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What is digital transformation and how will AI reshape your work?

Digital transformation is revolutionizing business models, customer journeys, and employees’ jobs. As cutting-edge AI is embedded into workflows and core business functions, how can professionals leverage their own knowledge, skills, and potential to succeed and future proof their careers?

What does “digital transformation” mean?

“Digital transformation” is a fundamental rewiring of how businesses operate and deliver value. It describes how organizations deploy new technologies at scale to create or optimize processes, culture, and customer experiences.

However, professionals’ understanding of the concept is more varied. In 2021, GetSmarter, which offers market-led executive education courses with edX, surveyed about 5,800 leaders, entrepreneurs, and C-suite executives about their views on digital transformation.

The survey found that digital transformation has two distinct components: people and technology. Respondents were split on which component leads and which supports. According to GetSmarter’s data, about 35% of those surveyed think digital transformation is a people-driven change supported by technology, while 32% believe it is tech-led and facilitated by people.

Digital transformation: People- or tech-centric?

For those who consider digital transformation to be technology-led, it is often characterized as:

  • A change in how organizations use technology

  • Digitization

  • The replacement of older technologies

On the people-led side, respondents describe digital transformation as:

  • A change in how an organization delivers value to customers

  • A change in how an organization uses people and culture

  • The utilization of technology by workers to the best of its ability

These interpretations highlight a shared truth: Successful digital transformation depends on both powerful technologies and competent people. It goes beyond a singular digital initiative or employee.

Why is digital transformation important?

Game-changing digital transformation will redefine the way leaders and their customers engage with a business.

For example, the supply chain can be redesigned to harness the potential of machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) for demand forecasting and predictive maintenance. Real-time data can be leveraged to implement dynamic pricing and purchase recommendations.

In the last couple of years, digital transformation has accelerated as a priority among leaders. As of 2021, companies that embraced and invested in enterprise technology the most were growing at five times the rate of companies that did not .

For employees, this means adapting to changing dynamics between companies, people, and technology. New AI tools might be used to enhance workflows, predict revenue, and measure value. Rapidly evolving technologies could also represent gateways to new career opportunities.

AI and digital transformation: How are they connected?

Artificial intelligence stands at the forefront of digital transformation. AI enables a computer to imitate the human mind’s abilities , mastering tasks such as object recognition, language processing, and decision making.

AI can drive digital transformation via:

  • Information technology: Detects and prevents security breaches.

  • Research and development: Simulates outcomes for different business decisions.

  • Customer service: Uses chatbots and intelligent assistants to help customers at speed.

  • Marketing: Predicts churn and conducts behavioral analysis of customers.

It has the potential to affect all jobs in some way, whether it’s through task automation and the introduction of new tools, or opening doors to new challenges.

AI can seem daunting — it’s highly technical, buzzy, and opaque to consumers. But leaders prepared to make real progress and embrace change will find that AI can do more than augment the customers’ experience, it can propel and redefine their own professional one.

Developing AI skills for digital transformation

In a professional landscape that is susceptible to rapid change, continuous learning is a critical part of work ethos. Upskilling can reinvigorate existing jobs and launch new ones. 

GetSmarter’s report shows that 65% of professionals prefer to upskill, rather than entirely reskill. But data also shows that more than half of C-Suite professionals are reskilling, indicating a skills gap being felt at the highest levels.

When it comes to AI, the need for upskilling and reskilling is even greater. Artificial intelligence could be responsible for the automation of certain jobs or the redesign of others. Leaders will need to make decisions with AI’s capabilities and limits in mind. And the baseline digital capabilities for workers in a world powered by AI will shift.

The skills hierarchy provides a framework for evaluating your own skills.

The skills hierarchy

The skills hierarchy is a pyramid outlining what is required for professionals. The base is Digital Capability, an assumed skill necessary for most jobs. Then comes Functional Expertise, a core competency that allows you to perform a specific function. Next is Analytical and Critical Thinking, a set of abilities that help you stand out but is predicted to evolve into a core competency in the future. Finally, there is Interpersonal skills and Leadership skills at the top.

Digital capabilities fall under the “assumed skills” category — they are necessary for getting the job done and have longevity. Technical skills, like software proficiency and coding, are considered highly relevant by respondents but will need to be updated more frequently.

Ultimately, the ability to lead through disruption with knowledge is more important than any one particular skill or tool.

What should I learn about AI?

AI is a broad, ever-growing field filled with new questions, tasks, and tools. The potential for learning and skill development is vast. Some examples of the kinds of tasks or skills learners might encounter include:

  • How AI works and how to use it. How does a model learn from data and what kinds of tasks can it complete? Learning the basics of AI will make you a better user.

  • AI ethics and bias. There will always be ethical questions about how we reach conclusions and implement findings using AI. Decision making based on biased data and unfair algorithms has the potential to be harmful.

  • Programming and technical tools like Python, TensorFlow, and NumPy. Languages and libraries that power ML models. Learning how to use them can help you develop and train your own models.

  • Focus areas like computer vision or natural language processing (NLP). Teach machines to recognize and create images and language, respectively. Chatbots, virtual assistants, and image processing softwares are all examples of computer vision or NLP products.

How can I upskill with AI in mind?

Prioritization is powerful: It is impossible and unnecessary to learn all AI has to offer. For most leaders, effective learning will be targeted towards their own trajectory. Forging your learning path will require striking a balance between developing relevant, technical skills and gaining long-term understanding. 

Ask yourself these questions to help determine what kind of learning objectives you want to pursue:

Do I need to reskill or upskill?

This is akin to the difference between adding a new tool to your toolkit and upgrading one you already have. For example, those with strong coding skills might want to learn more about highly specialized, cutting-edge technical tools. Meanwhile, someone with no technical background might need to start at a more foundational level with something new.

What will help me in my role today?

Consider what could help you be a better leader or employee right now. Perhaps it’s being able to make decisions about what kinds of AI to invest in or task selection for a new project.

What will I want to know in one year? In three years?

Future proofing your career will require evaluating your job, organization, and field for upcoming changes. Think about what kinds of investments and long-term shifts your business is making.

What interests me the most about AI?

Passion is powerful fuel for learning and skill development. Consider what stories, innovations, and tasks seem most exciting to you in the field. How can you pivot your development towards that path?

How can I contribute to the digital transformation of my organization?

Consider where your influence and scope lie. Position yourself as a knowledgeable decision maker and expert in how AI affects your existing craft.

Last updated: August 2023