a little bit seduced by the idea that digital and big data lets us know who our clients are, but governments are not about clients. Governments are about citizens,” she said.