Digital Skills Front and Center

My analyst life has an interesting ebb and flow to it, as do most professional lives, I believe. My most productive times are when I work heads down on a project drilling into sometimes arcane aspects of the market. From that comes unique information that I share with clients first, then more generally later. Other times I’m swimming in the general pool of CRM explaining my research and learning from others.

I was heads down in the first quarter and am now trying to catch up with other research — which is why I am only now coming upon some very interesting research the Rand Corporation did for Salesforce late last year. The research, published in the 2022 Global Digital Skills Index, paints a startling picture of how our industry  — actually our world — is significantly underprepared for its digital future.

Before we go further, let me say this is a good piece of work but it is the kind of thing that can and has been published every decade since the mini-computer revolution. Of course, we’re underprepared and even behind where we need to be to take advantage of the technologies available today.

There’s often a lag like this in technology rollouts, but then we catch up; it’s something I can say from my vantage point in the long tail of my career. However, none of this is intended to reassure us that we don’t have serious work ahead. A report like this simply tells us where to concentrate the effort.

That effort is bigger than CRM, though it is being trumpeted by an important CRM company. Thanks to Salesforce and companies like it, CRM is now connected to everything and it drives decisions and developments in many sectors.

Good News, Bad News

The report surveyed more than 23,000 workers in 19 countries and found that most of the people expected to have a handle on digital business seem to know just enough to get by. They know what they know and what they don’t — so the findings are full of good news and bad:

  • Good news: collaboration technology skills have the biggest percentage of “advanced” practitioners. Bad news: this still only equates to roughly 25% of survey respondents.
  • Good news: 58% say encryption and cybersecurity skills are particularly important. Bad news, only 14% claim advanced knowledge of the subject.
  • Good news: nearly half of all respondents see digital sustainability skills as important in the next five years. Bad news: only 16% say they have advanced digital skills for operating technology that promotes sustainable business activities like tracing, measuring, and analyzing climate data within an organization. This includes executives.

You might point out that these are advanced skills and not necessarily the skills that rank-and-file employees are expected to use daily, but that’s not so. The report also identifies everyday skills deficiencies as well as generational deficiencies. Hint: the older you are, the more technologically out of touch you might be. In other words, your kids might have a point.

Some examples from the report:

  • Two-thirds of respondents say they’re unprepared for social media skills that the workplace will require over the next five years.
  • Only 17% of Baby Boomers believe they are “very equipped now” for digital-first employment.

All of it adds up to $11.5 trillion in cumulative GDP at risk in 14 of the G20 nations. In total, workers across all those countries scored 33 on a scale of 100 on the Digital Skills Readiness Index. If you break things down further, the U.S. is slightly above average, clocking in at 36, but that’s nothing to brag about. So, what to do?

Hurt and Rescue Approach

In selling there’s a basic strategy called hurt and rescue. You hurt your prospects by calling their attention to a business problem which only you can solve with your product. It often works and not just in tech. Keep it in mind as you watch commercials. But none of this means the hurt isn’t real and in need of repair. So what to do? The report provides the hurt.

As they say in the 12-step programs, we need to admit the problem. We don’t, for the most part, work in factories stamping out millions of identical products. The population identified in this report are knowledge workers producing at least somewhat customized work-products. It should surprise no one that they (we) need retraining from time to time; not just in our core competencies but in the tools we use to do our jobs.

The rescue is not simply in the number of ways that Salesforce provides for helping organizations to train and update their employees, even if they are working remotely. It is in providing the leadership that says we’ve got to do this.

No employee and no business are likely to have identical needs, but skills are general and transferrable. Before a business can claim some of that $11.5 trillion of GDP up for grabs, its people will need to become more digitally savvy.

That’s the crux of the report and, frankly, it’s not very surprising. Salesforce put a name to it and offers plenty of examples of needed solutions. Whether you use their solutions or others on the market, the work paradigm is changing and now there’s hard data to stimulate thinking about how we need to work by mid-century or sooner.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

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